After a long year of training to better control his abilities at Raifal Mage college, Mar finally returns to his parents’ home.
6426 words | 26 min
Wind caressed him, tickling his scales and filling his wings. It tugged at the scarf wrapped around his neck and the bags on his back, causing loose pieces to flap as they trailed behind. Mar drifted through the sky. Eyes closed, legs tucked in, wings, head and tail outstretched. A deep blue torpedo.
Elonth called, gravity seeking to stake its claim on its wayward child. You should not be up there, it cried. Yet Mar denied it. I was born to be here, he declared, I was given wings, and I shall fly. He was at home here.
He opened his eyes and looked down to large plots of land passing underneath. Herds of cattle grazed in some, crops grew in others, and yet more were plantations. Every so often there would be a small cluster of buildings – each cluster connected to a web of dirt roads that clung onto tarred main roads.
Looking to his left, he could see a great big river of tea-brown mountain water, a highway with cars zipping along on it. Above these a dozen or so dragons also travelled between Tumenoord and Tumesuid. East of the road, the farmlands were instead replaced with great sprawling industrial complexes. Far ahead, the latter city stretched across the gentle hills. A great chunk claimed from the thick, tangled forests around the lake. Countless colourful specks flitted between massive structures. The oranges, yellows and greens flecks that were Tumenzarians were by far the most common, but he could also see a fair number blue, purple or black specks – most likely Ebonscales. Others were considerably less common, but not entirely absent either.
Mar himself had veered to the west of the main route. He had another destination. Slowing his pace, he began to descend. He still watched the pretty specks dancing through the air, flashing as they passed into sun and dimming as shadows of buildings passed over them.
The fearless cry of an aerial predator sounded from above and Mar sensed a body rapidly descending towards him. Fingers straining to lift membranes against the wind and tail blade seeking purchase against the air, he turned as rapidly as he could. It was not fast enough, his attacker altered course easily. He pushed against the thing with magic, trying to steer it away. It pushed back, remaining on course for the split seconds needed for it to reach its target.
An impact off centre of Mar’s back destabilised him. Claws scrabbled for purchase on his back as he was forced to use magic to straighten his flight and avoid falling from the sky. The thing wormed its way to centring itself – the pressure he felt against his spines apparently not bothering it in the slightest. Talons clamped a third of the way up his wing arms, and then it ceased movement.
A triumphant trill was heard.
“Kiera, I’ve told you already, girl. You’re too big for this. You’re going to injure one or both of us.”
Defiant chittering sounded from his back.
“Yes, you slowed yourself down – but that still hurt.”
More defiant chittering. The creature on his back began tugging at a couple of spines at the base of his neck.
“Good to see you, girl.”
This time he heard a crooning and responded with a similar sound. A gentle but rough rub of scales against scales on the side of his back caused him to turn his head. He saw the wyvern rubbing her head while she still clung to his wings.
More excited squawks and screeches were heard from ahead. Mar turned ahead to see three more wyverns rapidly approaching from his destination. In moments they were upon him, fluttering and chittering about as Kiera squawked back at her siblings. None tried to land on him, nor did she detach. The three escorted Mar and his hitchhiker the rest of the way.
His destination was another cluster of buildings in the midst of the farmlands. Figures emerged from the biggest building, no doubt due to the ruckus caused by the wyverns. A Tumenzaian and Ebonscale towered over the handful of humans and a half breed dragon the same size as Mar.
The small entourage came in for a landing, Mar directly in front of the Ebonscale. Kiera hopped off his back.
“Kiera has been gone almost the whole day. I was beginning to wonder if it was a mistake telling her you were coming home today.”
“Hello, mom!” He stretched out his head up towards her and she hers down to him. Their snouts touched for a moment before they rubbed the sides of their heads together. His head was still much smaller than his dad’s, so he didn’t need to worry about his nose bouncing off the scutes at the back of her head. From below, it looked as if Ilres was entirely plain navy blue except for her chestplates, tail blade and the ventral side of her wing membranes – all of which were turquoise. However, Mar knew there to be a rich purple gradient near the tips of the scales along her back.
“Hello, my hatchling.” They pulled apart and Mar swatted the ground with his tail in mock annoyance at the title.
“Someday you’ll be one hundred and you’ll still be her hatchling. Heck, you’ll still be her hatchling even when we’re on the other side.” A chuckle came from beside his mom.
