The journey to the trainers was relatively uneventful, rolling hills of green marked by dirt paths and the chiming of the crystals — all combining to make my trip through Chiconis peaceful and enjoyable. I followed the line of hatchlings up the hill and over the suspended bridge to the lairs of the elders who guide our learning, skittering to a stop, my nose unceremoniously plowing a trough at the feet of Sandiva.
The giggles of the other hatchlings raising my scales slightly, but the warm chuckle of the mistress soothing the sting of their ridicule, “Greetings, Beryl… have you come to seek learning in the ways of adventuring?”
My nod was immediate and seemed to meet with her approval, “Good, little wing-sister, There is much work to learning our ways, and most of it trying or tedious,” a glimmer of something akin to humor appearing in her eye, “Or both.” she chuckled once more as she directed our restless group toward the valley below, where gruok and amazingly large maggots pelted the landscape.
“Today, you will learn the use of tooth and claw, young ones.” Her manner and voice firming into that of instruction and command as she led us through a review of basic defensive stances, and the movements of war.
My own pulse thrummed with exhilaration as I assumed the positions of battle and worked through the transitions from one stance to another, as I learned the method of striking and the physiology of our prey, where to place a vital strike that would rend organs and rip mobility from my opponent.
In my mind’s eye, all manner of heroic battle played out… I created great, choreographed and ultimately gristly struggles to the death against the Withered Aegis, against Macalir, against the God of Blight himself… some nebulous and fell being that bled freely beneath my claws, and the sounds of the growls and grunts around me became the accompaniment — making the epic war in my mind seem all the more real as the hours passed and the sun crept slowly beneath the horizon.
Striding through our number, Sandiva corrected a stance here, demonstrated how to deliver a slicing blow there, gave encouragement and praise along the way, and before long, we each moved with an almost effortless grace from one form to the next, our wings and claws lifting and dipping in a strange unison as we loosened and allowed the whispers in our minds to meld and become one with our being… as the lessons of our ancestors joined with the instruction of our trainer and all sense of time was suspended.
Moving to the front of the grouping, Sandiva’s spoke sharply, “Your attention please!”
Her voice sent my inner landscape to ruin, and only with some reluctance did I reorient myself to the real world and matters at hand. “You are here because you have received the memories of your ancestors. You have spent this day and night in study of our ways and strategies,” The green eyes and scarlet scales flashed together as she held out attention with silence briefly before continuing, “It is not our way to coddle our young in the lessons of life, and you will not be an exception to this rule.” We shifted and looked to one another questioningly before returning our eyes as one to Sandiva for answers.
“Should you wish to partake of further learning from the elders, you will earn the right as have all who have gone before you… by demonstrating your honor and attention to your ancestors.” She paused to allow that to sink in, then continued, “You will do this by allowing their memories to be your guide in battle.”
Her eyes went steely, serious and without mirth, “Henceforth, all learning given you in this school will be prefaced by your demonstration of attentiveness to your history, and your own ability, and only upon presentation of evidence that you do so… namely, in the carcasses, skins, or parts of your slain prey.”
The prouncement rippled through the assembled group like a shockwave. Suddenly, the images of heroic battle and immortality leeched away as we turned to look again upon the landscape… the gruok and maggots no longer looking helpless, but somehow larger and more fierce… the knowledge of our own youth and inexperience coming home to each of us with new and painful intensity.
I turned slowly to face Sandiva, her glinting eye and expressionless face more daunting at that moment than ever… and I think I must have gulped as I asked slowly, “How much evidence is required for the honor of this learning?”
The trainer’s face softened only slightly as she replied, “Go forth and gather ten maggot hides and present them to either myself or Master Periado and your next day’s lesson is guaranteed.”