Post by Rosa on Apr 21, 2016 10:27:02 GMT -5
The Shadow Rider (temporary title unless I come up with something better later)
Tristan lay wide awake on the lower bunk in the dorm room reserved for Beginner Rider cadets. His dark brown eyes stared across the room, fixed upon one of the windows. A paper shade was pulled down over the window, fastened securely to the stone windowsill. The silvery light of the moon set the paper covered window aglow, transforming it into a mystical arched beacon. He fought the urge to get up and unfasten the shade and roll it up so that he could see the rising moon, but since he’d arrived at Canyon City, he’d already learned the hard way that it was best to keep the shade down during the night because it was unpleasant to find night bugs swimming in the wash basin in the morning or to discover a lizard wiggling down inside of his boot.
The room smelled earthy, because of the stone walls and hard packed dirt floor and he could hear the heavy breathing of the three other cadets sleeping soundly. Tristan shifted on his bed, still unaccustomed to the feel of sleeping in a bed carved into the side of the stone wall of the room. He was grateful for the thin mattress providing some cushion between his back and the stone frame and for the cotton stuffed pillow beneath his head, but it wasn’t as comfy as his bed back home in Sauropolis. And he could not erase the memory of one of the other cadet’s stories about the history of the bunk rooms.
Taddeo Giovanni, the oldest of the four cadets sharing the room, said that the room used to be an ancient tomb for humans and the carved out places where they slept were where the bodies used to lay. When Jamin, one of the other cadets had asked where the bodies had gone then, Taddeo had said that long ago the Pteranadons managed to find a way in, picking clean the bones. Then Mathias, the third cadet who shared the room skeptically asked where all the bones disappeared to and Taddeo explained that the pteranadons carried them away to their secret nesting grounds where their nests were made of bones instead of sticks and leaves. Taddeo laughed then and made sure to say that the story was all just a joke, but Tristan still found himself wondering about it every now and then. He was grateful for the two windows allowing light into the room, otherwise the older boy’s tomb story would feel too real.
Finally, Tristan had enough of tossing to and fro and staring at the glowing windows of the room. He rolled out of bed and prepared himself to go outside. All the cadets had been warned not to hike the canyons at night, but this was the first full moon since Tristan had arrived in Canyon City and in all of his seventeen years he’d been accustomed to staying up and watching it rise. Back home in the city of Sauropolis, the rising of the full moon each month was marked as a special event and the citizens of Sauropolis would gather by the bay to watch the great silver orb rising over the water.
Tristan quietly slipped out of the room and skimmed through the village known as Canyon City. He passed through narrow passages lined with wooden railings, crossed over rope bridges, and avoided the paths dotted with the occasional bobbing lanterns of folks returning to their homes after attending late night activities or from working late shifts at their jobs. He didn’t want anyone spotting a Beginner Rider on the loose and headed out on the paths that lead outside of the city.
The gravel crunched beneath Tristan’s boots as he walked carefully along the familiar narrow trail winding through the canyons. He’d traveled this path many times already on treks with the rest of the cadets so he wasn’t worried about getting lost. A small puff of dust followed each footstep, soon snatched up by the wind and scattered into the warm night air. When his feet skidded every now and then on the loose stones, his right hand closed tightly around the sturdy pole he carried with him.
The pole, carved from a twisted piece of driftwood once found on a southern beach of Dinotopia, seemed to gleam a ghostly hue as the moonlight touched it. A thin strand of rope made of twisted reeds was secured to the upper part of the pole with loose ends decorated by carefully hand carved and painted wooden beads. Attached to the reed rope dangled a small brown pouch which held a single stone just large enough to fit in Tristan’s palm. A brass band looped around the top of the pole, creating a space for the small stone to fit snugly into should Tristan decide to remove it from the pouch and secure it there. “May it give you light in dark places.” his father had said, offering him the gift just before Tristan left on the journey to Canyon City. But even though it was night, a time full of darkness, Tristan waited to use the sunstone. The light of the full moon illuminated the trail just enough for him to see, for the most part, what he was doing. He would treat the sunstone with reverence, as his father had taught him, and only use it if it was greatly needed.
The wind swept through the canyons, speaking in whistles of many pitches, orchestrating a tune which Tristan wished he could understand. “The canyons speak to those who wish to hear them.” Will Dennison, Tristan’s instructor had said during training that day. “Few people, however, discover the meaning hidden in those voices.” Though Will didn’t say so, Tristan felt as if the man meant that a skybax rider would have to find that meaning in order to accomplish the amazing feat of bonding with a skybax and learning to fly. He wasn’t sure where to look for the answers, but Tristan determined that if he tried hard enough, he would find it. No matter what obstacles he faced, he would become a skybax rider.
