Act 1: Childhood

Chapter 1: Traditions of the Dragon

Party: Ryu, Sarah


The blue-haired boy groaned and rolled over in his bed.

"Ryu! You know what today is! Get up!"

Ryu opened one sleepy eye, only to be greeted with the stern face of his mother. She tapped her foot twice. "I'm waiting. And you too, young lady!"

There was a rustling from the bed behind Ryu, and his sister's voice feebly replied, "We know, mother. Can't we get a little more sleep?"

"No!" Chesa shouted, obviously getting perturbed with her children. "You are due at the Elders' in twenty minutes! You need to be ready to go! Don't you remember your duty today, Sarah!"

Ryu sat up in bed slowly and turned to watch his sister bolt upright. "You're right!" she said, throwing off the covers and running outside to wash.

Ryu turned to smile at his mother. "Good morning," he said.

The twelve-year-old's smile melted the woman's heart, and she smiled down at him. "Now you need to wash after your sister. Until she's done washing, I want you to collect your things, such as the dirk your father gave you for your twelfth birthday. And now that you are twelve and it is the first of the month, you can begin your first journey."

Ryu gasped, he had forgotten! "Yes, Mom! Right away!" He received a kiss on his cheek from his mother before he rushed off to collect his things. His mother smiled after him, then returned to the main section of the house to continue preparing her children their breakfast.

After all of the tasks were finished, Sarah and Ryu collected their breakfast that they would eat on the way to the Elders' from their mother and received kisses before being sent on their way. At first, they walked in silence, enjoying the first meal of the day, but once Sarah's meal was complete, she began to talk to Ryu.

"I'm so proud of you, you know," she said, and Ryu looked at her mildly confused. "Not many people take to the dirk as quickly as you did. Father was so proud. It's too bad he had to head out to some of the other shrines during the time of one of our rituals, though."

Ryu nodded in agreement. He wanted his father to be there with him when he began to take on forms, but it seemed that it was not to be. But he would be back in a year, and then everything would be as normal, with father and mother both training Sarah and Ryu in all of the traditions that they had to know as members of the Dragon Clan. Sarah was training in the spear as well as her forms, while Ryu had chosen the more traditional sword.

Sarah continued along the same vein while they approached the Elders' Tower. There were only two or three Elders in the Tower at any given time, while the other Elders were out serving at the various temples across the world. The town of Ness was simply where all of the young members of the Dragon Clan lived, and where they learned to control the powers that they had as a part of their heritage. Once control was officially established, members of the clan could leave if they so wished. Go out into the world, visit the big cities like Wyndia and Faiah. But if and when they returned to have children, they always returned to the hidden village to raise them so that the clan would continue as it had in the past thousand years.

Once inside the Elders' tower, the two youths did not have to announce their presence. Elder Hammet was waiting for them. "Ah, Ryu and Sarah. I have been expecting you two." Ryu smiled. He had always liked Elder Hammet. Both he and Sarah took more comfortable positions on the furniture when the Elder waved them over to them. "I imagine you both are excited?"

He got enthusiastic nods as a response.

"Sarah, you are now fifteen. You have demonstrated a mastery of the powers so far unlocked within you, and now it is time to begin the tasks to truly test your acceptance of your next set of powers. Your first task will be to assist your younger brother in his first endeavor. The endeavor that you completed when you were twelve, as he is now."

Sarah nodded in acceptance.

The Elder turned to Ryu. "Ryu, you are an Ascent, of the Dragon Clan. That is the way of our people. At the age of twelve, you are given your first endeavor. Success grants you the first of your powers. The next three years are spent honing these powers and getting them under control. You will be trained by your parents and Elders, and will be ready for your next task at the age of fifteen.

"Once that happens, you will be given several tasks, culminating in a week-long journey that will take you outside the places that you have known all of your life. You will have help and support, but the decisions on this journey are yours alone. Along the journey you will discover more about the world, and more about your powers. Once you return here, you will spend three more years, learning many new things about yourself and your powers.

"At the age of eighteen, you will be sent on a much longer journey. This journey is your final test. By finding and retrieving something that the Elders set for you, and returning here to Ness, you will have earned your adulthood. Once that happens, you will be allowed to leave Ness and make your fortune in the outside world for a while, as most do.

"But today, you are twelve. The first step is now. With your sister as your support, your task is to travel to the cliffs that lie to the north of town. Your test and task will commence there. You have the whole day to complete the journey and the task. Good luck, young one." The Elder bowed to both of them. "Sarah, return here tomorrow morning to receive your next task." Then the Elder turned and walked up the stairs to the upper areas of the Tower.

After a moment or two of silence, Sarah turned to her younger brother. "Well, it's time. Are you ready, Ryu?"

Ryu nodded, though he swallowed loudly. "As ready as I'll ever be," he amended.

Sarah smiled. "I will be your support, so when we come upon the nasty buggers that live in and near the cliffs, I will be there to help you out. But I will not help you navigate the cliffs. I must follow you, as my support simply followed me. This is your first exploration, as all of us have to be adept at it when we set out on our last journey."

Ryu nodded. "Okay. I'm glad you're my support, Sarah."

Sarah smiled again and ruffled her little brother's blue hair, earning a "Hey!" "As am I. Shall we get going?"

With Ryu's nod, the two youths left the Elders' Tower and headed to the northern gate of Ness. Ryu wore the blue tunic that signified that he was now attempting his first task, while Sarah wore the violet tunic that signified that she was now attempting her second task. The villagers that were out that morning and passing the two youths bowed to them as they would bow to the Elders. It was tradition that anyone on a task or pilgrimage was given the same respect that the Elders got.

