Chapter 1

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My little world is nice. It's safe. It's warm. It's dark. I don't need to worry about food. I don't need to worry about anything. Granted, it is getting a little bit too small, and my back is starting to hurt from being pressed against the curved walls of my world. See, that's all there is to my world. The inside of a nearly spherical shell. For that's what it is. It is my world, my safety, my home, my egg. All the same, it is getting cramped. It is my prison. And it's time for my release.

I slam my head into the wall with all the force I can muster. I hear a soft crack. Again. A bit more of a crack. Again. Crack. I need to rest now, this is the most I've ever moved in my little world.

A few moments rest, then... Slam my head against the shell. I feel it start to give. Slam. Crack. Slam. Crack. Slam. Finally, I feel the air of the Big World brush across my muzzle. Funny, I would have thought it would be fresher. Not so... Stuffy. And earthy.

I wrap my forepaws with their soft claw-tipped fingers around the edge of the hole in the shell. And I pull. Suddenly, I'm spilling out across a hard, cold floor. It's hard. And cold.

Is this how it's supposed to be?

I let out a mewling noise. "Mamma?"

No response.

"Mamma?"

Still no response.

I stand on my wobbly legs, and call again, louder. I hear nothing but the echoes of my call.

"Mamma...?" I say more quietly. "Mamma...?" I slump to the cold stone floor. "Mamma..."

_________________________

"Sequence three!" My commander's voice echoed across the training field.

What was sequence three again? My mind blanked as I looked over at the other trainees who seemed to know exactly what to do, performing the battle sequence without a hitch.

Stab, thrust, right thrust, left feint, what? My sword wobbled, and jerked as I shuffled my feet to try to match the correct stance that I couldn't seem to master.

"Thielsen! You're lagging! Again." Sir Aaron added the last word quietly and the other trainees looked over to watch me flinch under Sir Aaron's hard stare. They all knew I shouldn't be here. When they thought I wasn't listening I heard them talking. About how I didn't belong here. How I was only here because of my dad. Sir Thiel the Defender. Sir Thiel the Protector. Sir Thiel the Dragon Slayer. The sad thing was, they were right. Sir Thiel, father of the Slow, Clumsy, Boring Trainee Fin Thielsen, burdened by the shadow of my father even in my name.

Sir Aaron called me out again, his booming voice matching his large stature, "Thielsen! Pay attention!" I recoiled at the disappointment I could hear in my mentor's voice. He expected more from me, they all did. Unfortunately, I couldn't deliver.

"Fix your stance, Thielsen! No, no, no! Better! Now, again!" I repeated the sequence, or what I thought might have been the sequence. Thought it probably wasn't.

I heard a sigh and glanced up. Sir Aaron looked at the sun, which was just touching the horizon, and ran his hand through his short hair. He turned back to face us. "Attention!" The whole line of trainees shifted as everyone moved to stand in first stance. Feet apart, back straight, sword held with tip up. I stumbled slightly, bumping the trainee next to me a letting the tip of my sword touching the ground.

"Thielsen!" Aaron shouted, much to the amusement of the other cadets. "Get that sword out of the dust!" I hastily pulled the sword up, and tried to stand up straight. Aaron eyes scanned up and down over my body, his distaste plain on his face. "Dismissed."

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