What is it thats so fascinating about the window switch in a car when youre bored? I mean, I know that my mom locked the controls, but I still sit here clicking the button down and up at irregular intervals. Sadly, its not making me any less bored.
Carl, quit flipping that switch, please. Charlene is trying to concentrate. You know how hard it is to drive on the freeway.
I sigh and sit up a little, leaving my elbow on the doors armrest and a red mark where my cheek had been resting against my fist. My switch-flipping hand drops to my side and begins idly tweaking with the middle seats seatbelt. I dont see why I had to come along for this. I dont need new shoes that badly. Which is a lie; my shoes are really starting to fall apart, and I know it, and Mom knows that I know it.
Yes you do; you can see your socks poking out the bottom! my younger sister Charlene offers (keeping her eyes fixed on the road the whole time, of course).
Charlene, pay attention to your driving, Mom scolds mildly, before returning her attention to me. Look, Carl, I know you dont want to have to sit in here watching your sister learn to drive, but I told you Id pay for your shoes if you came. Otherwise itd just be you driving yourself to the store. Charlene, youre drifting to the left.
I shut my eyes for a moment and try to mentally put myself in the mindset that the cost of a pair of shoes is worth the three hours that this little shopping spree will take. It doesnt work very well. You know how I hate shopping, Mom, even if were going to get something for me. I dont see why I have to come on the one day that Charlene is doing her summer shopping.... Honestly, I dont think Ill ever understand the mentality that drives girls to save up money all year only to go on a spree for towels, bed sheets, and (ugh) clothes and shoes. Id much rather save my money up for a computer or a nice car. You know practical things.
Because you arent paying for the gas, Carl, is Moms tart reply. Charlene, youre drifting again.
I sigh and lay my head back against the headrest behind me. I know that I would never have allowed myself to get dragged into the car in the first place if I hadnt at least mildly wanted to have so much free time available to me. At home, I would have been compelled to take up an activity, like gaming or watching the TV. Here, though, I am free to explore my thoughts. I close my eyes to limit my minds distractions, letting Moms driving advice to Charlene fade into the murmur of the tires on the road.
For as long as I can remember, Ive had dreams. Most fade away after a matter of minutes (or seconds, on really hectic mornings), but I always come away from them with a solid impression of dragons. I really cant say why, nor can I remember any detail from my dreams. I dont usually worry myself too much about them; I have far more important things to preoccupy my time. School, girls, work, games
. You know practical things.
Lately, though, my dreams have always left me with a lingering disorientation. I often find myself awaking on damp sheets in a cold sweat, surprised to find myself lying on my back; wouldnt that damage my precious wings? Shouldnt I feel rough stone or soft vegetation under my belly scales, with a blue sky above me and fresh air surrounding me and my form curled about itself?
Very, very strange, to say the least.
I have no idea where the dreams come from. I dont even really have any theories. Ive heard about those who feel a connection to dragons so strong that they feel they are really draconian being trapped in human form. I dont believe this of myself at all. I very strongly accept things as how they appear; and, near as I can tell, I appear just as human as the next guy. I have nothing to indicate any aspects of dragon within me, outside of the dreams. For some people, that would be enough. For me, thats hardly anything at all.
I open my eyes again and stare at the ceiling of the car, bringing myself back to reality again. I dont see why I worry about it so much; everyone has dreams, and mine might just leave a stronger impression on me than other people. Besides, they say that you dream multiple times as you sleep. Whos to say that Im always dreaming about dragons? It sure feels that way, but its almost certainly a trick of my mind, making me think this is the case.
A sharp shout from the front of the car makes me sit up. Charlene! You almost hit that truck! Why cant you just drive straight?
Im sorry, Im sorry! Im trying! I didnt have to see my sisters face to know that she was getting teary-eyed. Shes always been prone to watering up with only slight provocation.
I roll my eyes and find a point on one of the side horizons to focus on. I know that Mom wants Charlene to be a good driver, but does she have to be so snappy about it?
Youre still drifting. Come right. And, slow down; the speeds only 55 here. Okay, switch lanes right now dont forget your signal! Heres the exit. Let off the gas and coast up the ramp. Thats it
. We want the outside turn lane, remember?
I look out the front windshield to see an approaching stoplight. Charlene pulls the car up to the white line and we jerk to a stop in a manner that screams to the world, New Driver! I moan a bit at the resulting discomfort and re-adjust my shoulder restraint.
While waiting for the light to turn green, Mom takes advantage of the pause to give Charlene more pointers. Now, keep outside of that dotted line, Honey. There are cars next to you who are expecting you to stay out of their lane, even when you turn. There, the lights green; go.
