Irikshan, after having flown across the Vernon Sea, crash-lands on a beach near the city of Shormton – in the territory of the Imaaduudin Empire.
This is the first chapter of Irikshan’s story.
Art by ElektronX
Lonely clouds dotted the sky, fluffy heaps of moisture that hung in the air. The harsh sun beat on his back, his aura siphoning what meagre energy he could salvage. The occasional updraft provided but brief respite for his weary wings. An endless expanse of water stretched beneath him, as far as his eye could see.
Irikshan had heeded most of the council of his seniors. He had trained thoroughly. He had navigated true. He had found the islands and he had taken ample time to rest each opportunity. Still, nothing could compare to the actual journey. And no part of the journey was worse than this final stretch. His wing muscles burnt, his back ached and his tail threatened to disregard its duty and throw him off balance – careening into the sea below.
Yet, at last, he sighted land. While his heart jumped in joy, he could not let himself change his pace. He feared that to break his rhythm would akin to breaking his wings. He could not stop yet. He had only a little further to go. His altitude gradually decreased, drawing him nearer and nearer the waters below – until his claws skimmed the taller waves.
Every moment he neared land seemed to take an eternity longer than the previous. In spite of this, the water below was finally replaced with land. Irikshan tucked in his wings and dropped out of the air – making only a bare minimum effort to break his fall with his legs as he ploughed into the sand. The fresh pain in his legs paled in comparison to the burning in his wings. Right now, all he wished for was slumber. He got his wish, as darkness overtook him.
“That’s enough! We only want it to be able to talk.”
Irikshan felt himself grow cold and hungry as a stream of life-giving energy ceased flowing. Instinctually he reached out, his mind finding the lake that had fed the stream, and began to draw from it again.
“It’s draining our crystals!”
“Block it. I’ll break its concentration.”
The lake became harder to reach, the river of energy getting choked and clogged.
A sudden, sharp kick to the snout brought Irikshan back to reality. He opened his eyes and found himself staring at the sharp ends of several polearms.
A weak, “…hello?,” was all that Irikshan offered.
“You are trespassing on Imaaduudinian soil, dragon,” came the brash voice from the other end of the pointy stick, “State the nature and purpose of your presence.”
“My presence is… peaceful and I come… for knowledge…” Irikshan’s half-awake mumbling was soft enough that the human had to lean in.
“Is that so? And why should I believe you?”
“I have papers… in the one bag just… above my left shoulder… They bear the… colonial governor’s seal.”
The man nodded one of the others towards Irikshan, keeping his weapon pointed at the dragon’s face. “You are aware that the colonies hold no jurisdiction here? Any passports from the colonies are dependant on His Eminence’s goodwill upon the holder of the passport.”
There was an interval of stillness where only the sounds were those of the ocean, the soldier rummaging in the pack and Irikshan’s laboured breathing.
“Sir, the document looks authentic.”
The soldier began to read part of the document aloud, “Irikshan Kennissoeker, a dragon of copper orange and evergreen, desires to visit the homeland and its neighbours. So long as it pleases The Emperor and The People’s Council, he shall be granted free passage in and out of The Empire’s territory. His purpose is to study both our and our neighbours’ peoples and culture. He is a citizen of the so-” a hesitation. “Of the sovereign state Tumenzar and travels with the blessings of the Elders of Tumenzar. Having studied at the mage college of Tumenoord, Irikshan is a skilled magician with a significant capacity for illusion-casting. Please endeavour to assist him in his benevolent excursion.”
Irikshan suddenly found his field of vision to have increased considerably. This was chiefly due to the fact that the visible world was no longer being obscured by a dozen polearm blades. Still feeling weak, he managed to lift his head to get a proper look at the officer who was now frantically reading the documents he had snatched from his subordinate.
The officer then glanced to the mages, one of whom nodded.
“Oh please,” Irikshan found himself feeling rather miffed, “I barely have enough energy to stand and you’re worried I’m going to create illusory documents which state I have skill in illusions whilst simply sneaking into your country and hiding myself from your perceptions would have been so much easier if that was what I had desired. Or simply omitting to state that I can create illusions would have been easy had I forged those documents.”
