Hey Readers! So sorry for the long wait for this chapter, but to make it up to you, this chapter is the longest one yet! I hope to have ch 5 be of a similar length to this one and hope also to have it out by late this month or early next. A special thanks to Taylor Shade, author of many terrefic stories on this sight, for beta reading my story. Her corrections and suggestions made this chapter so much better. And remember to join the story's facebook page for sneak peaks, character images/ drafts, and a chance to have a say in future chapters!
Chapter 4: A Summer Test?
Robert woke up early the next morning and quickly dressed before leaving his bedroom. As soon as he stepped into the kitchen he saw Drake had already finished eating and eagerly waiting for him.
"Come on man, we're supposed to be meeting Mr. Draconidus in fifteen minutes, I don't wanna be late!" Drake whinned anxiously.
"Okay, I'm all ready to go," Robert assured his newfound cousine. The boys left the appartment they had been assigned within the mage compound and headed down the path leading towards the main house.
Their "appartment" was, in truth, more of a cottage than a room in a building. The cottage consisted of two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a combined sitting room and kitchen. There were no lights and the kitchen looked like the one Robert had seen in the show "Little House On the Prairie." This led him to think that this land of mages had not moved forward much in the area of technology since the middle ages.
As they walked towards the main house, where Rainenada had told them to meet Howard, they debated how Howard might test them. Robert felt that the old man would have them attempt another spell, or have them read some text in the Dragon Clan's glyphs. Drake was of the mind that Howard probably planned to perform some spell that would tell him if they were truly descendents of the clan.
When they reached the main house they saw it was basicly a larger version of their cottage, with a few variations. There was a raised porch running around the house and the banisters had been carved to resemble the scaled body of a reptile. The double front door had a viewing slot and two dragons painted onto it. The boys stood in awe of the detail on the front door, before Drake realized they were supposed to meet Howard in two minutes and rushed to knock.
Howard himself opened the door and ushered the boys into a library, set off of the sitting room. He indicated with a gesture that they should sit down on a couch set beside an empty fire place.
They sat down, looking at the shelves of books and at the man before them. Howard stood in front of the cold fire place and examined them with what Robert thought was an appraising eye.
"As you both know, you are the descendents of the Dragon Mage Clan," Howard began. "This means you have the latent skills necessary to learn how to use magic and become mages. The process of learning magic is neither easy or quick, both of you will be pushed to and byond your physical and mental limits in this endevor and if you perserver, you will have more power than almost any other mortal being." At this point Howard paused and gave the boys a meaningful look. "But before any of this happens, I must test you for the mark of the mage."
Robert shot a quick glance at Drake, who looked back at him with a questioning look. -How is he going to test us?- Robert wondered.
Howard, however, did not explain what he meant. Instead he turnedaway from the bewildered boys and faced the fireplace. He lifted his right hand, palm outward, and swiped it across his body from left to right. Fire sprung to life in the grate, startling Robert, and above the fire places mantle, a secret hatch lifted and a door swung outward, revealing a weapon and armor stash.
"I hope you are rested boys, because the first portion of the trial is combat based," Howard smiled, seemingly in anticipation. "I want you both to choose whatever combination of weapons and armor that you feel comfortable with from this armory and meet me in back of the house in ten minutes, I will give you the rest of your instructions there." With that Howard turned on the spot and disapeared in the twirling of his cloak, leaving the boys to wonder how he had vanished.
Drake was the first to move. He got up and went to look over the weapons and armor. He had already picked out a set of leather grieves and vambraces, some leather body armor and a light helm before Robert had begun to think about what he should use.
"Robert, come on. We only have seven minutes before we need to go, get some gear!"
"Okay, okay, calm down man, I'm thinking. I'll grab this... and this... and these..." as he spoke, Robert grabbed a straight edge sword, a leather buckler, and a set of five throwing knives. "This should do nicely," Robert said as he slipped the throwing knives into his belt and strapped the shield to his left arm.
"Don't you want a little more protection?" Drake inquired.
"Nah, it'll just slow me down, i want to be light on my feet, ready for anything."
