A young Zitkala is studied by mages from across Elonth.
Flux. If there were a word to describe her life, that would be it. Precious few things felt certain to Zitkala. Everything constantly shifting, even in their home so far out towards the mountains – where her parents had striven to provide a stable life for her. The truth of one moment was a lie the next. The falsities of one were the truth of the next.
Up in the sky with only the sun, air and her parents, she could enjoy the calm. But that peace was not long to last. Her dad untucked his arm, and she looked down to where he’d point. The Ministry of Defence. They were on the outskirts of the city, and the courtyard was conspicuously clear of activity. Yet, even as they descended, she began to sense the life and movement permeating the place.
She landed clumsily, tripping and almost falling as a wave of dizziness overtook her. She shut her eyes – though that did no good – and tried to ignore the maelstrom of information.
Suddenly, the world around her was silenced, granting her the solace she sought. A voice cut through the chaos of her mind. “Zitkala, remember what we taught you. Focus on where you are now, and where you want to go. Centre yourself.”
Before doing as she was told, she expressed, “Yes, mom. I was trying.”
“That’s all I ask. No one’s perfect, all we can do is try our best.”
She prepared herself for the bubble of silence to vanish. “Thanks, mom. I’m ready.” Just like that, it popped and the world bombarded her mind once again. She stopped trying to ignore her surroundings and focused on the present – that and the more immediate futures. Opening her eyes, she looked around. “Which one is it?” Her dad spotted the correct building and began to respond. She looked to it, but let him finish before saying “thank you.” She approached the structure, followed by her parents.
There were two guards, both dragons. Both their minds were well-guarded and silent to her. Despite this, she still found the possibilities that her approach presented daunting.
She walked stiffly and nervously up the smaller set of stairs. Don’t make eye contact, that increases the probability of- Oh, now I’m acting shifty and that caught their attention. Just don’t do anything stupid and they won’t have to- oh, it wouldn’t be that bad but I’d rather avoid- Ouch! She stumbled on a step, almost slamming her face into the next, but quickly caught herself. The guards flinched, and so did her parents who were following close behind. I need to stop. She did so and took a deep breath. All it really did was help calm her, but that was what she needed. They know who I am, what I am, and why I am here. Do it how mom and dad taught me. Focus on the path I want, not the paths I wish to avoid. She resumed her ascent, and one of the guards stepped forward.
“Uncle Citlali!” came an excited exclamation from the tiny dragon, who scrambed up the remaining steps toward the closed doors.
“Dres and Dras Cefirala.” The guard had paused at the exclamation but now spoke, “your daughter must enter alone. You two are needed in the conference room. Building C.” She indicated the correct building.
The doors behind the guards opened, and a large yellow head appeared. The dragon soon found a small fluffy green dragonling clinging to his foreleg. A rumbling chuckle escaped him, “Hello there, little one.” He gingerly stroked her head with a claw tip. “Hello Maiara, hello Lazee,” he greeted before talking to Zitkala again. “There are some important people from far away who want to talk to your parents about… the future. There are also people that want to see what you can do. I’ll look after you. Is that ok?”
She looked up to him. His head was almost as big as her and looked entirely yellow from what she could see. She liked him, he’d often visit their home and was always kind. “If you stay with me.”
“I will.” He looked to her parents for their assent, and they granted it with silent nods before giving Zitkala little goodbye-waves. He turned and walked deeper into the building, Zitkala riding along on his foot. He entered his office, sat her down on a pillow far too large for her, and sat down on another similarly-sized pillow. She’d been here a number of times before.
“How are you doing?”
“I… don’t know. Mom and dad explained a lot to me yesterday. I always knew I wasn’t normal… but…”
“It’s a lot to take in, I understand. You, your dad and I are all hybrids – our parents started in very different places but eventually found love together.” He turned his head, displaying the red and green marks on the back of his neck. “Except that your parents are more different than mine or your dad’s. Your mom isn’t from Elonth… She’s from further out in space than we ever imagined we would be able to travel…”
“Those stories mom used to tell me when putting me to sleep… They were true.”