“Hey, dad!” He sidled over and rubbed heads with his dad. His bright yellow scales, orange horns and plates, and green wing undersides contrasted greatly with his mate. Lyntarr’s only dark colourations were regular brown curved stripes that interrupted the yellow of his scales, travelling down his neck and limbs.
Now he finally moved to those who didn’t tower over him. “Good to see you, bro.”
“You too sis!” The two small dragons repeated the affectionate gesture. Ireka and he had inherited very similar colours, except that she leaned slightly more towards their dad. The bottom of her wings were more of an aquamarine than a turquoise and her light blue scales formed stripes similar to their dad’s. Mar wasn’t sure where he’d gotten the marginally lighter indigo rear end and the cyan splotch around his eyes, but he’d read that a study found inherently sensitive species tended to have far more volatile genetics than others. That being said, splotches weren’t uncommon on Tumenzarians. “Looking a bit pale.”
Mar then turned to the humans, each taking turns to wrap their arms around his neck in a hug and utter a greeting. Uncle Lars, Annabel, and even a kiss on the snout from aunt Palesa. His head more comfortably made it onto their shoulders than he remembered.
Seeing everyone turning back towards the house, the wyverns surged ahead and inside. Through the almost entirely glass wall of the entrance hall, Mar could see three of them scrambling into the living room, while Kiera flew to the second floor. Lyntarr shouted after her that she wasn’t supposed to do that.
The adults entered first, heading towards the living room as well. Mar followed, an odd feeling settling in his chest. Not much had changed except for him. By his count, it had been three years and ten months. It felt like even more, but he hadn’t been keeping track of the time using his ability since he’d begun to get more comfortable with it. He knew that, in reality, it had only been eight months since he’d left home.
He’d grown accustomed to the simple apartment that was of a size more appropriate to him. This place was big, stylish, and had more space than Mar would have known what to do with. He excused himself to offload his bags into his room. Clambering up the side of the stairs intended for shorter beings, he made eye contact with his sister in the gaps between the stone slabs that formed the stairs.
Upstairs transitioned to a long and wide passage with a carpet going down the centre and display cabinets to either side holding various memorabilia that his parents had accumulated over the centuries. A croon came from his immediate right. Kiera was waiting by the door to his room. The door handle, too high for either to comfortably reach, was lowered by an invisible force from the wyvern and the door pushed open. She waited for him to enter before following him.
The room was almost exactly how he’d left it if only neatened up. Bigger than the entirety of his apartment and very empty-feeling. He began to circle the room under the gaze of his companion who sat on a pile of pillows in the centre of the carpet. More had been added to the pile than he remembered.
Closest to the door were some still empty cupboards. As he started to hoard memorabilia like his parents, they might eventually fill – but for now, they lay barren. He reached his wardrobe and was greeted by a small selection of things he would wear to the occasional formal event. Usually work events, because he didn’t participate in much he didn’t have to. It was even emptier now that half the stuff was in Tumenoord.
His bed stood in a corner, free of any obstruction, with a big window looking out onto the farm just beyond its edge. There was plenty of space for bigger beds as the decades ticked by. While some liked to move houses as they grew, many of Lyntarr’s buildings were designed to fit both big and small. Perfect for families. Although this did require aesthetic compromises.
Placing his bags by a leg and tossing the scarf onto the edge of the bed, Mar flopped down onto it. He could practically feel himself melting into it. This was far nicer than the nest of pillows he had in his apartment. Forcing himself up before he fell asleep, he continued his circuit around the room.
A conspicuously empty desk was next. He’d had his PC shipped to his apartment when it was decided he was staying for the year.
His bookshelf was almost half full of books, which was impressive considering the size. He had to use magic to get the higher ones. The growth had, unfortunately, halted since he’d both been away from home and reading things electronically this year. He browsed some of the eye level books. Stories of dragons battling knights and kings; worlds with all sorts of sapient beings – short humans, pointy-eared humans, multi-headed dragons, dragons that looked more like snakes with bird legs, and many more unrealistic variations of dragons and humans; planets where humans and dragons had lived together since the beginning; galactic civilisations enslaving energy-beings; post-apocalyptic nightmares with irradiated wastelands and animals mutated into monsters.
