Careful now I thought to myself as I snuck my way past the guards – a fully armored human and a fiery red dragon, guarding a large wooden door. The latter would just barely fit in the corridor if he stood up, but his keen eye was needed for its ability to catch all intruders, whether they were visible or not.
Unless, of course, that intruder happened to be a good friend with no malicious intentions.
Invisibility spells worked wonders against humans, even in broad daylight. In a corridor only dimly lit by the moonlight seeping in from a single window at the end of the hall, it was nothing short of an impossible feat for one to spot me. It would, however, be a trivial feat for him to spot a door opening on its own, putting at risk not only myself, but also Amir’s reputation as a perfect spotter.
No, I had to find another way in.
Windows? That wouldn’t cut it. They were closed sunrise to sunrise this time of year, and on top of that the ones in Ryland’s room had bars covering them, leaving only tiny square openings. I may be small, but I’m not that small.
I perched up on my hind legs and gently pushed down the door handle of the servants quarters. Thank goodness for well maintained, non-squeaky doors. I sneaked in and slowly pushed the wooden door back into the wall, hearing a muffled, well-timed sneeze come from the outside right as the door clicked into the closed position. I owe you one, Amir.
Having only one way in and out of the hallway, the guards outside were enough to not warrant any additional security, despite the side-door for the servants to come in and out of prince’s room. But where was it? I scanned the wall, but it was full of ropes, pans, clothes and sheets hanging everywhere, making it near impossible to spot an exit. I should be very careful. I thought as I looked to the side at the small bed embedded in the wall, barely visible in the dark were it not for the white sheets. I heard many stories of humans sensing other beings through their sleep. The slightest sound could- Thump. The wall made a dull noise as I walked right into it. Ow. I rubbed the base of my left horn to ease the pain, keeping my right eye on the sleeping maid.
The human turned in her bed, but her soft snoring reassured me I have not failed in the stupidest way possible. I carefully looked around the room. The lack of windows made the place nearly pitch black, save for the light seeping in from underneath the door-frame, and the glowing sheet on the wall, beside the bed. Wait, a glowing fabric? That can’t be right.
Turns out the room did have a window, hidden behind a makeshift curtain made out of linen bed sheets. It is still beyond my understanding why humans block off the natural light, but their oddities are what makes them so fascinating.
With a small boost from my wings I jumped up on the only furniture in the room, surprised to see it relatively empty compared to the surrounding walls. There was a handful of unlit candles besides a book open maybe a quarter of the way in. It was too dark to distinguish individual letters, but the well-visible drawing of a steaming bowl made it clear that the simple maid aspires to be a cook some day. Good for her.
Behind the book, in the wall, there was a rectangular opening with a metal plate blocking the way, a small handle attached just above the bottom. I knelt down, forcing my snout into the space between the wood and the handle, pushing the whole metal sheet up. Perfect. I pushed the metal as far up as I felt was safe before squeezing through the opening to the other side, letting the hatch softly lower with the guidance of my tail.
And with that, I was in the prince’s room. I jumped down onto the rug that covered the floor. The room was well lit by the large windows on the side opposite to the large doorway – one that was certain to have Amir and the human still guarding it, unaware of the visitor inside. Looking back at the way I came, I noticed that the metal hatch lacked a handle on this side. I’ll worry about leaving when it’ll be time to leave.
I went across the room, towards the large bed by the wall, carefully avoiding the mess that covered the floor. A variety of wooden horses and soldiers were spread around: some were neatly put into formations while others were carelessly arrayed about the floor. The maid would no doubt come in shortly before dawn and pick them all up before Ryland woke up.
Together with me, it almost makes a to-scale replica of the Battle of Rhefesturg. I smiled at the thought. I wondered what the ancestors would’ve thought knowing that a mere three centuries later they would have dragons roam around freely in their cities and interact with the human populous. They probably wouldn’t believe it.
I moved swiftly past the toys, reaching the bed. All I had to do now is find a place to lie down. Thankfully, we had already prepared one in advance. Sleeping next to the prince would be an instant giveaway, and someone could spot me were I to hide underneath the bed. But nobody would dare to even touch the pillows of the royal blood when they’d be in use.
I flew up to the bed, landing on the soft mattress. Just as planned, there was a wooden box underneath the large pillow Ryland was sleeping on. I went inside the claustrophobic space, closing and locking the entrance with my tail blade – the thing’s at least useful for turning screws. After giving it a few sollid pushes to make sure its held in place well, I curled up with a sigh of relief.
The position could not be better. It’s almost as close as my head could get to his, and the closer they were, the easier it would be to create, and maintain, the link allowing me to enter his mind.