“I don’t know the stories she told you, but it is very possible that they are.”
“Mom says that she’s the reason I am like I am… But then dad argued that it wasn’t only her fault…”
“Has your mom told you stories about other planets, with their own people, plants, and animals? Planets nothing like Elonth. People nothing like humans or dragons.”
“Almost none of them can do magic at all. Not even as little as humans can do.”
“They’re worse than humans?” She sounded astonished.
“Well, yes… They won’t even be able to try to guard their minds.”
“Humans are so noisy already. I can’t think near them.”
Citlali snorted. “Just because they can learn how doesn’t mean that most humans do guard their minds.” Noticing the little dragon seemed lost in thought, he stopped and waited.
“Uncle Citlali?” came a high-pitched whine after a few ponderous moments.
“Is there anyone else like me? Mom said that uncle Versodel was like her.”
“The universe is big, I am sure there are. But here, on Elonth, you are… very special. Neither your mom nor Versodel has had any other child. Yet, at least. There are lots of dragons and humans on Elonth that have to deal with weird things like you do. But knacks are still rare and different for everyone – each special in their own way. And, because you’re your mom’s daughter, yours is stronger. You will probably also have an easier time with magic. You might one day be more powerful than even the most famous Tumenzarian mages. You just need to keep practising, and-”
“And one day I’ll be able to control it,” Zitkala groaned. “Mom keeps telling me that.”
“But I want to go to school like other kids… Dres Nita is very smart and teaches me a lot, but I want to go to school. I want to be able to do stuff in the city like everyone else can. I want to have more friends than just Sequ, Teka and Izan. I want to play with them without getting tired so much. Why are you smiling, uncle?”
“We might be able to help you with that.”
“There are some mages here from around Elonth that want to meet you. They also want to see what you can do. There’s a dragon from each dragon-ruled country. Well, except the Segara Kingdoms. They don’t really get involved with the rest of us. There are also a few humans from other countries. Are you ready to meet them?”
“Y-yes.” She didn’t sound very certain.
“Don’t worry, they’ll be as quiet as they can. These humans know how to.”
“How’s your Imaadudish?”
“Dres Nita has been forcing me to learn it. She even has my parents do ‘Imaadudish days’.”
“Good. The mages will probably want to speak to you in Imaadudish. Let’s go.” He leaned over, extending his arm towards Zitkala. She carefully clambered up his arm until she was nestled between his shoulders. Once she was stable, he stood up and left the room. Further down the passage, they entered a stairwell where they descended many more stairs than Zitkala remembered climbing to get through the front door. Silence closed in as the ground surrounded them. “Now remember, don’t say anything about what your mom is. Many of them won’t know, they just want to see your knack. Ok?”
“Uh-huh.” He continued down a cold brightly-lit and clean passage that brought a feeling of unease to Zitkala. She clung even more tightly to Citlali’s back spike.
Eventually, he pushed open some doors and entered a warmer room. It had light brown walls and a massive mirror covering one side. It was filled with dragons and humans of such different shapes and colours that she’d never seen in person. Pictures and recordings weren’t quite the same as seeing them in the flesh. A couple of humans even had white hair, and one a pinkish-red. She didn’t know they could go any other colour than various shades of brown.
Everyone in the room was craning their neck to see her. Citlali’s right hand appeared by his left shoulder. She didn’t want to get on but could see that he would keep it there until she did. However, as soon as she was let down onto the ground, she scurried to cower behind his left arm. At least he had been right about the humans being quiet. She couldn’t sense the usual torrent of information from their minds. Yet, like the dragons, their bodies still remained. So many beings in the room only exasperated her sudden desire to leave.
“Hello Zitkala, I am Muhui, from the Department of Energetic Arts in the Huangjin Tuanjie University,” one of the white and gold dragons spoke. “The university is in Longjing. That’s the capital of Meihian, my country. With me are experts from other countries, each with much experience and skill. We want to learn about how you do what you do. Don’t be scared, we’re not going to do anything to you. Just watch you. When you’re older and can control it better, I’m sure some of us here would want to meet with you again – but for now, we are simply hoping that observing you might grant us insights that open new avenues of research.