That last one gave him pause. There was still a bookmark in it that hadn’t been moved for eight months. He plucked it from the shelf and had an impulse to toss the book into the paper bin behind his door. He stopped himself. It wasn’t the author’s fault. If anything, it was his. It was just unfortunate that it had been that particular book he’d been reading at the time instead of his usual comparatively lighter-hearted stuff. Spending what felt like three years trapped in that hellscape, losing his memory and only escaping via his death still left him uneasy, despite Irikshan’s guidance and aid in removing the self-inflicted mental barrier. It was thanks to him that Mar still remembered what this room looked like. He hoped that the doctor that had gotten stuck in there too was doing alright.
Maybe someday he might work up the courage to conquer that fear, and go there again just to prove to himself that it would bend to his will. Someday…
There was a strange sad noise from Kiera. Mar looked to her, raised his drooping wings and tail and put the book back.
Next were some shelves of various gadgets he had built. Nothing actually useful. They had been kept clear of dust. He’d need to get rid of them at some point but for now, he just wanted something to fill the shelves. Alongside this were drawers of electrical components and then his workbench. The thing he’d been working on that evening so long ago had been placed in a plastic container, along with the miscellaneous parts he’d had out.
Now that he had completed his circuit of the room, he had one last destination. An impatient growl sounded from the centre of the room. He turned towards it. Kiera, sensing her opportunity, rolled down the pile of pillows, conveniently ending upside down on the carpet in front of Mar. He promptly began giving her belly rubs.
“Did you miss me?” She crooned again. He tickled under her wing arms and got some squealing from the wriggly wyvern. “Did you behave yourself while I was gone?” An affirmative chirp. He tickled her again, the squealing bringing him great satisfaction.
“She didn’t take it too well when you were carted off to the hospital, nor when she was told you wouldn’t be coming back for a while.” Mar turned towards Ireka as she entered the room and approached Mar. “We were all worried. Good to see you in one piece.” Kiera rushed to her and received a head rub.
“I’ve been calling you guys to let you know how things are going.”
“I said good to see you.”
“And sending pictures.”
“You get what I mean.” She shoved him into the pillows. Kiera jumped on top of him despite his protests. While he wrestled to free himself, he sensed his sister moving to his bed. By the time he had freed himself, she had his scarf wrapped around her neck. “Got two stripes on your blue already, huh?”
“Well, I went through our education system an-”
“And you didn’t completely ignore magic after school, so you started at green instead of white, yellow or orange. I know. I’m just saying you’re doing well.” Kiera approached Ireka and made curious sounds. “The scarf tells everyone he has trained as a mage,” she articulated slowly, “He’s doing real good.”
“Thanks. The teachers there are great.” Ireka unwrapped the scarf and put it on the edge of the bed and started digging through Mar’s bags. Kiera tugged at the end of the scarf. While Mar moved to pick up the scarf, he asked, “What you looking for?”
“I want to see your licence and certificate. Mom and dad will probably want to frame the certificate and hang it in the passage.”
“Probably. You’re in the wrong bag, that one’s got my laptop, tablet and a couple of textbooks. They’re in the concertina file at the very back of the other bag. Second from the bottom compartment, opposite the exam pad.” While she dug around, Mar wrapped his scarf around Kiera’s neck – making sure to have the ends that normally hang down instead run along her back, so that she did not trip on them.
“Found them,” Ireka called in triumph, pulling out a small plastic card and a bigger piece of cardboard. She examined them while Kiera magically floated a pillow around the room. “Never seen one of these before. Flattering picture of you. I guess these are more common up in Tumenoord?” She looked to Mar, who nodded, before beginning to read the card aloud, “‘Republic of Tumenzar. Advanced ability licence. Illusory-ensnaring-sedative type. No determined physical effects, class 4 mental effects. Ability designation code IL37326. Holder: Mar Sterkvleuel. ID: 198606231244098. Public usage prohibited except for with direct permission from the council or the elders. Report any potential misuse.’ What’s the highest class?”
“Oh wow! I would expect dreams to be like a one or two on that scale?”
“Hah. If only. You don’t know the full extent of what I managed to do to myself that day.”
“Irikshan said I almost got a five. Then I wouldn’t have even been allowed to use it in private without permission from him or the other elders. Doubt they’d have been able to stop me or cared about me using it on myself though. He said that they give ratings based on potential danger or harm, not standard use.”
