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Song of the Dragons (excerpt)
The Dragons were falling. The Songs of Life, Death, and Balance were weakening, and only I knew why.
Everything in this world that has ever taken a breath has a Song. These melodies rang throughout the world which could only be heard by a few individuals. These people also have special abilities: they can manipulate the Songs they hear. These people are called Composers, and I am one of them.
My name is Xavier Raia, and this is my Song.
Like all stories, it would be best to start at the beginning, perhaps a brief introduction to me and my world. My name is Xavier Raia and I am fifteen years old. I live in a small village on the outskirts of my clan.
I grew up in the Sanshen Clan, which are in charge of producing the wood needed for the rest of our world. Most people looked down on the Sanshen, assuming that we were worthless and really can’t get much out of our lives because we lived a slow and peaceful life.
Our world is separated into four distinct sections: the Oceans, the Plains, the Mountains, and the Forests. Sanshens were located in the deepest sections of the Forests. We’ve been isolated, barely seeing any other people for years, only seeing others when we deliver the wood to the outside worlds.
Composers, like me, are rare among any of the divisions. Usually; there are two children out of ten born with this ability. There is a Master for each child, occasionally there is an extra child out of that ten that becomes a Composer, but that is even rarer.
Now, more about my Song.
I pushed my brown hair out of my brown eyes. I gazed up at the sky, listening to the trees sing. My pale skin felt the cool breeze flow along my body. I rolled up my black cloak to make some sort of barrier between the leaves and me. I kept trying to close my eyes, but the sun was doing its best to keep me from falling asleep.
I opened my mind, and I grasped at the song of the trees, willing a change. I felt my own energy being forced out of my body, to create a new song. A few notes morphed into a much darker song, and the trees bent inward, shading me. I felt tired, as I always do after I mess with a song. I started to close my eyes when I heard a voice interrupt my sleep.
“Xavier, what are you doing?” I opened my eyes, and saw my best friend looking down at me. “We need to leave, someone is coming and they requested all Composers to be there.” His deep voice was soothing and I started to fall asleep.
“Shut up, Jonathan,” I muttered, “It’s my naptime. I’m really tired. Can’t I go later? Besides, I’m the only Composer here at the moment; they can’t do anything about it. Until my Master gets back, I’m in charge.”
Jonathan sat down next to me, his short blond hair slick with sweat. “I’ve searched the entire village for you. They aren’t going to start without you, and they’ve got a schedule to keep.”
Jonathan’s green eyes glared at me, and then he offered me his hand. “Fine,” I muttered, “but if I fall over from being tired, I’m blaming you.”
Jonathan smiled, victorious. I grabbed his hand and let him pull me up. A mad rush of pain flooded my head, an after effect of changing the tree’s song.
“You changed a song, didn’t you?” Jonathan asked, sighing. “You know the rules; you can only change a song with permission from the Council. What did you want?”
“Shade.” I said simply.
Jonathan shook his head. “You know you’re going to be caught, right? But that’s not why I’m here; a wagon is pulling up to our village. It’s too early for a delivery to be made, and your Master isn’t expected back for a few weeks. Judgment’s Hand is expecting you at the village to judge the visitor’s Song.”
I sighed. Judgment’s Hand was the clan’s leader and the final word in most cases that erupt in the clan. But, I think his main goal is to make my life miserable. I was the only Apprentice in the entire clan, the only child for the last twenty-five years to be born with the ability to hear and change songs. My Master was one of the last people born in our clan a Composer, until I was born.
“Oh h*ll, do I have to? I really don’t want to follow any procedures until my Master gets back.”
I didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with my Master. He thought he knew what was best for me, and I would constantly argue that he was wrong, and that I was right. He probably did know what was best for me, I just didn’t ever want to admit it.
I slid my cloak back on and wiped off leaves. I started to stretch and let my mind flow into the Songs of the world. I heard Songs of Life, growing and living. I heard the lighter melody of the Song of Balance, keeping living things in check, not too big, not to small. The one Song I didn’t expect to hear was the Song of Death, yet there it was. Melancholy and quiet, and it was reaching its climax.
“That’s interesting,” I said calmly, not caring one way or the other whose or what’s Song was covered by the Death Dragon’s Song. “The Song of Death is in the air.”
Jonathan looked at me, “Are you serious? We need to go see where this Song is originating.” He took off running, and then stopped about five feet away and smiled. “You’re going to have to lead. Don’t give me that look.” He said, noticing my impassive attitude, “It’s your responsibility to know who the Song of Death is affecting.”