“I’ve set up some simple experiments.” She picked up a wooden cube about as large as Zitkala. “This is the first one. A ball will go in at the top.” The thing rattled with moving parts as she tilted it to show several holes at the top, then rattled again as she straightened it. “And come out a hole at the bottom. I’ll stick numbers on the bottom ones, and want you to tell me which one the ball will come out. But first, are you ok with everyone staying here? I understand that you are rather sensitive.”
“I-is it ok for- for everyone to leave?” Zitkala asked timidly. She had struggled to follow much of what she was just told.
“Of course. Just Citlali and I will stay. The rest can watch from the next room over.”
While the group of dragons and humans filed out of the room and Muhui stuck laminated numbers onto the box, the youngling overheard one of the human mages asking another conspicuously loudly, “Why were we all needed here if the dragons are going to do everything?” She didn’t hear the reply.
As the number of individuals in the room steadily decreased, Zitkala came out from her hiding place and meekly called Citlali’s name. “Yes?” he responded.
“You’re half tumen, right?”
“Why are none of the other dragons like you? And why are there two white ones? Scrivens?”
“That one,” he pointed to the scriven that was departing from the room, “is from Tumenzar.” Like many of the others, she wore jewellery adorned with crystals. “She came with one of their ‘Elders’ – that’s what they call their presidents, of which they have three.” This dragon noticed the attention she was getting and gave the two a smile before exiting.
“Why are we doing these tests? I thought you already knew what I could do?”
“They wanted to do them in a controlled environment, with more… detailed documentation by mages of greater skill than I.”
By the time everyone had exited, Muhui had also finished with the mystery box – the bottom holes numbered from one to ten – and had placed a notebook on the ground before her. A pen hovered above it. Zitkala could still feel the presence of the others, behind the giant mirror on the wall. She could sense them watching, with minds and eyes alike. She was too nervous to ask if they could go further away and told herself it was easier to try to ignore them while they were out of sight and less likely to influence what happened in the room.
“Are you ready, little one?” Muhui asked.
“Before we begin, could you describe what you do? I want to hear it in your own words.”
“Y-yes… I uhh… I can see what things will do. Some things will almost definitely keep doing the same thing, while other things are a lot noisier.”
“I understand you don’t like being around people much? Especially when they don’t guard their minds.”
“Yes. Animals and people are noisy… It confuses me a lot when they don’t keep themselves quiet.”
“By ‘noisy’, you mean that there’s lots of things that they could possibly do?”
“Thank you, Zitkala. Let’s start with this box I brought.” As the dragoness began to slowly lower the ball to the box, Zitkala focused on it and tried to sift through the possibilities until she felt confident in one option. It was not until the moment that dragoness had released the ball that Zitkala spoke. “Five.” They waited in anticipation while the metal sphere clunked around inside the box, until eventually it exited from the correct hole. They repeated this many times, the youngster announcing the correct hole each time. The pen regularly scratched away at the notebook.
“Good. How about this time?” Muhui released the ball again.
“Six,” Zitkala declared confidently. Yet, after a few moments of muted sounds of metal rolling and bouncing against metal, she exclaimed, “Hey, you changed it! Two.” Shortly after, her second prediction was proven right.
“Yes, I did.” The pen resumed scratching at the notebook. They continued like this for quite some time, with her confidence in her predictions fluctuating wildly as Muhui shifted mechanisms within the box. Zitkala felt like it was hours, but she was uncertain about how long they were repeatedly rolling a ball through this wooden mystery box. She grew increasingly bored with the activity, which the dragoness seemed to notice.
“Are you ready for something more complex? I am going to open up only a small part of my mind so I don’t overwhelm you.”
“It’s ok. Would you be fine with guessing numbers that a computer is going to display?”