“What class is Irikshan’s?”
“Three. But he is super skilled at using it. I can only do some basic stuff.”
“Can I see yours? Not the dangerous things, of course.”
“Later. Mom and dad will want to see too. It’s not really dangerous unless you or I get careless. I’ve learnt enough to keep away from the dangerous.”
“You’ve already decided to keep on training at the college?”
“How-” He was interrupted as a pillow fell on his head from on high. He returned it to the sender before addressing his sister again. “How could you tell?”
“I know you. Could never resist something going unsolved. To not figure out how things work. The possibility to make them work better. You told mom and dad yet?”
“No. Planning to this evening.”
“Speaking of, they’ve cooked up a small feast for your return.”
“While it is entirely unnecessary, I expected they would. Haven’t eaten in a few days.”
“Good, good. Let’s head downstairs. Bring the things you want to show them.”
Mar put the documents Ireka had taken back into the file and grabbed his laptop. He hovered them in front of himself and, along with Kiera, followed her lead down the stairs and past the living room. Some large pillows were neatly arranged in the closest half of the room, with two wyverns wrestling on one. Two thirds down the room were two human-sized couches. Annabel was sitting on one of them. Ash, Ireka’s wyvern, lay with her head on Anna’s lap. The two were watching television on the far wall. The television was a sizeable piece of technology but appeared tiny next to the scale of the wall and the deco his parents had lining most of it.
Mar could still make out the detail on the screen from the doorway. She was near the end of a cheesy and historically inaccurate but cute animated film he’d seen quite some time ago. It was about a young human in a vaguely medieval era who finds a dragon egg, befriends and raises the hatchling, and then has to deal with the choices and consequences of doing that in a society where dragons were seen as the greatest threat to said society and killing a dragon was how teams of warriors proved their worth. Dozens of stories with similar premises had been made, but they still found an audience. They were more palatable than historically accurate stories that showed the true brutality and fear of that era of history, from either side.
Following a delicious mix of aromas dominated by that of spiced meat, they made their way into the kitchen, where their parents worked on countertops higher than the siblings’ heads. Mar could see the occasional utensil, tray or piece of food floating around. Palesa was chopping vegetables on an appropriately sized table underneath the central table.
“Hello my little ones, we’re just going to finish off here and put some stuff in the oven, then we can talk.”
“Ok mom, see you in the lounge.”
The pair soon found themselves together on a pillow in the lounge, Kiera snuggled between them. Anna was scrolling through the list of shows available on the online streaming service they used. As she passed a promoted show’s banner, its trailer began to play. “Join us for season seven of Lost Civilisations as a dig site in Bilavega sheds light on Eleon’s third lost dragon enclave. Could this be some lost root of Scriven or Tumenzarian ancestry, or a whole new species? Witness this gre-” The trailer faded out as she continued to scroll.
“Where’s Lars?” Mar enquired.
“Back to helping the farm workers,” Anna replied. “They’re finishing up for the day.”
Ireka swiped Mar’s laptop from him and when presented with a lock screen, he typed in the password from behind her. The first thing she was presented with was the messaging application Mar used to keep in contact with online friends.
“An online friend. Human. Lives in the city. I’m planning to meet him in a couple days.”
Taking a moment to get accustomed to the energy sensitivity of the trackpad, she explored his documents folder, discovering the system of subfolders in which he kept lecture slides, assignments and assessments from his various modules in the college.
While she tried to make sense of the science of something she’d been doing mostly intuitively the whole of her life, he stared at her neck. While he’d entirely inherited their dad’s aerodynamic scales, she had some areas – namely her neck and legs – where big thick scales more akin to chest plates than his scales appeared. They weren’t as big as Ilres’, nor did they form a natural full body plate armour, but they were still there. He put a claw just behind her head, then ran it down her neck slowly – making a muted tapping sound as it bounced from one large scale to another. There was a slight looseness to the surface of the scales. She shivered.
As Annabel scrolled past another trailer, a familiar voice caught his attention. “Wait, Anna, go back to that trailer. I thought I recognised a voice.”
She obliged, and it began again. “For this season of Facing Our Future, we travel to Tumenzar – the country that has prided itself on its technological and magical innovation for centuries. Will this innovation carry them into the future, or will they fail to adapt to the changing times?” The host stopped speaking and the scenic views of Tumenzar from above transitioned to brief clips of various individuals speaking.
