Chapter 5:

Trial 1: Dragon's Shangri-la

The Trials of Ilcor

Sometimes when you must face a great challenge you disassociate yourself from your reality to protect your own state of mind. This was the state of mind Jasper was in as he made his way to the ceremony. There was a small group that came with him from the monastery. Three boys and two girls. They were all young but none of them had faced the same street life as he had. Maybe that was why they seemed unbothered by the upcoming task. They probably did not comprehend how dangerous what they were about to undertake was because they didn’t know what danger was beyond a small scolding from the teachers.

Rather than scared or nervous, the three boys were playing around on the carriage ride there. Sometimes sending him glances and laughing. These three were not the most pleasant group of boys to be forced on this journey with. They were the same age so they were forced to be together in most lessons and training sessions and these three boys in particular liked to give him hell. They were young and could only pick up such behaviour from the instructors and older boys around them who had also thrown taunts and kicks his way.

They were all mostly orphans or children abandoned at the monastery but some were children from noble families, usually the younger children in the line, who were sent to the monastery as an offering to the gods. They grew up being told they were special for being chosen to be sent there but Jasper knew better. It didn’t help him though, for their noble cockiness was apparent to see. They would band together often and act like they ran the social circles of the monastery….and they sort of did. The sisters of the monastery did not really care how the children socialized, rather they preferred the natural hierarchy the noble children created. This would teach the children how the real world worked. They also had a vested interest. If the nobles saw their noble children had a higher standing than the filthy orphans, they would be incentivised even more to send their children to the monastery and therefore boosting their status, increasing their funding and overall a great circle of benefits for them. These children of course realised somewhat in their hearts that they were abandoned for being one of too many children or as a social status booster for their families so of course they had to take that internalized abandonment on the orphans and street rats. It wasn’t a very creative name but that’s what they called him. Street rat or mangy dog because of his messy hair. Jasper didn’t really let it bother him, or so he tried to. As someone who lived on the streets he was used to getting roughed up by the other street boys who wanted to show him who runs the area, but at least they were on the same level as him and knew it. All they did was try to survive and he knew that he too would need to do the same when he grew up, but in the monastery it was different. These kids were like this not for survival but in order to make themselves feel important and that made them feel important and their abuse, one he could not exactly run away from, was a daily unnecessary habit. A very special ceremony to signify the beginning of their trials and potential promotion to the top place in society? Not an exception. Today too they were laughing and mocking him.

“I can’t wait for the ceremony, the sisters my mum will be attending. Imagine not having that”

Yeah of course your mother will be there, if you become a dragon rider she can use you as a great trophy. He couldn’t imagine his own mother coming so they weren’t wrong. His mother probably forgot about him at this point. One less mouth to feed. Or was she even alive after so many years? Jasper did not really care. The mockery hurt little, as the anxiety of the day was slowly building up in his chest and he just let his mind dissociate until they arrived.

Even then his mind could not seem to fathom the reality of things. As he lined up at the base of the formidable mountains along with the other children who also turned 7 that day collectively he felt nauseous and dizzy, as if someone was pushing him over even while he stood there.

They all walked together in a line, away from the adults and the crowd and to the base of the mountain. Looking up would only topple him backwards, as the mountain’s scale was beyond his comprehension. The only way to the other side of these mountains was through the pathway they were now walking towards. The mountains are too steep to climb and no flaw in the range would allow through a man. The sisters have speculated that this was the dragon’s doing. That once upon a time they shaped themselves this barrier to avoid the humans and the harm they would do while keeping themselves isolated from them as there was no point in using them as prey. Of course the humans found a way to disrupt that peace the dragons created for themselves. A small passageway that only a child could pass through. The lives of their young children were nothing if they could get a dragon egg, jasper would always muse.

From the stories he was told, and the accounts the sisters had given them could not do the place justice. As the group of children emerged from the passageway they could not help but gawk for a bit at the majesty of the place. The Dragon’s Shangri-la or the Dragon’s Haven was indeed as peaceful and beautiful and then some as he had been told. Dragons flying overhead, weaving in and out of the clouds and mist that layers atop the mountain peaks. Brooks and rivers, lakes and the wind rustling, early morning due still lingering on the grass and of course the sounds of the dragons themselves. Great beasts rumbled through the earth and peppers the forest and these but dots in the view; one could only imagine how large they were up close. It was nesting season for the dragons so those too can be spotted here and there with their guards and some even without. With them in sight some of the children began making their way through the forest, most splitting up but some friend groups sticking together. What will they do when they find an egg?

Going in a group seems safe but inefficient Jasper pondered. Not that he had any other options other than to go alone.

