Chapter 1: Buddy the Ambrosial Dragon had only been sporadically living with Landon and his family for the past year or so. Now that he had grown to his full stature (about the size of a school bus), he always had to shrink himself downwhen he came to stay with them, as he had right now.
He didn’t tell his seventeen-year-old apprentice anything about his “secret missions,” and Landon knew all too well that once the Dragon’s mind was made up, there was no changing it. The only time they got to spend with each other was during his lessons in the teen’s personal pocket universe, the small pouch which was its entrance was sitting on the top of his book shelf here in his bedroom.
The high school senior slammed shut his calculus book, tossed it on the floor with the other texts, and got off his bed. He pulled the ear buds out and closed the music app on his phone, stuffing it in his pocket. He felt strangely anxious. There was something not right, but his senses couldn’t pinpoint it.
The thin teen ran his fingers through the mop of scruffy blond hair on his head as he walked into the kitchen to make himself some lunch. Dad, Grandpa, and his twelve-year-old sister Dani were at a Saturday matinée, leaving him alone to study for his finals. He’d graduate in a month, but still couldn’t make up his mind which school he should go to, a university in this world like his Dad wanted, or the occult academy the Dragon had recommended for him. He was too late to apply for either this year so he supposed it didn’t matter.
He looked over the counter into the living room and saw Buddy (he still called the Dragon that even though he now knew how to pronounce his real name) napping on the sofa, along with his faithful stuffed animals, including Alfred, the Bunny in the Bowtie. Right now, the Dragon was about the size of a small pony, but the boy remembered the thrill of being able to ride high in the sky and even across dimensions while clutching onto his amber scales on his neck.
“Let’s see. We’ve got milk and cheese.” He took them out and closed the refrigerator, and then walked into the pantry. “Don’t tell me we’re out of macaroni.”
Suddenly, a wave of nausea and cold fear made him tremble. Something terrible was about to happen.
He jumped and turned toward the front of the house when the doorbell rang. “What?”
Looking around the kitchen and then over the counter into the living room, his world looked normal and ordinary, that is ordinary for someone who had grown up living with a Dragon.
The doorbell rang again.
“Just a minute.”
He went to the front door, and looking through the peep hole, saw a mail carrier holding a package. Turning the deadbolt, he opened the door, and then, in a breathtaking fashion, the world ceased being ordinary.
“Landon.” His master’s voice came from behind him. He turned, and the full ten-meter length of the great golden dragon’s spectral image rushed through the house like a frigid wind, chilling the boy’s flesh as the serpent passed through his body and into the brilliant void outside the front door.
“Buddy!” He had to scream now to be heard above the sudden gale which carried him away after the Dragon, who was already receding into the distance.
“Help me, Landon.” The Dragon’s voice was a soft, still whisper he could barely hear within the roar of an arctic-cold hurricane, and then it was gone.
He was borne aloft by the wind, surrounded by white light and swirling mist. Ice was forming on his skin, when minutes before, it has been warm enough to wear a t-shirt and gym shorts. Was the light getting dimmer or was he dying?
Landon was still trembling when he opened his eyes again, but the ground under him felt warm, and he found himself deposited face down in sand.
“Take him.” The boy heard cruelty in the man’s voice, and then rough hands grabbed him from either side and held him down while someone else put something around his neck. Landon tried to break free, but he was still too cold and disoriented. Maybe he could heat things up. A ring of fire should do it.
“My head!” The instant he tried to weave the fire elemental spell, a sharp pain shot through his temples. The last thing he saw before passing out were a pair of black, leather boots approaching.
The other inmates said he had no name. They were all told to call him “The Master.”
It was the second week of Landon’s captivity, and only he and the Master were in one of the small arenas.
“Are you ever going to tell me why I’m here?” The teenager was still defiant and holding the long, steel sword made him feel bold.