Arriving at the gate, the two guards bowed to them and opened the gate to the north. The gate was really only to keep out monsters as opposed to keeping in children. The only reason anyone went north to the cliffs was the first task that Ryu was on that day. One of the guards smiled at Sarah, and she smiled back.

The trip to the cliffs themselves took approximately two hours of a normal march pace. The only thing of consequence that they met was a small group of slimes. Sarah quickly dispatched several of them with a few well-placed thrusts, while Ryu took one out on his own and was working on a second when Sarah simply watched him, indicating that it was the last one. She coached him a little bit, showing him where the weakpoints of the unfortunate creatures were.

Ryu finally cut through the little mass in the center of the slime that functioned as it's brain, and cleaned his sword on the grass as the slime melted into the water from whence it came. Sarah simply smiled as she waited for him to take the lead once again, and this time he was more than happy to do so, flush with his victory.

Ryu and Sarah reached the end of the small stretch of Plains that separated Ness from the Northern Cliffs when the sun was just beginning to peak in the sky. The path became difficult, with rocks blocking some paths and paths leading every which way. Sarah did not give Ryu any information regarding what path to take, but was simply encouraging when he made a wrong choice and was face to face with the large boulder that proved it.

"I came this way too, you know," she said at one particular dead end. Ryu, frowning at his failure, looked up at her with interest. "I made quite a ruckus too. I only stopped carrying on when my support looked up at the sky and pointed out that there was a time limit to what I was doing. That shut me up real quick." Ryu grinned. That sounded like his sister.

After climbing over many rocks and facing several dead-ends, Ryu and Sarah finally broke out to the open cliffs. The stretch of cliffs was about 200 paces long, and the clear area in front of them was about 15 paces or so. Plenty of space. But for what? Ryu looked around, and even edged up to the cliff to look down. It looked like a 300 or 400 pace drop to the water, and it wasn't exactly clear of rocks either. There seemed to be a few paces that the water could be deep enough and clear enough to survive a fall into, but Ryu wasn't about to put that theory to the test. Instead, he turned to his sister, intent on asking her what the test was, exactly.

She was standing on the far side of the cliff, her blue hair stretched out to its full length as it streamed behind her in the high wind coming off the sea. She wasn't facing him, but she seemed to notice when he was looking at her. "Your task, Ryu, is as thus. You are to fight me, and fight me with all your might, for I will not be holding back." She turned around to face him, and her face was stern. "Defend yourself, student." And then his sister lurched into a fetal position, crying out. Ryu took a step towards her, not entirely sure what was going on, but was stopped when a light began emanating from her. A white light that spread until he was blinded.

When he had blinked the stars out of his eyes, he saw that instead of his sister standing on the other side of the cliff, there was a blue dragon, standing on its hind legs, tail lashing back and forth behind her. Ryu swallowed and drew his dirk. He hoped he knew enough about the sword to defend himself adequately against his sister. He knew that he couldn't defeat her, but somehow she had succeeded in this task… so all he could do was try his hardest. He stopped the active thinking when the dragon charged toward him, claws outstretched.

He parried her claws aside and the force of the parry sent her off the cliff, but a claw found purchase in the cliff face and the dragon flipped back into the fray. A second claw swipe was caught by the dirk, and this time tangled in the claw. Ryu pulled as hard as he could, but all he was succeeding at was keeping his grip. The stalemate lasted for about five seconds before the other claw came slashing in and Ryu was forced to dodge, and his dirk was thrown along the cliff. He raced after it, but he found the dragon blocking his way.

Ryu faked going left and spun around intending to head right. He did not fake the dragon enough, however, and as he ran by, he earned himself a gauge in the side. He cried out with the pain, but he did not lose his stride, and he was able to snatch up the sword in time to parry the next strike that the dragon was able to take at him. This time he parried it to one side, careful to not get it entangled in the claw, but his concentration didn't let him realize that the other claw was once again bearing down on him.

He cried out again, this time in anger as well as pain. What was he supposed to do? He was hopelessly outmatched to his sister in human form. As a dragon, he stood no chance at all. For the first time he launched an offensive, and using his better mobility to his advantage, he was able to stay out of the line of fire of the dragon's claws and teeth as he drove it back across the cliff nearer and nearer to a large pile of rubble. When there were perhaps 15 paces to go, the dragon hopped back right to the rubble wall, and breathed in.

Ryu had only time to breathe out an obscenity before turning and running, trying to duck down the path that they had approached the cliff from before he was hit by the breath, but it was too late. The lightning that came out poured through him and he screamed with the pain of the nasty shock. And screamed. And he lost his sight and hearing, and found himself floating within his own mind.

"Am I… dead…?" he asked the darkness. But there was no answer.

Only a small light that was inches in front of him, just out of reach. Ryu reached out and flailed his arms and legs to get closer. Inch by inch, bit by bit, Ryu's hand grew closer and closer to his goal, until finally his hand clasped around it. He immediately felt all of his senses return, and the shock of the returned pain was too much for him. He collapsed, the lightning breath of the dragon he was fighting gone, and he remembered no more.

Sarah raised herself up and shook out her body. She was drained, but she felt accomplished. She had not expected to have to use her breath weapon, but her brother turned out to be that good at keeping her at bay. She was proud; proud beyond words. She had been told that her own power was the largest that would be seen in years, but it seemed that her brother had at least as much power as she did. She walked over to the fallen dragon whelp and picked him up gently. He let out a cry of protest, but it was muffled by his exhaustion.

"Shh," Sarah whispered to her little brother. "You did well today, my brother. You don't have to worry about anything else today. I'll take care of you for today, and Mom will take over for me for the rest of the time." And she carried the dragon whelp down the cliffs, using her skills to keep them safe as the sun began its journey downward to the horizon.