Charlene shifts from the break to the gas (the car idles for a few seconds as she gropes around in the still-unfamiliar gap between the two, after which it jerks forward as her inexperienced foot hits the gas just a bit too hard (after which it coasts for a moment as she freaks out at the minor burst of speed that results
)), and she begins the turn. Both Charlene and Mom focus intently on the dotted line, leaving me to allow my attention to wander wherever it wants. I look out the window: from my perspective on the right-hand side of the vehicle, I can see the cross traffic pulling to a stop. One car in particular, a metallic-blue sports car, catches my eye. I smile to myself at the speed its traveling at down its empty lane approaching the light; obviously the driver knows hes driving a nice car, and is being very flashy about it.
I watch the sports car draw closer. He sure is holding out on slowing down. He can see the red light, though; hell stop. Just having a bit of fun, is all.
Turning back to face the front of the car, I hold my gaze on the blue sports car just a moment longer. About the moment it reaches the stoplight is the moment that I realize that it really isnt slowing down. In fact, it is most certainly holding its speed and direction.
I freeze physically and mentally as the sports car nears. Time seems to slow, and I become oddly aware of some of the strangest details about me. The faded gray of the road beneath the cars. The stifling stillness of the air surrounding my face. Individual motes of dust obscuring my view of the window ever-so-minutely. The soft crunch of the tires under the car, passing over loose gravel in the road. Moms voice, resounding with ethereal quality as it echoes down the achingly long channels of the cars interior to reach my ears
Mom. Charlene. They dont know. They cant see the other car coming
I turn slowly; not against some physical resistance, but with the force of almost thoughtful reluctance. My mouth opens, fought against by the same sluggish repression as the rest of my movement. I will my voice to come forth, my mouth to shape the words, my lungs to send air
But what can I say? Look out, theres a car coming? Stop? I love you? In my hesitation and confusion, I cant even manage more than the start of a wordless yell. The sound echoes slowly and methodically, with an ethereal reverberation as it travels around the car. Mom and Charlene barely have a chance to react to the cry.
The whole entire scene seems so unreal, so impossible. Im dreaming, of course. Thats it. None of this is really happening
An impossibly strong force blows through my body.
An impossibly loud crunch rips through my ears.
For a moment, I see dust motes floating lazily in the still air.
For a moment, I see nothing
My eyes snap open almost at the same time that I jerk to my feet. Wide-eyed and panicked, I whirl my head around, my whole body following my necks movement. My elevated heartbeat throbs through my head as I look around the tree-bordered clearing for
For what? My frantic movement slows; my rapid breaths begin to calm. The familiar settings surrounding me come as a calming reassurance to my disoriented mind. My ears strain for the noises they expect to hear sirens, fire, crunching road gravel, anything but hear only the wind softly upsetting the leaves in the trees, my own breathing and heartbeat, and the soft crunching of earth and grass under my paws.
I stop and run my mind down a checklist. Muzzle, horns, wings, tail, claws, scales. All there. Something in the back of my mind sets off a warning at this point, but I shake my head to clear the fog of sleep that is reluctant to pass. Just a dream
I mutter, finding more calm and solace in hearing the words.
I return to my disturbed resting place and re-settle myself into a comfortable lying-down position. My tail-tip flicks idly as I run over in my mind what little of my dream I could still recall. It involved humans, I know; all of my dreams, for nearly 18 years now, have involved humans in one form or another. As if that isnt bad enough, theyve all featured a disturbing lack of dragonkind
. I exhale a snort in distaste and brush the thought away with another tail-flick, setting my mind once again to recall details in a similar manner to how Ive began most mornings ever since I realized these dreams were fairly re-occurring.
Most of what I can recall is no different from what I always get out of my dreams. The visualizations are always oddly-angled, dull-colored, and lacking in focus or clarity an effect I have learned to associate with the human perspective my dreams always seem to occur in - and I distinctly notice the lack of snout, which only reinforces this conclusion. Through the foggy mists of my steadily-fading dream, I feel an overwhelming presence of the color gray, matched by almost everything immediately surrounding my viewpoint. Other aspects of the dream - tastes, smells, feels, sights, and sounds - are either fuzzy and faded beyond recollection or nonexistent. I sigh to myself, continuing to play out the meaningless blur in my mind. I really need to work on waking calmly, slowly, allowing my mind to momentarily traverse the precarious divide between dreaming and waking, spilling an overabundance of details into my awareness
I always seem to awake with a start, though. Hardly convenient for maintaining a calm mind.