“I don’t- I’d rather not. Going to be too noisy… I’m tired. There are so many people here…”
“Of course, you can rest now. We were told that this mentally fatigues you. We can do some more later, or tomorrow even. How does that sound?”
Zitkala found Citlali’s palm beside her again, and climbed onto it before being deposited on his back once again. “We’ve got a room for you to sleep in, if you want?” he offered, but received no audible response. He left the room. He was followed by Muhui, who then turned right – towards the growing sounds of discussion. Zitkala struggled to pick out individual threads of conversation. They were all about her.
Citlali’s path took him back towards the stairwell, before entering another room. Also more comfortably warm than the passage, this room was full of brightly coloured items. There was an inviting bed to one side, and an array of toys neatly packed onto shelves. From her perch, she surveyed the room. The room was very quiet to her mind. Despite everything, the room still seemed eerie. “Are you going to go talk to the mages?” her voice sounded uncertain.
“I want to go to mommy. I-is that ok?”
“Of course.” Citlali turned and exited the room again.
“Citlali,” came a call from down the passage. The scriven from Tumenzar and an ebonscale were approaching.
“Oh, hello. Have we got permission yet?”
“No,” the scriven said, “he’s still trying to get a sense for the pink one.”
“Permission for what?” Zitkala asked.
“Oluchi,” she gestured to the ebonscale beside her, “some others, and I have made a thing that might be able to help you… silence the world around you.”
“I won’t be able to hear anything?”
“With your mind, yes. If it works, you’ll be able to walk around in the busiest parts of the city centre without a problem.”
Zitkala almost fell off Citlali’s back with her jump of excitement. “I want it! Why can’t I have it now? What are you waiting for?”
“We want to make sure your mom will be ok with it. Please don’t tell her anything about it. We want to make sure that it won’t upset her.”
“Mothers are very protective of their children,” Zitkala said knowingly.
The dragoness chuckled. “Yes, little one.”
“Let’s go see if we can find your mom now so you can get some rest,” Citlali said and resumed his walk towards the stairwell. The other two dragons turned around and returned to the mages. Once up the stairs and on the ground floor, Citlali exited the building.
They found themselves descending the stairs to the courtyard in which Zitkala and her parents had first landed that morning. In the courtyard, stood four dragons. They were clearly discussing something, but it was inaudible. Two were mostly-green Hauntes: Zitkala’s parents. Though one, her father, had a white belly with yellow stripes on the sides like her. The other two dragons were orange Tumenzarians with cloudy green patterns on their necks and green horns. One of these two looked like he’d been through a lot, with a weathered look and a scar on his neck that was hard to ignore. The other had brighter colours and looked kind of like a female, but Zitkala knew better. “Uncle Versodel!” she called excitedly – catching the attention of everyone present.
“Hey, little bean!” Versodel responded before suddenly finding his face full of green tail-feathers from Maiara – which he pushed to the side. “How are you doing?”
“She wanted to be with you rather than sleep alone,” Citlali addressed Maiara, who approached and relieved him of her daughter.
“Do you want to stay here, or go home now?” she asked the small green thing she cradled.
“Can we go home?”
“Ok, we’ll be back tomorrow then. That ok?” This time, her question was directed to the orange and yellow dragons.
“Yes, that’s perfectly fine,” the scarred one spoke. “You can take your time to think about my offer. Well, hopefully an amount of time that’s reasonable on a mortal timescale. We’ve been trying to avoid bothering Versodel too often, but working with him has been greatly beneficial.”
“I’ll think about it. Always considered myself more of an… artist. But I’m going to take my little one home now. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye.” The old dragon turned and walked towards the building Zitkala and Citlali had been in.
“Would you like to come over for dinner?” Lazee offered Citlali. “You can tell us about what our little Kala has been doing while she rests.”
Still cradling Zitkala with one arm, Maiara gently took to the air – hovering off the ground instead of leaping like the three that followed her. Away from the city they flew, back towards the mountains and the sparsely populated foothills.