"Just be careful," Drake cautioned as he finished strapping on his armor. He grabbed a short sword, hooked it onto his sword belt and grabbed a quiver of two dozen arrows and a recurve bow. "Lets get rolling, good luck Robert."
"You too," Robert replied. With that the two boys walked out of the library, through the sitting room and out the front door. They walked around the house and into what would have been the backyard back in their world. Instead they found a large, fenced field that stretched out from the back of the house to the forest, half a mile away.
The field was a perfect square, and was divided into several sections, one of the larger sections held what appeared to be a stable, with several horses grazing on the grass, while another section resembled a vegetable garden, or a small farm.
The boys opened the main gate and walked along a path, looking for the old man who they were supposed to be meeting.
In the back of the field they found their quarry. He was leaning on the fence looking out at several twittering birds who flitted from branch to branch in the trees of the forest. They stood back quietly and waited for him to notice them.
Finally, Howard turned around. "Interesting choices boys," Howard stated as he examined their weapons and armor. He walked in a circle around them as he continued to make comments, "You both chose to include close range and long range weapons, but each chose to focus on one or the other. Drake chose to don more armor, though he has a range weapon, while you, Robert, seem to be relying on your skill to protect you as opposed to using armor."
Robert was impatient to get started, eager to see what type of combative test Howard would come up with. He let the old man finish examining their choices though before he spoke up.
"So what exactly are we supposed to do?" he asked respectfully, once Howard had stepped back. "Do we run some obstacle course or fight some dummies?" He looked around, but only saw a flat field which had been sectioned off, but left empty.
"We have to fight each other, don't we?" Drake asked. His face was expressionless, but from the tone of his voice, Robert knew his friend disliked such a possibility. He looked to the old mage for an answer.
"No, you will not be fighting each other, you will be sparing with some opponents I have brought." Robert exhaled with a sigh of relief. "Don't be so relieved," Howard cautioned, mistakingly believing that Robert was thinking there would be nothing to worry about. "You will be fighting experts. These opponents have grown up using weapons and will be coming at you with all of their skill. Your task will be to disarm your opponents without maiming or killing them."
"So where are they," Drake asked, searching for their opponents.
Howard simply pointed behind the boys. Turning around they saw two men approaching. They were dressed in simple pants and shirts, with shields strapped to their muscular arms and swords sheathed at their waste. They wore leather caps and had determined looks on their faces.
"We're supposed to disarm those behemoths with out injuring them?" Robert asked, surprised and shocked by the size of the men. They both stood head and shoulders above him, and were at least twice his width. "They look like the Hulk's cousins."
"I would appreciate it if you refrained from such name calling Robert. These are soldiers who have sworn protectors of the Dragon Clan. The one on the left, with the dark skin is Abdullah, he comes from the southern continent. On the right is named Marcus. He grew up here in Noville, and is Rienada's father. They are both honorable fighters."
"So you are the young men my daughter was telling me about last night," Marcus noted. "Which one of you goes by the name of Robert?" Robert raised his hand. "I would have it that you would be my opponent, if Master Draconidus found it acceptable."
Howard raised an eyebrow, attempting to puzzle the reasons behind Marcus's request, but nodded his accent.
"Lets get to it then! I'm ready!" Robert exclaimed as he drew the straight edge sword from the sheath at his hip. Marcus copied Robert's action and stood at the ready.
"Howard, I seriously think we should step back. Robert has that glint in his eye," Drake cautioned.
"Yes, young one, I do think you are right, Abdullah if you would just stand over here with me and Drake." Howard then turned to the two warriors and said, "Whenever you are ready, you may begin."
The two men began to pace, keeping about seven feet between themselves and their opponent.
Robert was waiting for Marcus to make the first move. He observed his opponent, looking for some sort of weakness that he could exploit. -His size will be a problem, but could I turn it against him? If I could just get him to charge at me, I could off balance him and then maybe take away his weapon.- Robert had become so enveloped in his planning that he had stopped pacing.
Marcus, realizing his opponent was distracted, lunged at Robert and aimed a vicious sword stroke at Robert's left shoulder.