As if hearing his thoughts, the boys from the monastery decided to hammer the point across. With a foot to the back of his knees. Jasper buckled and fell to the ground, a rock scraping his cheek, narrowly avoiding his eye.

“Stay here street rat. Mangy dogs like you don’t deserve to set their eyes on the dragon eggs. Stay here and you might not die….just maybe” one of the boys chuckled and ran off, using his head as a stepping stool. The other two boys followed suit with the last one driving his heel into Jasper’s back.

Stunned and struggling to breath, Jasper coughed violently and spat the mud from his mouth, curling into himself. Rough breath and shaking. It took him several minutes before he found his senses again.

He teetered to his feet before finally balancing. Physically anyways. Jasper’s breath was short and his whole body shook. Not with physical pain, that he was used to. It had been a while since the pit in his stomach felt this deep and hollow. He wiped at his eyes aggressively. There was no point to this . He just had to aim for the goal of getting a dragon egg. If he was successful he would be the one kicking them to the dirt.

He hobbled onwards towards a cliff with a visible egg. A green egg. The other kids probably avoided this one and went looking for one of the other elemental colours. Even amongst the high classes like dragon rider and mage, there were ranks based on the elements. There was no real reason why a certain element was seen as better than the other, other than the hierarchy of the gods they believed in. Air ruled over them all, water was next, fire and then earth. The colours of the eggs indicated on the most part as to what type of dragon it would be, however it was not always the case. Green would be assumed to be a nature dragon under the earth element. The eggs all looked like jagged rocks or maybe a combination of an artichoke and a jagged stone. This one was green on the most part with a white swirl from the middle.

To get to it he would need to climb up the cliff. As someone who was raised on the streets and would often climb from building to building, he was somewhat skilled at climbing. He began making his way to the unattended nest. The cliff was relatively high up, and even higher so in the perspective of a 7 year old. By the time he made it to the top he was huffing and he could not draw full breaths. He gave himself a moment to revive before making his way to the nest. The nest was made out of green twisting vines, almost the same deep forest green colour of the eggs. There were small thorns around with red berries growing and withering as they were cut off from their source of water but still tried to hang on to the little life they had left.

There were three eggs in the nest. They were each as big as a pillow and would fit in his chest somewhat. Jasper looked around and over the cliff. His breathing cut for a moment as he registered just how high up he had climbed. It was like climbing a tree, but with nothing to break your fall if you slipped or even tried to carry such an egg down with you. There was no way he would be able to do it with an egg. Head right and left and breathed a sigh. On the other side of the cliff was the beginning of a thick forest. He would probably be able to cushion his fall through there.

Escape in mind he began climbing over the nest and into the cocoon that it created. A small snap, he had broken a part of the vine; his leg scraping against one of the thorns. He paid it no mind, what was a small scratch in the face of what he had faced before and will face soon.

He got his answer seconds after. Jasper lurched forwards almost falling to his knees like before, a pit in his stomach and said stomach churning. The cut began to irritate and that irritation spread along his leg and where it went it trembled and turned a sickly green. Poison. This was poison vine. This was not just a nature class egg, it was a poison class.

He scrambled back over the vines and fell to the rock. He did not realise his whole body was heaving as the tears fell.

Why?! Why can’t anything go right. What did I do…. He shook and sobbed all the while grabbing his sickened stomach. He lay there like that while the poison spread. How would he get down from there when he was in this state? The curious and eager boy of the streets lay there shattered and defeated. When the mother dragon returned to her nest with more vines for her nest, he did not make much effort to move. Physically he could not do much but shake and tremble while mentally there was just ringing.

It could have been the small cries that triggered the dragon’s motherly instincts or the fragile and broken aura he emitted, but the dragon gently picked him up with her claws and flew him back to the haven’s entrance.

No one would believe him of this later, they did not understand that dragons were in fact gentle creatures who just wished to live in peace. It is the humans who go out of their way to steal their young and yet here this mother was, intelligent as a human and maybe even more, knew exactly where to return this boy to. She laid him down by the pathway’s entrance and huffed at him with her warmth, soothing his chilled body, before flying off and blowing the grass and leaves in her wake.

He would not let this dragon down. Somehow, for the first time, he was learning what it meant to have a mother; even in just those short moments. Even if it was all in his head, maybe he had not fully given up yet and was using it as an excuse. Either way, on all fours, he crawled back to the entrance of the pathway where he was collected into the arms of the doctors on standby at the front.

He did not end up becoming a dragon rider, nor did he die of poison but yet he felt like he gained some warmth and calmness through the experience.

He later learnt that he was the only one to return from the monastery group. One of the girls went on to be a dragon rider while the three boys and the one other girl were never heard from again.

N. D. Skordilis