I frown as my mental replay of my dream comes near the point at which I awoke. Amidst the hindering blur comes a pinpoint of focus hardly worth considering under most circumstances, but oddly intriguing nonetheless. I can feel a sweeping emotion of anxiety and fear, hear a strangely-echoing scream, feel an unstoppable force collide with my dream-selfs, and
nothing. Blackness. The moment I awoke.
I open my eyes and lie in my position for a few moments, contemplating this oddity. Almost every dream in the past has ended quietly, simply fading away to darkness in a natural manner. Never has one so abruptly stopped. No wonder I was so startled when I woke; my mind hadnt had the chance to properly prepare itself for waking.
The sound of a twittering bird above me pierces through my thoughts, and I raise myself onto my four feet. Other than a mild headache, the effects of the dream are now gone, replaced with the demanding needs of my fully-awake body. I step through the clearing that had served as my resting place and leave the small forest of trees.
A light breeze picks up and teasingly spins around my body for a moment before passing on behind me. I lift my scaled mouth in a smile and spread my wings fully. I hold them there for a moment, admiring the shadow my form now cast on the grass beneath me. I give a test flap, watching the vegetation bend under the force of the wind. A second breeze, perhaps sibling to the first, passes by me this time, tickling at my wing membranes as I instinctively cup the air under them. My smile broadens and I coil for the jump. My wings tingle in anticipation as I release my taut hindlegs and leap.
The first downbeat grazes some of the taller patches of grass, but the second reaches down no further than half a dragon-length off the ground. My smile opens into a toothy grin as my mood lifts with my rising body. A third heave of my wings and the earth recedes completely. I let my mouth open wide and, despite my better judgement, release an exultant full-body roar into the sky, flapping higher and feeling the freedom of flight draw me into its embrace.
Oh, I love to fly!
I rise higher until I reach the lowest of the clouds, feeling the moisture collect on my thick-yet-sensitive scales and tickle at my wings. The only sound this high up is my own heartbeat in my ears; the pressure is low enough that my earflaps have closed to reduce the need to equalize.
I set my wings out straight and fall into a glide, leaving my tail out behind me as a stabilizer. I have a long way to fly yet, and no dragon can cover half a continent flapping the whole way. I pause to lift myself higher into the cloud cover, keeping careful watch on the ground below when the haze thins enough to allow me to catch a glimpse of it.
Before long, I spot what Ive been looking for: a swift-flowing, snaking river, running perpendicular to my flight, passing through a jagged canyon. The landmark is identifiable almost without thought when observed from the air, due to its almost uncanny resemblance to the imprint of a claw in the ground. I take my cue and veer north, my flight taking me against the rivers flow.
I know my course well, having traveled it many times in the past. The Ohmaern River is fed from the melting ices of the unforgiving Hyrlurk Mountains a devious range of cracked earth, full of countless crags, valleys, andmost importantlycaves. The land there is still and barren, the air chill and heavy at best and suffocatingly freezing and hazy on average. No flight-deprived creature in their right mind would ever venture up one of its many sheer faces.
Perfect for us dragons who wish to meet together in privacy.
We meet annually, of course. The summer solstice is a period of significance for dragons. The day the gods brought our kind into the world, celebrating their achievement by shining their light down upon the land of their creations for longer than it have ever shone before or so the myths go. Either way, the solstice signals the beginning of a new year and the opportunity to greet it.
Im told the air used to be full of dragons in joyful flight on days like that. But no longer can we come out in such open displays and in such vast congregations. And how ironic that the very day that used to be one of such celebration is now used to discuss such matters as presently plague dragonkind.
I mentally review the tales I have to relay. As the herald of my kin to the rest of dragonkind, I hold the responsibility of bringing news from our land. Mundane matters, such as recent matings and births, the availability of safe and secluded shelters, our accumulation of metals. Greetings from members of my kin to those of others. How well hunting in the surrounding area is. You know practical things.
And then theres the not-so-mundane matter of the humans.
Its strange, really. The things dont reach half our height from forepaw to shoulder. They have no claws, puny teeth, patchy fur, and are so bereft of natural defenses that they clothe their bodies in multi-colored animal fur and plant matter. They live in wooden structures of unnatural coloring and travel around in repulsive-smelling, noisy pods of metal (a blatant waste), and constantly war with one another using equally repulsive and far noisier devices that spit hot pellets (another waste). Theyre short-lived, faint-hearted, childlike in their mental prowess, and filthy to boot. And yet they cover the lands with their kind, spoiling good hunting grounds and eradicating most everything in their path that they cant make use of. How they ever managed to steal the world from under dragonkinds collective snouts is beyond our collective understanding.
I blame it on our senseless pride.