The field resounded with the sound of metal striking metal as Marcus's sword was parried by Robert, who then followed up with a back hand strike, aimed at the cross gaurd of his opponent's weapon.
Their blades met and the gaurds locked with one another, Robert realized he had made a mistake. Marcus was much bigger and had the years more experience, he was not going to be so easy to disarm.
He rammed his shield into Robert, knocking him back several steps and disengaging their swords. He then thrust his sword directly at Robert's chest, as he staggered back.
-STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!- Robert berated himself as he stumbled backward trying desperately to regain his footing. Robert was barley able to deflect Marcus's thrust, but managed none the less, giving him the brief moment he needed to regain his balance.
"Very good, you seem to have some potential, whelp, perhaps in ten or fifteen years you will actually pose a challenge to me!" Marcus taunted, before resuming his onslaught on Robert. He pushed him back step by step, never allowing him to counter swing or wage his own offensive. He varied his swings to keep the young warrior mentally unbalanced, switching between attacks focused on Robert's head, and low swings.
From their places on the side line Abdullah, Howard, and Drake observed the fight with eagerness, interest, and nervousness, respectivley. Each spectator was utterly absorbed in the fight, unaware that a fourth individual had shown up to watch as well. Rienada watched as her father pushed his opponent to the edge of the field. She was not worried that he would get hurt, rather that he would permanently disable the young mage he was fighting.
On the field, Robert was at his wit's end. He had tried everything he could to mount an offensive, but all for naught. To top it all off, his opponent was throwing every insult in the book at Robert, and seriously starting to tick him off.
Marcus, on the other hand, was thoroughly enjoying himself, however decided it was time to finish the fight. He went to strike Robert's shield arm with a mighty blow, thus bowling over the young man and ending the battle. However it also left his right side open. Marcus thought Robert would be to tired to notice the opportunity, but he was wrong.
As soon as Robert saw the opening, instinct took over and he struck out at Marcus's exposed side with the flat of his blade, elicting a gasp of suprise from the older man. Robert then bashed his opponent's helm with the hilt of his sword, knocking him out cold.
In the span of ten seconds, Robert had turned what had looked to be a sure defeat in to a swift and decisive victory. Rienada silently slipped away, having seen the handsome young man she met in the woods yesterday was worthy of respect. She was looking forward to working with him later. Howard nodded his approval, seeing Robert indeed had the instincts of a fighter, just as every Dragon Mage should to survive.
"Good job Robert!" Howar praised, "You have passed your first test." He turned around and gestured to the other two opponents waiting their turn to fight. "Now if you would kindly fight on this side of the field, while i stand with Robert and wait for Marcus to regain conciousness. You may begin at any time."
Drake turned to his opponent. "Best of luck," Drake offered to the dark skinned warrior.
"May the goddess grant us a fierce battle!" Responded Abdullah before he stepped back several paces and drew his scimitar. The wickedly sharp, curved blade gleamed in the sunlight of the noon hour.
Drake held his bow at the ready and an arrow knocked on the string. He drew back and sighted his opponent, aiming for the hilt of the scimitar. Before he could shoot, Abudllah dashed forward and slashed at Drake. Drake released after quickly readjusting his aim, sure that he would miss his target by a wide margin.
The arrow flew true, and struck the cross-gaurd of the curved sword, knocking it out of Abdullah's hand. The large, dark man stopped abruptly and held up his now empty hand, examining it. He then looked over to Drake as he straightend, then bowed deeply. "You are quite talented, young master," Abdullah observed. "I would ask that you allow me to challenge you again one day, once you have come into your own, and I too have improved."
Drake was astounded. -Is that all?- he wondered. -My fight was so much shorter than Robert's, and I won on a fluke shot!- He bowed to his opponent and accepted his offer.
"Lets train together good sir. I would be honored to learn sword play from you," Drake stated.
"It would be my pleasure."
The man and teen straightened once more and grasped hands, the seeds of friendship taking root in both of their hearts.