“My apologies, Irikshan. I, lieutenant Emil Scholtz, am honoured to be at your service. Tumenzar is an associate valued by Imaaduudin. I do hope you’ll forgive my discourtesy, but I had not expected a Tumenzarian here. Your state is so very distant, while we do not have the pleasure of courteous relations with all of our more… immediate neighbour states. I would like to escort you to Shormton – the nearby port city – for my commanding officer to sign off on your passport.”
“Good. I had planned to land on their beaches.”
“You were close enough.” The commander then turned and shouted, “Company, move out! We return to Shormton.” Irikshan looked past the man to see a shocking number of humans turning away from him and marching off the beach.
“Uhh, officer?” Irikshan groaned as he sluggishly attempted to lift himself off the ground.
“Lieutenant. Oh. Mages, let him take energy. Irikshan, please don’t take too much – it is hard for them to collect it in the summer. Not enough storms about.”
“I’m afraid I will need a fair amount if I am to heal myself. I can help your mages refill their crystals when we arrive at your city. Do you have any mages skilled in healing? I can mend the worst myself, but a skilled healer is preferable. Four long-distance flights, even if spaced, are not easy. Though I will be able to fly, some long-term damage may come to haunt me later in my life if I do not look after my wings now.”
“Fine. Lucile, you are assigned to accompany Irikshan while he stays at our city. It will not do our citizens’ nerves any good to have a dragon wandering the city unchecked. His purpose being to learn about us, I am also certain he will have many questions for you. Once the colonel has signed his documents, you are to take him to consult Sister Kyra. You two can figure out how you’ll refill your crystal.”
A medley of emotions played across the faces of the five mages. One seemed jealous. Another relieved. The rest held expressions unknown to Irikshan. Yet the face of the mage who stepped forward was a muddle of so many emotions, Irikshan was not sure even the mage knew what she was feeling.
The mage named Lucile did a deep-yet-hurried bow. Her form was hidden by the loose-fitting mage robes, but Irikshan knew she would have to be physically fit to be a competent mage – which he expected she would be, seeing as she was assigned to him. Her face was sharp and determined. Her brown eyes matched her brown hair, bound into a tidy bun at the back of her head.
Her hands darted into the satchel slung over her shoulder and brought out a large shiridite crystal and held it out in both hands. The crystal was as big as the human’s head. It was bigger than the crystal that lay in the right side of Irikshan’s chest. Any natural shiridan crystal of that size would be sitting in some monarch’s treasury, not used by a mere ranked or wealthy magician.
Irikshan reached out with his mind and drained the crystal of most of its energy. Once he was done, he nodded to the mage, who returned it to her satchel. He then turned his attention to his wings, mending muscles and soothing pain so that he need not walk as an injured beast.
He nodded his thanks to the mage. She nodded back, then – along with the other mages and the lieutenant – turned and fast-walked to catch up with the soldiers who’d gotten some distance ahead. Lieutenant Emil began shouting at men who were loitering, staring dumbfounded at Irikshan.
Irikshan stretched cat-like, opening his wings to their full span. A smug smile touched the corners of his lips as he heard some gasps of awe. He then moved to join the march behind the mages.
After a few hours march, the city walls entered sight. Irikshan leaned forward, putting his head over the shoulders of two mages and behind the officer.
“Lieutenant, if you wish, I could create an illusion to make myself appear as one of your men, one of the mages or even a civilian. It would create less of a spectacle than an armoured host parading in with a dragon in tow.”
“That won’t be necessary, thanks. I’m afraid that the fishermen running about town, screaming about a dragon soaring in from the sea and crashing on the beach, already made quite the spectacle.”
“Oh… I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. This is better than running drills. I’m sure my men feel the same way. Someday they’re going to be telling their grandchildren about the time they saw a dragon taller than a man, its scales of copper orange and evergreen, wearing travel bags and a purple scarf.”
“You’ve never seen a dragon?”
“No. Neither have most here. Though some who’ve come from up north, such as Colonel Anson, have. There are a few dragon settlements at the edge of our northern border.”
“Yes, the state of Scrivens.”
“That’s them. I hear some of the towns up there have gotten quite familiar with dragons, being built in dragon territory and all.”
“So why the harsh introduction if the nearest state is friendly towards you?”
“Well, you flew in from the east – not the north. Additionally, seeing a dragon here is – I hope you understand – quite startling. As far as I know, dragons usually remain in the lands claimed by their enclaves.”