“We’re global innovation leaders,” a Tumenzarian proudly declared, farmlands stretching out behind her, “I don’t know why we wouldn’t be able to handle the change we bring.”
“The dragons only care about you if you can give or provide them with something,” claimed a disgruntled looking man standing in front of a human housing complex.
“There are several key issues I can identify that we must face today before they become far greater,” Rentik asserted with the beautiful Raifal College gardens around her. Behind, the college complex sat against the cliffs and around the waterfall.
“Artificial intelligence is already here, progress will only accelerate” explained another Tumenzarian with a robot running an obstacle course behind him, “And it will change the world in ways we cannot even imagine today.”
The host’s voice spoke again before the trailer ended, “Find out what tomorrow brings before it takes you by surprise.”
“Was it that Scriven by the college?” Anna asked.
“Yes, that’s Rentik Jinmeng. She’s one of the heads of faculties at the college. She’s volunteered to help mentor me in some more standard stuff when Irikshan is too busy. She also largely financed that research project I’ve been working on that the council took over. Also been generally pleasant to chat to.”
“Oh! Her! Want to see what she has to say?”
Anna clicked on the episode list button and browsed to the one labelled S3E2: Rentik, Grandmage and Philanthropist.
“This episode of Facing Our Future,” flashy visuals were played while the host spoke, “we visit Tumenzar’s prestigious Raifal Mage College where many have dedicated their lives to the study of magic. Rentik Jinmeng, now the head of the department of Nullifications and Countermagics and the benefactor of many a charity, had humble beginnings in Meihian.
“Left an orphan living with grandparents in the wake of the Imaduudish War of Succession, her family struggled to make ends meet just like so many other Meihianese citizens. Inspired by both an encounter with a Tumenzarian explorer decades ago and Tumenzarian relief efforts in the wake of the war, she became set on travelling to the distant kin-state. In 1809, she departed with her sister and some close friends. Not all survived the journey, but those that did started new lives in Tumenzar.
“She again encountered the explorer she’d met so long ago: the current Elder Irikshan Kennissoeker. Becoming a beneficiary of the Kennissoeker family bursary, she enrolled in the mage college and has thrived here. She was amongst the first group of mentees of Irikshan selected when he graduated to be a master of the department she now heads.
“I’m your host, Alexey Zov.”
There was a cut to the host standing next to Rentik. Even sitting on the grass, she dwarfed the man, each of her forelegs being about the same size as him. The microphone floating in front of her mouth appeared similarly tiny, about the size of one of her canines. Flowers bloomed in the gardens behind her.
“Hello Rentik, I’m honoured you could take the time to talk to us.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Alexey. Being aware of what the future might bring and planning for it is of the utmost importance.”
“Indeed it is. So, what can you say about the future of Tumenzar?”
“The future certainly is bright, but there are several key issues I can identify that we must face today before they become far greater.” Mar occasionally wondered why every international show he saw seemed to have a human host, but the contrast between the deep, rough and accented voice of Rentik and the smooth and well-enunciated voice of Mr Zov reminded him why. It was a human language that had become the world standard.
“Do you mind providing examples of some of these issues you’ve identified?”
“For one we need to consider what it means to contribute to society when so much more work can be done with so many fewer individuals than ever before. Do capable individuals who are unavailable to find work due to scarcity, or due to the availability of a workforce whose lifespans and abilities far exceed said individuals, deserve to be supported by the state? Is it right for only the most successful or fortunate to thrive in this world where everyone could? What of when we no longer need a living workforce?
“My next concern is that we should strive for greater global cooperation. Tumenzar is known for trying to keep its ‘competitive edge’. Nations aren’t playing a zero-sum game anymore. It is in the interest of the greater good for everyone to increase cooperation. Competition and secrecy between nations manifest in a multitude of ways. Some ultimately helpful, many not.
“Speaking of secrecy, this is a massive concern in the digital age we are in. We might have no say in whether we can have a private life at all or not if we don’t get ahead of technology before it gets ahead of us. Even the distinction between mental security and digital security will become blurred. What power should the state be allowed to intrude on individuals’ privacy? At what point do things stop being for the greater good and start being for an agenda?” As she took a breath to continue, the host seized the opportunity to speak. Beyond closing her mouth to listen, she didn’t react.
