I sat up in bed screaming. My lungs felt like they would explode, I was breathing so hard. I looked around me in bewilderment.
The crowds had disappeared. I was safely inside my house, the heat escaping my body into the cold air. Around me, familiar belongings met my eyes and comforted me: my green tapr in a pile on the floor, my collection of dragon scales lining the wall, my boots seeming to grin at me by the door. I was home. Father was alive. And I could not determine if that was a good thing.
I leaned back on the wall and sighed, trying to catch my breath. It had been so real. It had been so many star spins ago, but it had been so fresh in my memory. The horror, the event that had ruined my life, had returned. And today of all days!
I had pondered that day too many times to let it ruin today. I needed to focus, not to relive my past. Still I was nervous. I threw the covers off of my legs and endured the cold as I crept across the floor and quietly opened the door to my room. I pushed my head through the crack.
He was still there. He was sleeping.
Good, I thought to myself. He can't ask me any questions I can't answer. I crossed the room again and looked out the window to find out what time it was: the two stars were shining to the right of the mountain. I had to get moving. Nothing, especially not a silly nightmare, could stop me from today.
I shoved my tapr over my long white shielder and pulled my black boots over my bare feet. Then I moved to the adjoining room where a pool of blue water glittered in the dim light. To me looks were just to distinguish one man from another and not something to fuss about, but today I had to at least look presentable. I groaned at the holes at my knee-length green tapr and peered at my reflection in the water, hoping my face looked a little better.
White as snow, like my mother. Blue-black hair with streaks of green, like my father: perfect for hiding in the woods. Dark blue eyes and sharp eyebrows like both of my parents. Tall and sinewy, unlike either of my parents, because I worked as hard as they had and ate less. Not that I complained. I liked to be strong.
I splashed the blue water over my face and scrubbed hard at it for a few seconds before wiping the water off with my sleeve. I had no more time to linger if Celtis wanted me to work today.
I jumped to my feet. A few seconds later I was out of the house and running up the road to the mountain. The road seemed exceptionally long today, as if the town ahead of me was moving away as I moved towards it. To keep my mind under control, I kept reminding myself of little hints Celtis had given me for the tasks. His deep firm voice rang in my head.
Tell me how to get to Newol.
Cross the mountain range first, that's 20 fathoms—
Ride the wind over Picky Pass. Watch out for acid rains. Several mountains after that and towns, then 300 fathoms of snow. Watch out for wolves.
If you meet a wolf, what do you do?
Kill it. I grinned at my own joke.
Alright, I was just kidding. Fire is what they're afraid of, but signal for your dragon and he'll send them packing. Cover wounds with cloth and with ice, and with pepper herbs.
I picked a fruit from a tree branch and sucked on it thoughtfully. To my right and left, fields of Bob nuts stretched over the mountain's rocky surface.
When you're sword fighting, don't keep charging at your opponent like you're hacking briars down. Get the sword out of their hand. You're not killing anybody, Mano, or I will personally see to it that the Shadowers kill you.
Some friend you are, Celtis.
You frighten me sometimes, your lust for danger.
I grinned and weighed the pit of the fruit in my hand. To my left, a couple of Russis were bargaining with a farmer. The farmer leaned on his shovel heavily and took in every word those lying fiends were giving him, and whether from hatred or for humor, I chucked my pit as hard as I could and watched it glance off one of the Russi's head. He spun around to find out what had hit him, but before he saw me I had dashed forward behind some trees, running as fast as I could.
Running. Yeah, don't think you need any pointers there. Just don't hit anybody out of the way.
Wouldn't do such a thing and you know it.
Never know with you, Mano.
Another memory of our training flickered into my mind. If your father was…well, if he knew, he would be proud of you. I'm betting on you and you know it.
Of course he was. Half the town was betting on me. Everyone knew I was the tallest, the smartest, and the fastest kid in the competition. They also knew I had Celtis on my side, though they didn't know just how wicked I was with the sword. As long as I tried as hard as I could, I would make it.
Finally I had reached the town. The sunlight glanced off the metal roofs and sparkled in the snow. Few shops were open this early, but the shop-keepers that were up all smiled at me and waved. A few said, "Good luck Mano Ami. Your father would be proud," and I grinned back, glad to have some rare popularity.
Once I had made it through the town, I pulled off the main road onto the footpath that led to the dragon stables. I followed the path as it wrapped around the mountain, decorated by large dark-blue trees and green grass with white flowers. Finally I met the entrance. Two pillars and a rock roof sheltered the entrance to the tunnel, and I dashed inside.