Jonathan Lyte had been born about the same time I was, so we became friends very quickly. He had always followed my crazy plans and backed me up when I needed it. I don’t know if he ever knew it, but I needed him a lot more than he needed me.
I started walking slowly towards the source of the Death Dragon’s Song. Jonathan punched my shoulder and pushed me. I rolled my eyes and started to jog towards the village.
I broke through the trees and ran through the run down wooden buildings that housed most of the occupants of my village. I kept running and passed the Hall of Judgment. Its stained walls sparkled in the sunlight. My room was in there, as was my Master’s and Judgment’s Hand.
I listened to the Song of Death, and it led me to the gate, right next to Judgment’s Hand. He had dyed his hair red today. “How nice of you to join me, Apprentice.” He growled.
“A pleasure, as always,” I responded with a chilly tone. “I didn’t come because you requested.”
“Oh?” Judgment asked.
“I’ve been tracking an interesting Song. Which, by the way, is coming from our guest; he’s being overwhelmed by the Death Dragon.”
“Is that so?” Judgment asked, “Have you listened to the Song under it? Perhaps that will clear things up a bit.”
I noticed his icy smile, and emptied my thoughts. Death’s Song was louder now, and I blocked it out. The Song underneath it was quiet, but was weakening. I didn’t understand what Judgment’s Hand was talking about, but then I was struck by the familiarity of the Song.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I yelled, angrily “It can’t be him!”
“But it is, Apprentice.” Judgment’s Hand laughed.
Judgment’s Hand looked at me with a satisfied look on his face. I wanted to change his Song, to make him sleep for years. Yet I couldn’t do that, not with the Song of Death in the air.
“What’s going on?” Jonathan asked, confused.
Judgment’s Hand didn’t answer, but gave a dark smile. I watched with growing horror as the wagon got closer to the gate. Dark hair and pale skin, it really was my Master.
“Isn’t that Master Lyal?” Jonathan asked. “Please tell me that isn’t him.”
I couldn’t speak. My throat had a lump in it and I couldn’t help but wonder how I was supposed to say what I’d learned. What I’d seen, how to go on.
“Well,” Master Lyal said in his grumbling voice, “if it isn’t Xavier and Jonathan. How unexpected. Did something happen?”
I tried to talk, but could only form a grunt. Jonathan nodded his head, making me glad to have opened up enough to let him become a friend. “X heard your Song. We know.”
Master Lyal nodded grimly, “I was worried about that. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, but I’ve only started to hear it.”
I found my voice. “Can’t we stop it?”
Judgment’s Hand laughed, “And you would go against the will of the Dragons? I would have to punish you. Not even Composers can go against the law.”
“They can if they are the heir to the Master of the Sanshen Clan, Zachary.” Master Lyal turned to me, “I don’t have long. You will be named the Master Composer of the Sanshen Clan within the next few days.” His eyes twinkled mischievously, “Just in time for your clan initiation, if I remember correctly. A fitting sixteenth birthday present.”
My head swam with the news, becoming the Master at sixteen. I didn’t want that present, and I knew that I couldn’t fulfill my responsibilities to the Clan if I was placed in charge now.
“What about the Gathering?” I asked. I hadn’t yet accompanied Master Lyal to the Gathering of Masters, and I didn’t think I could do it.
Jonathan looked back and forth, and Judgment’s Hand answered me. “I will be the one to go to the Gathering. I have decided it, and you can’t argue with me.”
I was about to argue when Judgment’s Hand cut me off. “No, Xavier. I am the law of the Sanshen Clan, I can do as I wish.”
Master Lyal glared at Judgment’s Hand and snapped. “Zachary! You have no say in the ways of the Composer. Xavier will go the Gathering whether he’s ready or not. Other Masters will teach him what he needs to know. Customs that can only be taught by a Composer, and may only be heard by a Composer. Xavier, take your friend back to the Hall of Judgment, wait for me there.”
I nodded and led Jonathan away from Judgment’s Hand and Master Lyal’s rising voices.
“X,” he said, using my nickname, “What just happened?”
“Judgment decided that he would challenge the right of the Composers. He can’t do that. It is not something you can just take, but something that you are born into.”
Jonathan kept quiet as I stormed into the Hall of Judgment. I threw open the giant doors and walked angrily past the statues of past Judgment’s. I couldn’t believe I was kicked out of a meeting that would determine my future.
Jonathan walked silently behind me as I continued my walk angrily down the Hall and into my room.
I slammed my door and flung myself on the bed. “I don’t get it.” I yelled into my pillow. “Why do these things always happen to me?”