The canyons at night held a different tone than during the day. It seemed more dangerous. The shadows cast by the huge cliffs and rock formations made it difficult to see the thorny bushes, gravel pits, and treacherous drop offs. Tristan found it harder to judge distances in the poor lighting of night, making it difficult to keep his balance when the wind and the black shadows seemed to play tricks on him.
As he traveled the worn path leading down into the gut of canyon, he wondered exactly what he was looking for. The moon hung high above, lighting his way in paths of silver. The great flying pterasaurs known as the quetzalcoatlus skybax did not roam the canyons at this time of night. Most of them would be tucked away up at Pteros, their nesting grounds, sleeping and awaiting the light of dawn. What was there to find then? Skybaxes were supposed to be his life. He’d dreamed of flying with them ever since he could remember. The wind whistled in lower tones the further he traveled downward. It felt as if he were being lured into the belly of a giant beast. The canyon was swallowing him. There were more shadows further down, and more cliff walls to block out the moonlight.
When Tristan paused in the darkness to rest for a moment, he wondered why anyone chose to live in the canyons. It was too vast, aching with emptiness, making the hollow feeling in his chest feel deeper. There were too many dark places, too many traps, and too many places to fall.
His thoughts drifted back to home which lay west over the Forbidden Mountains and then south to Sauropolis and the Dolphin Bay. Sauropolis—the capitol city of Dinotopia—with all its beautiful architecture, and the mix of people and dinosaurs living together in a magnificent city. It was colorful—no—radiant, and full of life, vigor, and activity. The canyons seemed just the opposite. Strange, desolate, and quiet. He’d left so much behind in order to pursue his dream of becoming a skybax rider.
Tristan propped his walking stick against the wall of stone beside him and dropped to his knees. Putting one hand in front of him after the other, he crawled carefully forward. Even though he’d traveled relatively downward for most of the hike, he’d come nowhere near the bottom of the canyon. He could see a jagged edge of cliff in front of him, gleaming in the moonlight like stained teeth before the black mouth of a deep precipice. The wind tousled his dark hair and the moon glinted against the unusual white patch of hair on top of his head. At seventeen, he was far too young to acquire white hair, but this small patch had been there ever since birth. He sank down until his chest pressed into the dusty ground and he scooted the last few feet leading toward the cliff’s edge.
As Tristan looked down into the yawning space before him, it felt as if his stomach suddenly wanted to find a way out. His heartbeat seemed to have the same idea. His breath came in shaky gasps and his hands gripped the ground below him, though there wasn’t much more than dust and small gravels to cling to. He forced himself to look into the gorge, tracing the moonlight where it illuminated sheer stone walls and jagged ledges and to contemplate the black spaces where the silver light could not reach.
Today’s lesson in training had been focused on self discipline. The group of cadets was taken on a hike through the canyon, learning to go near dangerous ledges and disciplining themselves to be aware of the danger, but to also be aware of their own strength and abilities. Discipline to push forward despite one’s fears.
Tristan had done well enough. He’d managed to complete the hike, keeping his fears well hidden, unlike a few of the other cadets. Halfway through the hike, Jamin had to turn back because he was too afraid to cross so closely to the edge of a deep gorge. Fira, the only girl cadet in the Beginner group felt motion sickness even though they were hiking on solid ground. Will said it was brought on by the dizziness which stemmed from the fear of heights. Then there was Taddeo, who completed the hike, but talked his whole way through it, speaking every fear which popped into his mind. Mathias had been the most daring, managing to show no fear as they came near the cliff edges. Compared to all the other cadets, Tristan felt that had done well, but not well enough for his own high standards. He’d buried his emotions to those fears because he didn’t want to look weak in front of anyone, especially in front of Mathias who’d appeared so unconcerned about the heights.
Now was the time to repeat it all. Now that no one was looking, Tristan could gasp, he could cringe, he could cover his eyes if he wanted to and he could throw up if the dizziness twisted his stomach too much. No one would see it now while he was alone.