Abduallah and Marcus excused themselves as Howard, Drake, and Robert came together once more. The boys comgratulated each other on succeeding in the test and then stood at attention, facing their examiner.
"Congratulations passing the first test. By successfully disarming those two men, the strongest guards in the Dragon Clan's army, you have showed that you possess the first mark of the mage, the combat mark."
"What are the marks of the mage?" Drake inquired.
"They are instincts that manifest themselves when a mage is in danger. There is the mark of combat, which you both just displayed. Then the mark of memory. You both showed this when you read the book containing the spell form that teleported you to this world. Finally there is the mark of magic, which, again, you have already displayed when you could activate the spell form that brought you here. These marks are present in all mages.
"So every mage has these three marks. Can't somebody have just one or two of them?" Drake inquired.
"Some people do, however they generally are unable to become fully trained mages. They lack the inherent foundation necessary. Some others, however have a fourth mark, the mark of mastery. This is present only in those who are destined to become True Clan Masters. I haven't tested eiter of you for this because I doubt either of you will show it. It generally is manifested in the first born child of the clan's current "True Master" and the Dragon Clan's last master dissapeared around twenty years ago. He is believed to be dead, and he never had any children. As such, the clan is destined to continue on without ever having another 'True Master'."
Drake wondered what powers a master would have above and beyond an average mage, but refrained from asking when he saw that Howard seemed to be upset by the subject.
He soon shook of his melencholy, however, and continued on, "Now that I know you both posess all three, we can officially begin your training, after the ceremony of course."
"What ceremony?" Robert inquired.
"You will see tonight. I want you to meet me in the clearing you appeared in a half hour before sunset. Rienada will show you the way."
The boys arrived at the clearing right on time, Rienada having shown up at their door some fifteen minutes ago. Robert had answered the door and greeted her. In return she had smiled shyly and complimented him on performing so well against her father, who had told her about the fight. She had greeted Drake, a little less reservedly and then led them back to where they had first appeared.
Howard directed the boys to copy a diagram from a scroll onto their right hands and them join him.
"When I tell you to, you are to stick your right hands into the fire and say 'come forth o' partner of my soul, and let us finally be all we are destined to become!'" Howard instructed.
"Why?" Robert asked. "What do these diagrams do?"
"They are spell forms that will allow you to bond with your spirit partner, a sort of companion the mages of our clan are born with." Howard explained, leading the boys to an unlit campfire. He drew another diagram infront of the circle of stones surrounding the unlit fire and made some sort of hand sign, one recognized by neither Robert nor Drake.
Fire sprung to life and danced around merrily. However, the fire was not the usual reds and golds the boys had expected. It was black as night and seemed slightly sinister.
"Now, do as I instructed."
The boys complied. The fire did not burn them, it simply felt warm. Once they finished speaking the diagrams on their hands began to glow, then shine intensely bright. They looked at each other from their positions and were startled to see what appeared to be voids of nothingness open up behind the other.
Robert looked into the void behind Drake. A pair of eyes with golden irises and slits for pupils stared back. Then a face like none other began to form. Then a body. When the creature stepped out from the void, the earth shuddered, and Robert could only assume that another creature, similar to the one behind Drake, had stepped out behind him as well.
Robert walked over to the creature he had been observing, even as Drake mirrored his movements. It's head was level with Robert's and was long, like a lizards, but more narrow. It had a long neck and body. It was probably about 10 feet longfrom neck to body and its tail added another eight feet in length. Folded at it's side were two large wings. It had iridescent red scales and ivory white claws and a set of similarly colored horns. It's shoulders were level with Robert's at around five feet and eight inches.
Drake was looking at a creature of a similar description. However, where Robert saw red, Drake saw brown, for white black, and for gold, bright green. This creature was shorter by several feet, and was broader. It stood only inches shorter at the shoulder. Its folded wings appeared shorter, while its legs were more muscled and had larger claws.
Drake reched out and felt the smooth structure of the creature's softly glittering scales and marvled at the sight before him. One taken directly from fairy tails of his childhood.
"Drake, Robert, I would like you to meet... your dragons!"