Jonathan sat on the end of the bed. “I don’t know why these things happen. Maybe it’s to see how you handle it. The Great Dragons test people for these things. Maybe it means great things are expected from you.”
I opened my mind to Jonathan’s Song. Loud and sympathetic, it sang of everything he was going through: worrying about his family, worrying for the Clan, and worrying for me. A powerful downbeat showed me his heart. I wasn’t in the mood to listen to Jonathan try to comfort me, so I grasped at his Song. Change, I thought. Relax and sleep.
Jonathan’s Song slowed, “What are you doing?” He demanded, while fighting back a yawn. I had a hard time keeping my own eyes open, fighting back the energy used to change his Song.
Jonathan fell back on the bed, fast asleep. The energy loss made me lose consciousness as well, and black overcame me.
I felt someone shake my shoulder. “Xavier, you need to wake up. Xavier, please. We don’t have much time.”
I slowly opened my eyes and saw Master Lyal standing in front of me. His face had grown older and his dark hair had turned white. The light from the sun was gone, and my room was dark, save a candle.
“How long was I out?” I asked groggily. Then, as an after thought, “You look old, is the Song of Death working swiftly?”
Master Lyal scratched his head, “Yes, my boy. Death is claiming me much faster than I anticipated.” He was leaning heavily on my dresser, and I could see he was in pain. He shook it off and continued, “To answer your first question, you’ve been asleep for a few hours, at the least. I’m not sure when you changed his Song, but you’ve been asleep since I came to the Hall three hours ago after going on some, errands.”
I looked at the end of my bed and saw that Jonathan was still asleep. “That was quite the change if he’s still asleep.”
Master Lyal nodded and then reached into his own cloak. He winced, “I don’t have much time left. You need to trust me.” I nodded, “I’m going to die the day of your sixteenth birthday. You will leave that day and go to the Gathering. It’s being held in the Mountains, the tallest peak, in the Zesha Clan.
“As a first year Master, you are permitted to bring one guest. I recommend anyone that you would trust with your life. Composers are evil people and will try to kill you the first chance.” He gave me a knowing smile. “I figure that that makes you feel like you don’t want to go, but it is your duty. You no longer have a choice in the matter. But take comfort in this: the person you bring will be able to protect you.”
He opened his hand and pulled out a small charm and offered it to me. I took it in my hand and looked at it. It was a small circular stone with a musical note carved into it.
I looked at Master Lyal, “What is this?”
“This is your protection. You carry it in your pocket, and protection from other Composers will be there for you and your companion. It will block another Composer from feeling your Song, and your companion. Who you pick must be brave and be able to protect your body while in a group changing.” Master Lyal coughed, “Xavier, you will need to be strong and show no fear. I trust that you’ll do the right thing.”
He gathered his cloak behind him and slid out of my room. My sixteenth birthday, which gave him less than twenty-four hour. I lay back down on my bed and sighed.
I heard someone grumbling, Jonathan was waking up. “What did you do to me, X? I feel like I’ve been run over by a wagon.” He sat up, and looked at me. “You changed my Song, didn’t you?”
I shrugged, “I didn’t want to hear you talk, so I put you to sleep, which made me fall asleep.” A well needed sleep, I thought. That was one of the most peaceful sleeps I’ve ever had.
Jonathan looked outside and his jaw dropped, shocked by the fact that the sun had set. “How long did you make me sleep?” I shrugged again, and Jonathan pulled me up. “Tell me now, or I will hurt you.”
“Fine, whatever.” I muttered. “According to Master Lyal, we’ve been asleep for about five or six hours. Not that it matters, nothing really does when the entire clan knows where you are at every single moment of every day.”
That’s the downside to living in a small clan. If you sneezed, the guy across town offers you a cloth to blow your nose. Besides, the clan had a special interest in the Apprentice. I tended to have someone watching me at every moment.
Jonathan shoved me back onto my bed and ran out of the door. “Thanks Xavier. My father was leaving tonight to go and sign up to fight in the war. He’s probably left already. Thanks a lot, Xavier.”
“At least you have parents to go home to,” I said quietly after he left. “All I have is Master Lyal, and he’s dying.”
My parents died when I was young. I remember that day clearly, but most of the time I wish I could forget. Memories came flooding back to me
I was four years old, and it was storming that day. Lightning flashed outside next to my window. My mother was in our kitchen, preparing lunch for my father.
She started to pace back and forth, “I wonder what is keeping your father. I hope he’s not hurt.”
I was experimenting with my abilities, listening to the Songs of the world. I didn’t exactly know what I was able to do at the time, but I could summon the Death Dragon’s Song.