“Train.” It was almost the only thing the Master said. He was taller than Landon by a full foot and completely bald, though he wore a trimmed beard. His pants and shirt were black, and identical to what the young would-be wizard had been given to wear, but only the Master had no collar. All of the prisoners and even the guards had them around their necks. They were the givers of pain, punishment for disobedience.
“What if I refuse?”
The pain giver activated around his throat and crushing agony drove Landon to his knees. Tears filled his eyes. Where had Buddy gone? Would the Dragon be able to save him as he had so many times before? Would he ever see Dad, Dani, and Grandpa again? Ana. He kept trying to communicate telepathically with his fellow apprentice, but something was blocking his thoughts.
Landon staggered to his feet. He had managed to hold onto the sword. Surrounded by practice dummies, he began to go through the forms of the art of war he was being taught.
With a casual wave of his hand, the Master animated the dummies, giving them the imitation of life. They couldn’t be killed since they weren’t living beings, but their swords were real enough, and the boy already had several healing cuts and one or two scars from his previous sessions in the ring.
He dodged and weaved, thrust and parried, managing to avoid injury this time, and disabling four of his unliving foes.
The first round was over. He’d defeated all six. Rendering a killing blow caused a dummy to stop moving, removing the animation magic. As Landon fought, the Master stood impassively to one side, watching, judging, but never saying anything.
The apprentice put his sword back in its scabbard and stood half bent over, hands on his thighs, trying to catch his breath. He looked up at the Master with hate in his eyes. The Master looked back showing no emotion.
Two guards rushed forward and removed Landon’s belt with its sheath, and then they disappeared out a hidden gate.
“Wait.” Then the boy staggered as the first dummy was reanimated and hit him on the side of the head.
Hand-to-hand combat. Landon was being taught the ways of a warrior or soldier. He had to run five miles every day before breakfast, do calisthenics, lift weights, train with a sword, train in martial arts, pistol practice, rifle practice, and he was never told a reason.
Sometimes he could whisper to the prisoner in the next cell, learn information passed from one person to another, but it was too infrequent and it still told him almost nothing. The guards were everywhere, and everyone in this fort was ordered not to communicate with anyone else. To be caught doing so meant more pain.
How was he supposed to survive this?
“Train.” That’s all he ever heard, day in and day out. He began to hear the Master say “Train” in his sleep.
Days passed, then weeks. Landon lost track of time. His hair and beard grew. Fortunately, they let him and the others shower every other day.
Finally, Landon stopped asking questions. All he knew how to do was survive and train. He could eat, sleep, and stare up at the ceiling at night. He started to think of home less and less. Even the Dragon didn’t occupy his thoughts as often as before.
Then came the day when things changed. All of the prisoners were shaved and their hair cut short. They were allowed to shower and given clean uniforms. The guards assembled them in the main arena, something the size of a football field. They still weren’t allowed to talk, but Landon saw that they were all young men like him.
The Master walked in, slowly, calmly, until he was right in front of them, facing this army he had gathered together. He was motionless except for his head, which was moving left to right, right to left, studying each of them as they stood at attention in the glare of the morning sun.
Finally, he opened his mouth and began to speak.
At the end of this month, I will have been writing a continuing series of fantasy stories for my Grandson for a full two years. For all of that time in these stories, my Grandson has been depicted as the age he actually is (this series started when he was seven and now he’s nine). He asked me a few weeks ago how old he was in the stories, and when I told him, he got a little upset. He wanted to be older, more powerful. He outlined the beginning of a new collection of stories, one about him as a teenager, being captured and forced to train, and then going to war. It sounds pretty grim, but I decided to accommodate him. I don’t know how long this particular story arc will go or if he’ll want me to write about his childhood again, but I guess we’ll see.
Just in case you’re interested in the “old” stories, to go to back to the very beginning and visit The Day a Dragon Came to Live with Us. At the bottom of that story is a link to the next. Each subsequent story has a link to the next chapter, so all you have to do is keep reading and clicking and you’ll eventually get back here.