“That is true. The Elders deemed it would be worthwhile for me to travel here to learn about your empire in a manner more direct manner than hearsay from humans who can sometimes be – I hope you understand – unreliable sources. Dragons from my state barely even visit our direct neighbours, including the imperial lands besides us. As you said, Tumenzar is rather far away from here – the empire’s homeland.” Irikshan paused before adding, “My state seeks to learn and gather knowledge. We focus on internal growth rather than global matters.”
“So I have heard. My nation shares its culture and knowledge, and we take an active approach to doing so. Please excuse me, but I am needed ahead.”
Irikshan nodded, raising his head and watching as the man jogged forward, past the other two-legs. He then looked at the city. He had read of Shormton. While it was not at the forefront of the empire’s steadily-expanding borders, it was a strategic location nonetheless. This city served both as the trade hub this side of the sea and as a crucial point for any supply lines for military campaigns on the eastern side.
The city walls were decent… for human architecture. Great towers of stone, firmly built and well-maintained. They did their duty and nothing more, built to be effective for the two-dimensional combat that these poor grounded creatures loved so much. These walls were not as imposing as the depictions that he had seen of the human’s great citadels. Despite this, Irikshan had to fight the urge to take out his journal and begin writing notes straight away. He could update his notes when the healer was seeing to his wings, and whenever he had time after that.
The gate was already open – the forefront of the semi-orderly marching column passing under the great stone arch. Irikshan could see many gawking onlookers gathered to see him. Some soldiers stood with their backs to him, holding their polearms horizontally to keep the crowd from pushing forward.
“Squads seven through nine, help with crowd control. The rest of you, to the barracks!” Lieutenant Emil ordered the marching men. “Irikshan, Lucile, with me.” The two complied. The other mages didn’t follow the soldiers, choosing instead to hover nearby.
They approached a building, in front of which stood a somewhat rotund man. His forehead held worry-lines and his hair was greying. Yet he still maintained a dignified bearing. Irikshan could have sworn that, upon looking up from the passport he had received from the lieutenant and meeting the dragon’s eyes, there was a glint in the man’s eyes and a slight upward turn at the corners of his mouth.
“Greetings, Irikshan Kennissoeker of Tumenzar. It is an honour to welcome you to Shormton. I hear that the lieutenant has assigned Lucile to be your aide. Good. She is knowledgeable and skilled.”
Irikshan glanced at the human besides himself, who was suddenly finding the cobbled ground very interesting.
The colonel looked back down at the papers he held. “I see both outposts and the colony on the three Vernon islands have signed off on your papers. I understand that it’s faster, but I don’t comprehend why you would choose this route. Surely it must have put a lot of strain on you? Wouldn’t a route around the sea have been easier? The few extra months would be a pittance in comparison to your lifespan. Judging by your size, I’d say you’re in your seventies or eighties. Chances are that you’ve already outlived every human that was alive when you hatched. Chances also say you’ll outlive the great-grandchildren of every human currently alive. Probably even their thrice-great-grandchildren. But not if you drown. It may be summer, but mother nature loves to be unpredictable.”
“You are correct. And that was a good guess, I am seventy-three.”
“It may have been a decade since I’ve seen a dragon, but I used to work quite closely with some of the Scrivens.”
“Interesting. Anyways, I took this route because I also wished to learn about the islands in the Vernon Sea. We know plenty about the human kingdoms who have been our long-time neighbours, but not much about our newest neighbour. We dragons cannot fit on your boats, nor have we much need to develop our own boats – outside of proofs-of-concepts in Tumensuid. My journey is the first documented excursion of a Tumenzarian to these islands. Well, the first Tumenzarian dragon. I wish to learn about your empire’s people and culture. As for my wings, I have trained and am able to heal myself – but I would appreciate the attention of a professional specializes in healing magic. You are also correct about the weather, but I had been monitoring it and did have contingencies.”
“Very well. I wish you the best for your stay here and the rest of your journeys. Let me head inside to sign your papers. Once that’s done, Lucile can take you to see Sister Kyra. After that, you can do as you please. If you have any questions that Lucile can’t answer, you are welcome to come see me.”
“Thank you, colonel.”
“You can call me Drew.” With that, the man entered the building.