“Some very good points, but I believe we should discuss them in more depth one at a time once we have a more general understanding of the situation. I notice these are all topics you’ve lobbied about in the past?”
“Yes. Have you been doing some reading up on me?”
“I have. I hope this does not offend you?”
“Not in the slightest. On the contrary, it is prudent to do so.”
“Has your lobbying been successful?”
“Not nearly as much as I would like.”
“Would you say the Council and Elders are resistant to change?”
“To a degree, as anyone is. They’ve all lived long enough to know that times change, but they still like to cling to what has worked in the past. My concern is they don’t all consciously realise how fast times change. Our kind has a tendency to settle in when they have something comfortable that works.”
“They change, but not fast enough? Could you elaborate?”
“The rate of technological development has only continued to accelerate throughout history. Tumenzar has been forced to adapt in the wake of crises multiple times in the past, which has made us who we are today: technological and scientific innovators. We have had and do have good leadership and good fortunes. But society is changing too, and I fear we may not be ready for all that the future entails. We must act now before we end up with a true crisis further down the line.”
“What actions do you plan to take? What actions would you recommend others take?”
“I myself will continue to lobby and have created many charities seeking to teach skills and provide fo-”
Anna paused the television as the three parents strolled in. Lyntarr and Ilress pulled three pillows closer to the siblings, each taking a seat on one, while Palesa and Anna sat on the third.
Kiera wormed her way out from between Mar and Ireka and strutted over to Lyntarr. He gently unwrapped the scarf from her. Mar also sent over his certificate and license, which were passed around before being returned to him. Mar was silent, not knowing what to say.
His dad spoke first. “We’re very proud that you’ve been doing so well, Mar.”
“Thank you. The Elder has been a great mentor.”
“As one would expect. What are your plans from now?”
“I uhh… I am hoping I can continue my studies there. I’d like to learn more, and the team of that project I was working on said I was welcome to keep working with them if I returned – so I do have a work opportunity too.”
“You most definitely can. And you don’t need to stay in that rented apartment. I’ve been looking at some property around Tumennoord. There’s a handful of options for longer-term housing that I’ve found. We can take a look at them in my office whenever you’re ready.”
“Woah, woah, slow down dad. You expected I’d want to go back? How long you expecting me to stay there?”
“You seemed to be thriving there, my hatchling.” Our home will always be here for you, but you’ve found some great opportunities and you shouldn’t hesitate to explore them.”
“Seems you all knew my decision before I did…” He looked between his family members, “I only finally made up my mind during the flight here. I’m not sure all this is necessary.”
“Your father already has made a hobby of buying, renovating or rebuilding, and reselling property. We can sell the one you choose if you decide you’re done in Tumenoord, and you can pay rent to us in the meantime if you desire.”
“I’ll pay rent of course. Thank you… I’m not sure how to properly express my gratitude…”
“Study well, work hard, make us proud.”
“Just don’t become a stranger like Josh,” Palesa commented, “We still want to see you when you’re on break.”
“Josh is being kept very busy. He is working when he is not studying or resting, but he is saving his vacation days to be able to visit here for a longer period than a few days.” He paused to get a nod of acknowledgement from Palesa. “Also, I don’t have work right now because that project I was working on has been mostly wrapped up. The team did invite me to work with them when they start their next project.”
“I assume you are still not allowed to speak of what you actually did in it?”
“Yes dad, the council will handle releasing any information they want to be public.”
“There is something he can show us!” Ireka’s wings shot out excitedly, her left catching him in the face. “Oops, sorry.”
“Right, so about that,” he looked regretfully to the adopted human part of his family, “I’m not comfortable with doing it to humans yet without Irikshan or at least a master present. You lot work a little differently to us.”
“It’s ok, darling,” Palesa smiled sweetly, “show them, we can keep ourselves busy.”
Mar nodded and turned to his parents. “I can take you anywhere I can imagine. When I get better at this, maybe anywhere you can imagine too. For now, you’ll have to describe it to me if its something unusual. Got any requests?”
Lyntarr looked to Ilres. She thought for a bit before answering. “How about a sunny seaside beach?”
“Can do. Close your eyes, lie down and relax.” Once his family had done so, he did the same. He reached out to their minds and lulled them to sleep, carrying them off the land of dreams.