I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. For a brief moment, I felt as if I was falling, just as you do when you’re about to fall asleep.
A cool breeze and a slight feeling of dizziness caused me to open back both of my eyelids. The box was now well lit by a light seeping in through the air holes near the bottom. Did I fail and it’s morning already? I listened in on the sounds of the monastery. There were some distant sounds of the usual hustle and bustle of the building and the city outside, but none of them seemed to come from the room itself, meaning it was safe to come out. I pulled open the hatch and backed out and off the bed.
The room was empty with gray light seeping in through the window. How long did I sleep? I wondered as I pushed aside the tiny toys that were untidily spread on the carpet and walked up to the tall windows. The outside was gray. A simple, swirling mass of gray. The longer I stared at it, the more I could make out. The large tree in the yard, the building across the fence, the paved street. Then the realization started to come through. The impossibility of it all.
I was standing on the floor and looking out of a window.
As silly as it may seem, my natural size made it impossible to look out of human windows, which often start well above my head. I looked around the room and noticed that it was smaller than I remembered. The bed barely reached the bottom of my gray waist, and if I stood on my hind legs I could easily hit the ceiling – it was already impossible to comfortably move my wings if I fully spread them out.
But I could appreciate the normal size later, I had a prince to find.
I left through the door and instantly found myself in a large corridor, with dozens of windows spread across the wall in front of me, looking out at the gray void outside. I turned around, not wanting to stare for too long into the abyss, only to realize that the door I just came out of was gone, replaced by a long array of windows as well.
Great. I thought to myself, looking down at the ground. The dream… it wants to keep itself contained. As long as I keep moving, I should get to Ryland. And so I did. Footstep after footstep, down a corridor I didn’t dare to look at. I’ve heard stories of people and draqui get lost in their own dreams, often unable to get back for days or even years. I wasn’t about to risk that, I had plenty of things I still wanted to do, and the first thing on my list required me to not lose myself to the void.
As I walked, the floor changed from wood to stone, becoming darker with every step. I looked up, and to my surprise I was in the basement, walking along the cobblestone floor. There were no more windows, and as far as I could see, the corridor stretched infinitely with no sign of there ever being windows. The only sources of light were torches whose flames erratically danced when looked at, but when looking away the shadows they cast slowed down to a standstill.
Dreams are a mess, I thought going further forward. The corridor before me was blurry, as was the one I left behind, but in the close vicinity of me everything was sharp, as if the dream was still trying to fool me it was real.
I stopped in front of a heavy spruce door, behind which I could hear human voices that I was certain were not the background noise the grayness outside provided.
“And since you’ve got all this material so well taken care of, I think we can check your knowledge with a little test!”
I recognized the speaker – it was one of Ryland’s many tutors. Mr. Moalo? Or was it Mr. Crel? I was never any good with remembering names. But in the end, it doesn’t matter, I thought to myself as I pushed on the door. Even though I gave it a tiny push, it flung open, loudly crashing into the wall as the hinges went way past their normal movement capabilities, doing a full turn-around.
“You’ll have to postpone the test, class time is over,” I said, trying to look calm and not to show how much the crashing door had startled me.
“It is not yet time for your class,” the man said, pointing at the schedule that hang on the wall, which had ‘History with prof. Maloi’ written on every class slot throughout the entire week, including weekends.
“Are you sure? I think the up to date schedule has me at this hour,” I tried to project Ryland’s actual class schedule onto the paper on the wall, but quickly realized that I had less control here than in my own dreams, much less the real world.
“And do you happen to have the up-to-date schedule, Dres Isir?” the teacher asked, subtle hatred in his eyes, no doubt due to me interrupting his class.
“I may have it,” the prince spoke, looking through his bag. Was he already aware this was a dream? Or did he just happen to play along by chance? I watched him shuffle around some notepads before taking out a single piece of paper. “There it is!” he said happily, handing it over to the human teacher.
Prof. Maloi looked at me and the prince suspiciously before looking at the schedule, his eyes widening with surprise. He gave me an angry glare, then looked back at the schedule, his face losing all emotion. “I apologize for taking up your break, your highness, but I have been lost amongst the great works of Asillius. I will now leave you to your mathematics class.”
The teacher left the room, his brown robes swinging by and disappearing off to the side. As I turned my head to follow him, I realized I couldn’t see where he went, and that the door that so readily swung into the wall just moments ago was now shut. Taking the opportunity, I took a quick look around the room.
It wasn’t any of the usual classrooms I was aware of. The walls were made out of rocks of various sized, barely held together with slight moss growing on some. Near the ceiling were thin windows with metal bars in them, letting in miniscule amounts of light, requiring the room to be lit up by many torches hung on the walls. There were various objects scattered across the room: a globe, drawing board, a flute; each sitting on a small pedestal in a specific section of the room, awaiting use.
