Nobody knows how the first Dragoneyes made their bargain with the twelve energy dragons. The dragons are elemental beings,able to manipulate Hua-the natural energy that exists in all things. Each dragon is aligned with one of the heavenly animals in the twelve-year cycle of power that has run in the same sequence since the beginning of time: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each dragon is also the guardian of one of the twelve celestial directions, and a keeper of one of the Greater Virtues. Every New Year’s Day the cycle turns, the next animal year begins, and its dragon becomes ascendant, his power doubling for that year. The ascendant dragon also unites with a new apprentice to be trained in the dragon magic, and as this boy steps up to his new life, the prior apprentice is promoted to Dragoneye. He replaces his master, the old Dragoneye, who retires exhausted and fatally debilitated by his twenty-four year union with the dragon.Only those boys who can see an energy dragon can hope to be a Dragoneye candidate. It is a rare gift to be able to see the dragon of his birth year, and even rare to be able to see any other the other energy dragons. Every New Year, twelve boys, born twelve years before, face the ascending dragon and pray that their gift is enough for the beast. One of them is chosen and in that moment of union-and only for that moment-all men can see the dragon in all his glory. Women have no place in the world of the dragon magic. It is said they bring corruption to the art and do not have the physical strength or depth of character needed to commune with and energy dragon.
Training with Swordmaster, Ranne, always made my inner cramp with fear, but this was different. This was the bleeding pain. Had I miscounted the moon days? Ranne was standing poised both of his swords ready for the elegant cross cut that could have taken my head. I knew he wanted to follow through and rid the school of the cripple. But he wouldn’t dare. Gritting my teeth against another cramping pain, I carefully stood up keeping my swords down. Ranne stepped back.
“You’re not ready for the ceremony tomorrow. You’ll never be ready,” he said.
Another cramp dragged at my innards. I help my breath through it, then turned and walked carefully towards the small armory building, my bad leg scattering in the sand. At least Dillon, a fellow candidate, could complete the sequence, even if it was poorly done. I had never once managed the intricate moves of the Mirror Dragon Third. It was said it took a lot of physical and mental toughness to bargain with the energy dragons and manipulate the earth forces. My master had been the Tiger Dragoneye during the last cycle. He was risking everything for the chance of my success.
I turned to the north-northwest and narrow my mind until I saw the Rat Dragon shimmer on the sand. If he did choose me, then I would hold status for twenty-four years. By the end of that I would have...