It was bound to happen, I suppose. We believe were creatures of such ideal and natural gifts; of course were going to look down our muzzles at lesser beings. We certainly have rights to. But take a look at Exhibit A that shows exactly why such behavior is a bad idea. We ignored the humans for so long, never expecting them to make anything of themselves no other species ever has, after all. But we forgot to count on the fact that these unintelligent little two-leggeds can be surprisingly smart.
It doesnt take an Elder to understand where this story leads. Humans have so expanded across the world that dragonkind can no longer confront them as a whole. Weve never been a race to thoughtlessly crush a full population, but this tendency crippled our ability to limit their heedless growth. Before we realized what a danger these beings posed, they had gained the ability to cause mortal harm to us by wielding their machinery. Quite abruptly, dragons developed a grudging respect for these what were otherwise considered weaklings.
We quickly made ourselves scarce, not wanting to enrage the population of humans at large by aggressively slaughtering their kin. For some reason, they seemed to always take an instant hate for any dragons they laid eyes upon. Even the most beautiful of our kind become mere monsters in their eyes
. This makes them almost completely unapproachable. And we did try approaching them, at first. The only good that came of such attempts was the discovery that our kinds do not speak the same language by any stretch of the imagination. Either that, or our languages are similar enough that I mean you no harm translates to roughly I have come to destroy you! Maybe one of the gods has a quirky sense of humor?
All of these events transpired centuries before I was hatched. Since then, life has taken a different turn for dragons. Once, we could live and hunt where we pleased. Now, our very presence seems to incite panic among these humans, which almost certainly leads to the deaths of dragons. Humans die as well, of course; no dragon would go down without a fight. The worst part is that no one need be harmed at all.
As much as possible, dragons began to avoid contact with humans. For the most part, their population did not know of our existence and we tried very hard to keep things this way. Dragons would live in secluded areas, hoping their presence would never become known. Even though our numbers were thinning, overpopulation became a problem, and groups of dragons began to disband and seek out their own places of refuge. One group, led by Xzanryll the Black, fled to a coastal cliff region and eventually became my ancestors. Kahzjier the Gold led other dragons to a heavily forested tundra region; my mate happens to originate from this line. Theres several other groups of dragons scattered about the world, in locations ranging from deserts to forests to islands to swamps to mountains to tundra all carefully chosen for their harsh nature, in the hopes of limiting unwanted human visitors. Some have been less successful than others.
The Hyrlurk Mountains have always been one of the most secure and human-proof locations dragons have ever been able to find. Humans, while able to utilize their machines to cross land, sea, and air, are still lacking in the expertise theyd need to master the entrance into the Mountains. This is the main reason we hold our annual assemblies there; no matter what else happens in the world, the Hyrlurk Mountains will always stand as a fallback for dragons.
Already, I can see their hulking form in the distance. A mere lump on the horizon, deceptively close-looking. However, Ive flown this route too many times to be fooled by this trick caused by the sheer height of the mountain peak. I still have a good half-days flight ahead of me.
I glance to my left to gauge the time of day, squinting against the intense light. Ive already burned most of my flying time today (no dragon in their right mind would fly at night; its impossible to land), without even pausing for a drink or to take a break. And, to hear my rumbling stomach, youd think Ive gone a month without a bite to eat. Flying will do that to you
Ive been out this way enough to know the good places to spend a night. Below me lies a serene lake, surrounded by thick forest and full of tasty game. Its near enough to human habitation that no dragons have ever taken up permanent residence there, but secluded enough that a single night wont pose any danger for me at all. I dip my wings and angle my course for the smooth lake surface, feeling the familiar lurch associated with free-fall.
As the water and forest draws ever closer, I relax my dive by degrees. Passing below tree-height, I flatten my motion to bring me mere inches from the reflected sky. I hang there for just a moment, holding my glide steady and peering down at a mirrored reflection of myself, obscured only occasionally by foam, ripples, and other inconsistencies of the surface below me. Slowly, I allow a single claw to reach out toward the mirror, watching the disturbance its presence creates when coupled with my rapid forward motion.
Then, with a happy yip, I release my glide and plunge forward into the lake.
The cool water works wonders to revitalize my sore wings and quench my dry thirst; it even provides a fish or three to soothe my aching belly. Not enough to leave me content, of course, but I can no more sleep on a full belly than I can carry one in flight.
Its amazing how much faster time passes while frolicking in the water than while holding a steady course in flight. The sky that greets me as I pull my dripping form free from the lake is considerable darker than the one I seen reflected at me some time before. It takes me a few minutes more to find a clearing satisfactory to my needs (dragons arent small, after all), but far less time to drift into a fitful sleep.
Flying will do that to you.