Alison Goodman: Eon: Dragoneye Reborn

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Alison Goodman Eon: Dragoneye Reborn
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    Eon: Dragoneye Reborn
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Eon has been studying the ancient art of Dragon Magic for four years, hoping he'll be able to apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune. But he also has a dark secret. He is actually Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been living a dangerous lie for the chance to become a Dragon-eye, the human link to an energy dragon's power. It is forbidden for females to practice the Dragon Magic and, if discovered, Eon faces a terrible death. After a dazzling sword ceremony, Eon's affinity with the twelve dragons catapults him into the treacherous world of the Imperial court, where he makes a powerful enemy, Lord Ido. As tension builds and Eon's desperate lie comes to light, readers won't be able to stop turning the pages…

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It wouldn't be long now; I had to get back to my master, before the blood showed. Ever since my body had first betrayed us six months ago, my master had kept a supply of soft cloths and sea sponges locked away, in his library. Safe from prying eyes.

The half-hour bell had just rung. If Ranne gave me leave, I could get to the house and back again by the full hour.

'Swordmaster, may I withdraw from practice until the next bell?' I asked. My head was respectfully bowed but I kept my eyes on Ramie's blunt, stubborn features. He was probably born in an Ox year. Or maybe he was a Goat.

Ranne shrugged. 'Return your swords to armoury, Eon-jah, and don't bother coming back.

Another few hours of practice won't improve your chances tomorrow' He turned his back, calling his favourite, Baret, to take my place on the sand. I was dismissed.

Dillon looked over at me, his soft face set into folds of worry We were the weakest candidates: he was of age — twelve, like all the boys in the circle — but as small as an eight year old, and I was lame. In the past, we wouldn't even have been considered as Dragoneye candidates. Neither of us was expected to be chosen by the Rat Dragon in the ceremony tomorrow. All the gambling

rings had Dillon at a thirty to one chance. I was at a thousand to one. The odds may be against us, but even the Council did not know how a dragon made its choice. We still had a chance. I pretended to yawn at Ranne's back, waiting for Dillon to smile. His mouth twitched up, but the lines of tension did not ease.

Another cramp dragged at my innards. I held my breath through it, then turned and walked carefully towards the small armoury building, my bad leg kicking up the fine sand. Dillon was right to be worried. Candidates no longer fought each other for the honour of approaching the mirrors, but we still had to prove our strength and stamina in the ceremonial sword sequences.

At least Dillon could complete the approach 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. It was even whispered among the candidates that a Dragoneye slowly gave up his own life force to a dragon in return for the ability to work the energies, and that the pact aged him beyond his years. My master had been the Tiger Dragoneye during the last cycle and, by my reckoning, would be a few years over forty. Yet he had the looks and bearing of an old man. Perhaps it was true — a Dragoneye did give up his own life force — or perhaps my master had aged under the strain of poverty and ill luck.

He was risking everything for the chance of my success.

I looked over my shoulder. Ranne was watching Baret go through the first form. With all of the strong able-bodied boys vying to serve him, would the Rat Dragon really choose me? He was the Keeper of Ambition so perhaps he would not be attracted to physical prowess. I turned to the north-northwest and narrowed my mind, staring across the arena floor until I saw the Rat Dragon shimmer on the sand like a heat mirage. As though he was aware of my focus, the dragon arched his neck and shook out his thick mane.

If he did choose me, then I would hold status for twenty-four years: first working as apprentice to the existing Dragoneye and then, when he retired, working the energies myself. I would earn a mountain of riches, even with the twenty per cent tithe to my master. No one would dare spit at me or make the ward-evil sign or turn their face away in disgust.

If he did not choose me, I would be lucky if my master kept me as a servant in his house. I would be like Chart, the slops boy, whose body was permanently twisted into a grim parody of laughter. Fourteen years ago, Chart was born to one of the unmarried maids, and although my master was sickened by the infant's straining deformity- he allowed it to live and stay within his household. Chart had never been beyond the confines of the servants' quarters, and he lived on a mat near the cooking stoves. If I failed tomorrow, I could only hope my master would show me similar mercy Before he found me four years ago, I had laboured on a salt farm. I would rather share Chart's mat by the stoves than be returned to such misery I stopped walking and reached out further with my mind, pressing my energy-self against the Rat Dragon, trying to touch the mind of the great beast. I felt his power spark through my body. Talk to me, I begged. Talk to me. Choose me tomorrow. Please, choose me tomorrow.

There was no response.

A dull pain in my temple sharpened into white agony. The effort to hold him in my sight was too great. The dragon slid beyond my mind's-eye, dragging my energy with it. Gasping for air, I lurched forwards, digging a sword into the sand to stop myself from falling. Fool!

Would I never learn? A dragon only ever communicated with his Dragoneye and apprentice. I sucked in a deep breath and pulled the sword out of the ground. Why, then, could I see all eleven dragons? As far back as I could remember, I had been able to see their huge translucent forms. Why was 1 given such a gift in such an ill-favoured body?

It was a relief to step off the sand and onto the paving of the armoury courtyard. The sharp cramps in my gut had finally smoothed into a dragging ache. Hian, the old master armsman, was sitting on a box beside the armoury door polishing the furnace-black off a small dagger.

'You been thrown out again?' he asked as I passed him.

I stopped. Hian had never spoken to me before.

'Yes, Armsmaster,' I said, tucking my chin into a bow to wait out his scorn.

He held the dagger up in front of him and inspected the blade. 'It seems to me you were doing all right.'

I looked up and met his eyes, the whites yellowed against his forge-reddened skin.

'With that leg, you're never going to get the Mirror Dragon Third sequence right,' he said. Try a Reverse Horse Dragon Second. There's a precedent for it. Ranne should have told you.'

I kept my face expressionless but couldn't help the skip of hope that caught in my throat. Was it true? But why was he telling me this? Maybe it was just a joke on the cripple.

He stood up, holding on to the door jamb to help him straighten. 'I don't blame your mistrust, boy But you ask your master. He's one of the best history-keepers around. He'll tell you I'm right.'

'Yes, Armsmaster. Thank you.'

A loud yell made us both turn towards the candidates on the sand. Baret was on his knees in front of Ranne.

'Swordmaster Louan was considered one of the best approach-ceremony instructors. It's a pity he retired,' Hian said flatly. 'You got practice swords at home?'

I nodded.

'Then practise the Reverse Second tonight. Before your cleansing ritual starts.' He walked stiffly down the two steps then looked back at me. 'And tell your master that old Hian sends his regards.'

I watched him walk slowly to the gateway that led down to the forge, the distant clang of hammer on anvil drumming his progress. If he was right and I could replace the Mirror Dragon Third with a Reverse Horse Dragon Second, then I would have no difficulty finishing the approach sequence.

I stepped into the cool, dim armoury and waited for my eyes to adjust. I was not as convinced as the armsmaster that the Council would allow a change to the ceremony, particularly to the Mirror Dragon sequence. The Dragon Dragon was, after all, the symbol of the Emperor, and the legends said that the Imperial family was descended from dragons and still had dragon blood in its veins.

Then again, the Mirror Dragon had been gone for over five hundred years. No one really knew why or how he had disappeared. One story said that a long-ago Emperor offended the dragon, and another told of a terrible battle between the spirit beasts that destroyed the Mirror dragon. My master said that all the stories were just hearthside imaginings, and that the truth, along with all the records, had been lost to time and the fire that took the Mirror Dragon Hall.

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