Gradually, Tristan’s gasps slowed down to controlled, steady breathing. Time allowed him to adjust to the height and new thoughts crept into his mind. What if one didn’t have to worry about falling? If one could fly, the deep gorges would not mean death. It would mean space and freedom. Dark places, the crevices in the ridges and canyon walls would mean shelter from wind and occasional rainstorms. Instead of obstacles to be avoided, the cliffs and rock formations would serve as places to land and to rest. The deep gorges of open space meant freedom, not death. Is this what the skybaxes saw? Is this why they chose the canyons as their homeland?
Tristan suddenly realized that his hands had grown numb from gripping the ground so long. Beneath the mesmerizing light of the moon, he’d lost track of time. He should return back to Canyon City before someone discovered that he was missing. Just as he began to scoot backward, realizing how stiff his limbs had become, a flicker of shadow passed over the moon. He looked up quickly. There were no clouds in the sky that he could see. The sky remained dark velvet with millions of tiny pinpricks of brilliance. The moon outshined them all, casting a translucent aura of light all around it. Just as Tristan’s gaze shifted away from the moon, there came another brief flicker of shadow. This time he caught movement in the corner of his vision. He turned, trying to follow the movement, but lost it again. He continued to back away from the ledge and when he felt he was far enough away, he stood. That was when he heard a whirring sound of leathery wings and felt a gush of wind pass swiftly by his left side. Ducking instinctively, he scrambled backward toward the shelter that the large canyon stones residing along the narrow twisting path. Only the wings of a pterosaur made that sound. Was it a skybax? If so, what was it doing flying at night? And why did it swoop down so closely to him? Was it chance or did it somehow know that he was there?
Tristan tilted his face upward toward the moon and watched in awe as one of the great flying pterosaurs crossed the open night sky in full view. Its vision must be exceptional, Tristan decided, to handle flying so effortlessly at night! The creature spun around and flew closer again. As it drew near, Tristan could not tear his gaze from it. The creature was so huge and powerful, defying gravity with beautiful wings that beat the moonlit air with confidence.
Tristan dived behind a boulder just in time as the creature whipped past. The wind from its massive wings stirred up a cloud of dust. The skybax screamed as it wheeled away into the open air over the cliff edge. As soon as the dust settled again, Tristan crawled out from behind the boulder. As he peered into the night, he could barely make out the outline of the skybax flying just above the yawning black mouth of the canyon. As far as he knew, skybaxes didn’t usually attack people. At least, that’s what he’d always heard. He picked up his pole from where he’d left it and gripped it firmly once again. Just in case people’s assumptions were wrong it would be better to have something he could defend himself with in case the skybax misunderstood him and assumed he was a threat. He wished he could know what was going through the creature’s mind.
When Tristan returned to his sleeping quarters back in Canyon City, his mind was full of questions that he wanted to ask his instructor, but he would have to hold them in until lessons the next morning.
Just after Tristan closed the door behind him and approached his bed he heard someone addressing him in a harsh whisper. “So when you’re falling asleep during lessons tomorrow, are you going to be the one to explain to our instructor, or would you like for me to?”
Tristan stifled a groan. He wasn’t sure why, but there’d been friction between him and Mathias Kingsley from the very first day of training. “I won’t be falling asleep tomorrow so no one will have to explain.” He whispered back to the boy occupying the carved out bed just above his own.
“Huh.” Came the response from above. “We’ll see about that.”
Tristan changed out of his dusty clothes and pulled a linen nightshirt over his head. He chose to ignore the boy’s last comment. He crawled into bed and pulled the cotton blanket up to his chin. Just as he closed his eyes, he heard a rustle from above. He opened his eyes to see Mathias’s upside down face peering down at him. “What were you doing out there alone?” The boy whispered.
“That’s my business.” Tristan replied. “Why don’t you just go back to sleep before your face turns purple?” He meant to say it lightheartedly, in a joking manner to ease the tension, after all, the boy did look funny hanging his head down from the bunk above, but it didn’t come out that way. The irritation in his tone was unmistakable and Tristan wished he could take back the words and try again. He’d never been successful at joking.
“You realize there’s a curfew for Beginner cadets, right?” Mathias growled.
Tristan wished that he could say he didn’t know, but he did remember it listed in the rules the first day of training. They’d been told that the rules were designed for their protection. Once they were all more familiar with the canyons, the skybaxes and their surroundings, and had graduated to the Apprentice level, those rules would be lifted. Tristan decided that he didn’t have to answer this boy’s prying questions. “Goodnight, Mathias.” Tristan said brusquely and rolled over to face the stone wall.
The wind whistled lightly outside the window and Tristan realized regretfully that he still didn’t understand its tune.