My father walked in the door as I started thinking heavily about the Death Dragon’s Song. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had forced the Song on my parents. I heard something roar, but no one else seemed to notice. I could barely make out the words, “It shall be repaid.”
My knees gave out, and I was woken up a few hours later by Master Lyal. “Boy, what have you done?”
I looked around me and saw a different Judgment’s Hand standing with three people carrying out my mother. “I’m not sure, what happened?”
“Your parents are dead, boy. I think you killed them.”
I moved into the Hall of Judgment shortly after that. Judgment’s Hand didn’t blame me, since he couldn’t sense any Songs. Master Lyal had decided that I wasn’t going to learn some of the finer points of mastering the Dragon Songs because he didn’t trust my emotions, always shifting. Therefore, he taught me how to change things without evoking the Dragons.
I lay down on my back and took out the charm Master Lyal had given me. I held its comforting weight in my hands and examined it with a much more intense purpose. The stone couldn’t have been more than an inch wide, and was polished to perfection. The musical note was engraved deeply into the stone and was filled with a glass-like substance.
I looked out of my window and watched the moon glow up in the sky. I dreaded the rise of the sun the next day. When I woke up I would be sixteen years old, initiated into the clan, and lose my Master.
Tears started to fall down my face, I was losing everyone I ever cared about. I closed my eyes and cried myself to sleep.
I was surrounded by three people. On my right was a woman with a small flower in her hair, with a staff made from an oak tree. On my left was a man, a skull on the ground by his legs, and a staff made of bones. The person in front of me was a boy my age, and had a Scepter in his hands.
Each person wore white clothes and had the same features: tanned skin, stern expressions, and a look of weariness on their faces.
“Do you think he came?” asked the woman to the person with the skull and bones.
“I’m not sure, Sister,” said the man on my left, “Balance, is he going to be here?”
The boy nodded, “Yes, Death, the boy will be here.” The young man turned to the woman. “Life, you need to open his mind to the conscious stage, or open all of ours. Please do so.”
The woman, Life, waved her hand and the three people gasped.
The young man, Balance, nodded. “Hello Xavier.”
Death rolled his eyes. “He’s probably been here for awhile, listening to us debate.”
Life shrugged, “Well, he’s here now. Give him his message.”
Balance raised his Scepter and the two others vanished. “You have had a great privilege, Xavier. You have seen the three Great Dragons in their human forms. I am the Balance Dragon, and I have been given the task of letting you know of things to come. You wonder why all sorrowful things happen to you, but your friend was right. We are testing you, to see how you react, and so far, it has been far from what we expected.” I reeled back, the Balance Dragon just insulted me. “You must follow the rules that have been set down. Furthermore, you can’t just stay changing a few notes of Songs, but you must evoke the Dragons.”
Balance waived his hand and a pocket size version of his scepter appeared. “This is my gift to you, Xavier Raia. This scepter will help you determine your decisions by measuring the Balance of the decision in question. The three numbers located on the plates can be used to contact one of the three of us. One is Life, two is Death, and three is yours truly. Each button may only be used twice.”
I picked up the Scepter and slid them in my cloak pocket. I wanted to thank Balance for his gift, but I couldn’t find my voice, so I just nodded.
“When you wake up, you must move swiftly. Your clan is plotting, as well as the other Composers. I’m sorry for what is going to happen.”
Balance tipped his Scepter and blackness enveloped me.
I woke up in a cold sweat. I was still wearing my cloak and clothes from yesterday. That was some dream, I thought. I slid my cloak off, and dropped it on the ground. There was a small sound of metal hitting the ground, and I picked up my cloak again. I reached into the pocket and pulled out Balance’s Scepter.
The golden Scepter had a silver design running up the center pole. Bronze chains held up golden plates. On each plate were the numbers one, two, and three, just as Balance said. The scepter itself was only a few inches long, but when I held it out, it grew to be five feet tall. The staff glistened a golden color.
I set Balance’s Scepter on my bed and quickly changed my shirt. I slid Lyal’s charm and Balance’s Scepter in my pocket and walked out of my room. Jonathan was standing outside my door, and I walked right into him.
“What are you doing here?” I asked angrily.
“X, I wanted to apologize.” Jonathan began, “Maybe I was a little harsh yesterday-”
“No, I think I owe you an apology.” I said, bowing my head. “I reacted in a rude way, and I had no reason to do what I did. Please, Jonathan, can you forgive me?”
Jonathan smiled, “Of course I forgive you. I would have reacted the same way if I found out, well, what you found out. I guess that’s why I’m still your friend, to make sure you have someone to keep you on the ground.”