They awoke to the sound of waves lapping against the shore close and crashing against rocks in the distance. Windswept and sun-baked sand cushioned them. A hot sun beat down, the dragons instinctively spreading their wings to soak it up. There was a distant din of water.
Eventually overcoming the urge to bask, Mar stirred, followed by his family. Ireka promptly began rolling in the sand, disturbing the otherwise smooth and patterned surface. Lyntarr and Ilres gingerly waded into the cold ocean water, exclaiming about how real it felt and how cold it was. Their deep footprints left in the sand behind them were soon no more than water-smoothed indents. Beyond them, the horizon was a dark line.
Mar watched the sand being tugged back and forth by the ocean current. He turned to look up the soft sand slope. The dark sand faded to a brighter white. Further away, the bright sand formed dunes, held together by desperately clinging shrubbery and a few hardy trees that leaned as if they were still being blown by a strong wind.
Ireka finished rolling around, and looked around, taking in the scenery. “You know, this r-” She yelped as a group of human kids building a sandcastle suddenly appeared in front of her, then vanished again. “What was that?!”
“You know how I said I couldn’t create places from your imagination yet? Well, memories are stronger, particularly for us dragons. Either way, the dreams are influenced by the individuals within them. While I can limit that influence to next essentially nothing, it’s hard to do with all three of you at once. What you just saw was me failing to block something you remembered from appearing. I also still need to practice allowing others to influence the dreams more. Irikshan pretty much brute-forces his way into having whatever he wants in here. Why don’t we try it out? Mom, dad, come closer. Ireka, what were you going to say?”
“Well, this place reminds me of a movie. We watched it together. There was a beach scene-” Her voice was drowned out by a cacophony as the beach was suddenly crowded with thousands of humans. They began to point at the dragons, scream and stampede away.
Mar sighed, concentrated. The clamour suddenly turned more discordant and disturbing but the crowds ran in reverse and grew quieter before they returned to where they had been several seconds ago. When time resumed, the humans no longer seemed to notice the dragons. “Yeah, so that’s another quirk I have to keep under control. We don’t exist to them anymore now.” He waved a hand through a rather obese man that happened to be walking by in front of him. “I don’t recall a single dragon in that movie, so I guess that none of these characters have ever seen a dragon. Continue.”
“It looked exactly like this. But then the water started receding and nobody noticed.”
“Like that?” Mar motioned to the water line, which was further than his parents had been earlier.
“Yes, and no one seemed to notice the black line on the horizon or the din of water until it was too late.”
“You mean like the ones that have been here since we arrived here?”
Ireka hesitated. She looked out to the ocean, squinting against the sun. The look of realization and horror that crossed her face made Mar want to giggle. “Yes… Mar, I don’t like this. I want to get out of here.” His parents’ body language also displayed a healthy measure of fear, but they remained silent.
“Relax, it’s just a dream.”
“It doesn’t feel like one. I want out.”
“Ok, think of somewhere safe.”
“Home. I’m thinking of home.” Their house suddenly materialised nearby, out of kilter, imperfect, cracking and crumbling onto the sand. “That’s not safe!”
“Because you are upset, not calm.”
“How am I supposed to be calm? The tsunami could be here any second!” All of a sudden, a great wall of water loomed over them. Lyntarr and Ilress also began to cry out in distress, before they realised the world had gone silent.
“Maybe I should have tried that with something safer first,” Mar stated with a degree of regret, as the others stared up at the wall of water suspended in the air. “I should have expected the overwhelming panic. I need to visit an actual beach one day. Or go the effort of constructing the dream from imagination instead of memory.”
Ireka looked at him. She was more than merely irked, gouging the sand behind her with a series of tail swipes, but asked, “Is this why you got a class four?”
“Oh, no. Sure, having your bones and will
“Mar, my hatchling, can we please go somewhere with less of… a sense of impending doom?”
“Yes, sorry about that. Let me make somewhere new quickly.” He closed his eyes. The colossal wave resumed its motion. The world shook and distorted. It bent and folded, cracked and shattered.
They stood in the midst of rolling hills covered with shrubbery and grasses. A line of trees implying a river stretched out to their left. A primal sense hung in the air, although no wildlife was to be seen. The landscape only held a vague sense of familiarity, mountains in the distance but a distinct lack of any kind of settlement, let alone city. Yet, the plant-life certainly belonged to the region of the world they called home.