This… This is a literal dungeon, I thought to myself in amusement. We don’t torture him that much, do we? I looked over at the prince who was sitting in the chair, packing his books to move over to the section of the room that had a handful of rulers, pencils and strings spread on it. I found it fascinating to watch how wherever the prince would look, the world would take firm shape. Blurry outlines would suddenly become well-defined tables and walls, the globe in the corner would have its countries visible rather than be a simple blob of colors, and even the moss on the walls looked more real when in Ryland’s sight.
“So,” I started, coming up to the prince. “Remind me where we left off.”
“The… area of a circle?” The prince said wearily, trying to fruitlessly look through the papers that appeared out of nowhere and were hopelessly spread everywhere on his desk, some even dropping onto the floor.
“No,” with a single thought, all the papers were gone. “I mean where we actually left off. Last we talked.”
Ryland blinked at me in confusion. “We were… in… the courtyard?”
“Yes, out in the snow.”
“And we talked about… the box I made…”
“Good, what was the box for?” I asked, noticing that some stones in the walls began to disappear, allowing the gray void outside to peer into the classroom.
“You talked about magic… How dragons had used it for millennia, but humans were not capable…” He looked up at me, the pupils of his green eyes dilating and contracting as he remembered real world events. Simultaneously, the world around us started to melt down, the walls now completely gone and the maps that used to hang on them were being swallowed up by the unstoppable grayness. “You told me you can teach me,” the prince continued, not noticing that the desk between us has just sunk into the ground. “But you could only do it if I was asleep…” The room was all but gone. I quickly put my fingers over his eyes, closing my own.
“Yes, and I need you to not wake up,” I spoke softly. This was the hardest part for me, and I needed him to do it instantly. “Think about a small room and nothing else,” I said, hoping the prince didn’t drift off too much. “Slow down your breathing too.”
The subtle draft I could feel on my scales disappeared, replaced by a familiar heat of a flame near my left wing. I opened one eye slightly to check if it was safe. It was dark, with a dancing shadow from a flame on the ground. “First try, good job,” I said, unsure if it was a spectacular or a regular feat, but lifting my fingers from his eyes regardless.
The walls, floor and roof of the room all seemed to be made from a single, seemingly smoothly and seamleslly cut stone. The area was a small square, with a single large door on one side, and two torches mounted on the adjacent walls, only one of which was lit. The wall behind the prince had a small stone step in front of it, creating a perfect sitting area for a human.
“So are you the actual Isir?” The prince asked, eying me with slight surprise “You’re… tall… -er…”
“Indeed,” I said with a small chuckle. Having the prince below eye level was an interesting experience to say the least. “I do not control myself within your dreams, this form is ‘natural’ here, so to speak,” I paused to take a look at myself. “This is probably how tall I’d be if I wasn’t a dwarf.”
“Oh really,” the small prince spoke, standing on his toes to reach my forehead and give me a rub between the horns. “I can still pet you, though.”
I rolled my eyes. “We’re not here for that, are we?” I turned towards the unlit torch on the wall. “You want to learn magic,” I continued, spitting some fire on the torch to light it up.
“Yes!” The prince jumped up in excitement. “Do I have to turn myself into a dragon to do it? How do I turn myself into a dragon? Can I be bigger than you again?”
“Easy there,” I chuckled. “You humans are stronger in your dreams than we are, but no changing forms… yet,” I added with a wink, getting a wide smile out of the kid. I wondered why humans always get so excited when a mysterious phrase is proceeded with a wink. “Additionally, I came here to teach Ryland the human, not a dragon.”
“Okay, Okay. What now then?” the prince’s eyes wildly darted around the room, but couldn’t find anything to focus on.
“We’ll take it slow since it’s your first time,” I said, backing up as much as I could so that he had a clear view of the door. “First we should head out, shouldn’t we?”
The prince ran up to the door and pushed it open, instantly running out into the grayness outside. “But… there is nothing here?” He asked confused, stopping in his tracks.
“Because you haven’t made anything yet,” I said with as much confidence as I could, carefully exiting the stone room. The grayness outside was stable, not producing anything but, most importantly, not consuming anything either. It was held back by an invisible floor and ceiling, and I’m sure that if walked far enough there would be side walls too. “Your first task is to create us a training ground.”
“But how do I do that?”
“Imagination and concentration,” I said. “Your first lesson is to have plenty of the former, and never lose the latter. You control everything here after all. Now make me a rock to lie down on, I don’t like standing on nothing.”