He kept talking and I pulled out the Scepter of Balance. The Scepter elongated to its full size, and the golden scales began to shift. As the plate on the right began to sink, a warm feeling flowed through the Scepter. Life had been pleased, and Balance had agreed that this was needed to maintain a perfect balance. I slid the Scepter into my pocket, I smile on my face.
Jonathan noticed, “What is that?”
“The Scepter of Balance, given to me by the Dragon of Balance himself,” I responded.
Jonathan laughed, “You expect me to believe that? I bet you’ve also seen the Great Dragons’ human forms as well.”
Jonathan paled, “You don’t joke about this, X. Judgment’s Hand would kill you for pretending to have seen them. Do you really want to do go around saying that you’ve seen the Dragons?” I rolled my eyes and started to walk away. “Wait, X! There’s something I need to tell you! Happy Birthday!”
Jonathan handed me a small package. I accepted it and tore the box apart. Sitting inside of the velvet interior was a slim silver rod, no bigger than my finger. I picked it up and shot a glance and Jonathan. “Thanks, but what the hell is this?”
“It’s a baton,” Jonathan explained. “I was told that Composers should have one to help magnify their powers. Hopefully it will come in handy during you initiation.”
“Where did you get this?” I asked, rolling it around in my hand.
“I found it out in the woods. It was buried and I saw it by luck. Master Lyal told me what it was.”
I tugged on the top of the baton and it extended to my arm’s length. Immediately, I felt the Songs come into more focus. I waved it experimentally, and the tree outside my room twisted. I collapsed the baton and put it with the Scepter of Balance and the Composer’s Charm.
“Thanks,” I said. “I guess I’m lucky to count you as a friend.”
Judgment’s Hand appeared next to me. “Well isn’t this touching,” he sneered. “Jonathan, come with me. The initiation is about to begin.”
Jonathan waved and walked off with Judgment’s Hand. I walked down the hall to where my master was staying. I knocked on his door.
“Come in,” Master Lyal said weakly. I opened the door and saw a thin, frail old man lying on the bed. “Xavier, I was hoping you would come in and visit your Master before he died.”
“I wouldn’t ever leave you, Master. I need some advice, and I really need to say my goodbyes while you are still here.” I said, sitting down near his bed.
“There is no time for that now. I can feel my spirit leaving, and I need to make you the Master Composer for the Sanshen Clan.” He put his hand on my leg, closed his eyes and started to mutter in the Language of the Dragons.
“Tes’are lisy asmne Xavier Raia. Ilis lepitus iqu Thane Lyal.” He took a deep ragged breath. “May the Dragons watch and help the new leader.”
He coughed violently and was still. I stood up and lowered my head in respect. I walked out the door, and slowly shut it behind me. My eyes were dry because I had cried out everything I had. I was now the Master, and I was broken inside.
Judgment’s Hand arrived behind me. “He’s dead, correct?” I nodded, “Good. That means you are now one of the sources of the law in our clan. I suppose now that you and I are equals. You may call me Zachary.”
He extended his hand. I stared at the hand, unmoving. “What are you planning?” Judgment’s Hand, Zachary, was never nice to me.
Zachary took back his hand. “Nothing, nothing.” He wiped off his cloak, “Well then, your initiation is about to begin. You are the law for today, get ready.”
He walked away, a powerful step that made me worried for what he had planned. I went back to my room and looked around the Apprentice’s Quarters. I would be moving later in the day, into the Master’s Area.
I took my drawings of the sky and the stars down from the wall and emptied my wardrobe. I looked around my room one last time, and then slammed the door behind me.
I walked to the entrance of the Hall of Judgment, and saw that the entire clan had gathered in the main hall. Whatever conversation had been happening in the room quieted when I entered. There was a single chair set up in the midst of the statues.
Zachary waved his hand and gestured to the chair. I slowed my walk to seem more in control. After what seemed like an eternity, I sat down in the chair. “Master Lyal has died.” I said, my voice quavering. “I am now Master Xavier Raia, Master Composer of the Sanshen Clan.”
Zachary nodded his head, and then called for a vote of how to bury the body. I wasn’t paying attention to what he was saying, but was trying to find Jonathan in the crowd.
Zachary kept talking, and I zoned back in on what he was saying. “-initiation will be a test of his own Balance. He will be deciding the fate of one who has talked blasphemously about the Dragons.
“Bring the prisoner forward and let Master Raia see who this person is.” Zachary clapped and the great wooden doors opened, revealing a face I was not expecting.
Jonathan was standing in the doorway, chains around his wrists.