Having departed from Shormton in the morning and walked most of the day, Irikshan finally gets a better view of the scenery.
4723 words | 19 min
The dragon, his escorts and their tag-along had walked in silence for some time. They were now far along the road, surrounded by trees on either side. Many other travellers had passed, with enough abandoning the road and hiding in the trees at the sight of Irikshan rounding a bend that Lucile had given him permission to make any that he sensed approaching perceive him as simply another human.
The lack of conversation while they travelled bothered him. He could still make use of this time he was forced to spend walking, instead of waste it. So, he attempted to get a conversation going again.
“I still find it odd to encounter humans so afraid of me.”
Kamon answered what he took to be an implied question. “We are still far from Meihian. Very few Scrivens have left their homeland, and those that have tended towards the Imaadudin itself. While the citizens here would not doubt your existence, you are still quite a sight to behold.”
“I understand… May I ask why you carry a blade and a firearm? Neither of the mages carry weapons and the empire is supposed to ensure the roads are safe to travel.”
“I am a traveller. It may be safe here, but I may need these if I travel elsewhere. Only way I can get them there is by keeping them with me. As for the mages… they’re living weapons.”
“Hmm. Care to share any of your stories, Kamon? Or perhaps tell me more about your travels in the empire?”
“Stories might be more suited to around a campfire. We could certainly talk about stuff. First off – have you heard of Ewaran Falls?”
“A series of waterfalls, some multi-tiered. A beautiful place. Mind a hike off the main road?”
Irikshan paused. Tempted to say he would, he instead responded, “Not if you think it’s worth it.”
“I loved to go there as a girl. Would be nice to see it again.”
“Perfect. They’re a fair way into the forest, at the foothills of the mountains. We might get there tomorrow morning.”
“What of the horses, sir?” Jared spoke up.
“The footpath to the first falls should be passable for the horses. We can find trees to tie them to if we wish to proceed further.”
“Jared!” Irikshan’s attention was drawn to the previously silent teen, who now flinched at either the exclamation or the sudden attention. “Have you seen these mountains before?”
“Only from afar.”
“How would you like to see them from above?”
His eyes widened, eyebrows raised, and he emitted an odd sound as he began to speak, but then shut his mouth and looked to Lucile.
Seeing Lucile’s hesitation, Irikshan added, “If I wanted to fly away, I could have done it long ago.”
“I’m still uncertain if this is a good idea…”
“I’m a creature of the wing! I haven’t flown properly in more than a week in your cramped city. I won’t go too far.”
“Can you carry the weight?”
“Jared is light, plus my magic can compensate for any lift that my wings might lack.”
Lucile continued some internal debate.
In frustration, Irikshan rapped the ground behind him with the flat of his tail-spade. “Give me your shiridan.”
“I’ll put an enchantment on a corner of it, and an identical one on my heart-crystal. That thing that Drew showed me gave me an idea. If either of us triggers ours, it’ll release a small pulse that the other will respond to with an identical pulse. That way we will be able to locate each other even if out of sight.”
“But you could just remove the thing from your heart-crystal?”
“Yes, I could.” Irikshan didn’t speak further, waiting for Lucile to make her point.
“Ok, I guess it’s better than nothing.” She dug in a small pouch that hung at her waist before producing the crystal and sending it floating towards Irikshan.
He plucked it out of the air and stopped walking so that he could focus on setting up the enchantments. “The pulse will be very low energy… You’ll have to pay careful attention to even notice it. Would you like me to make your crystal release a slightly more noticeable burst in the direction from which it receives a response?”
“Uhh… Yes please.”
Irikshan returned his attention to the object in his paw. Gingerly adjusting the structure of the energy stored within the crystal lattice at the edge of the larger gem, he encoded the enchantment onto it. He felt Lucile’s presence watching him with interest.
Wanting to test it before he put it on the crystal residing within his chest, he brushed the trigger point and watched the supernatural structure spring to life. The briefest pulse was emitted, and he responded with a crude approximation of this. The resultant release of energy, manifesting as a puff of air directed at his face, still managed to startle him, almost causing him to lose his grip on the crystal as he flinched.
“You alright?” Kamon enquired.
“Yeah, I expected that… It shouldn’t have startled me.”
Lucile mentally prodded Irikshan to get his attention. “Where was the signal from the crystal? I only saw yours and the directional release.”
“It was there. Too fast for me to even come close to recreating, so I had purposefully increased the verdraagsaamheid. I will narrow it down now so that they’ll only be triggered by one another.”
Irikshan enacted his adjustments, then set about making an almost identical enchantment on his heart-crystal. Lucile respected his privacy by not attempting to observe this. Almost identical because he very much doubted that releasing a blast of motion within his body would be pleasant. He instead set it to create a slight disturbance in the energy that would already be abundant within his body, one that he would easily notice if he had triggered the ping.
“All set.” He gently lobbed the crystal to Lucile, who ceased its movement before catching it. “Try it. You saw the trigger point while I was building it?”
Lucile nodded, and then triggered the effect. The response from his chest was only the slightest bit more noticeable to him than the initial signal, due to its location. He gave a vindicated chuckle when Lucile also jumped at the puff of air sent towards the right side of his chest.
“Alright Jared, get off your horse,” Irikshan sidled towards him. “Bring your blankets and cloak.”
Jared hurried to comply, almost falling from his steed before frantically digging in his baggage. As he was carrying a bundle that was previously neatly folded towards Irikshan, he stopped.
“You’ve got a spike right between your shoulders.”
“I do. Sit in front of it.”
“And you have them all the way up your neck.”
“How will I stay on you without getting spiked? A saddle?”
“I refuse to be saddled, not that it would fit anyways. The blanket is to protect your legs from my scales. You can at least keep yourself balanced with magic, can you not? You can access the crystals in my bags for energy.”
“What about your spikes?”
“I can keep my head down so that you don’t get stabbed in the belly. Not that my spines are sharp… They would require some force to puncture your skin… Put a blanket over them if you’re worried.”
“What’s the cloak for?”
“It gets awfully cold high in the sky. Make sure it is closed tight in the front. Also, tie the blankets tight at the bottom of my neck.”
Jared’s movement as he approached Irikshan and decided where to put the blankets was twitchy like the wild animals he had sometimes caught and held safely in his paws. Jared’s heart was beating faster than it should be.
“Don’t be scared. I won’t let you get hurt.”
Judging from his placement of the blanket, Jared had decided to sit in front of the offending spike. Irikshan would just need to be mindful to not raise his head too much.
Kamon, who had dismounted his horse and attached a lead rein to Jared’s bridle, now appeared behind Jared to help him mount Irikshan. Once the teen was safely on his neck, legs wrapped tightly and heels almost touching between Irikshan’s forelegs, the dragon gently turned his head to face the other two.
“We might be gone only briefly, or we might fly for long. I’ll see how it goes. Carry on as before. I’ll be able to find you easily so long as you don’t break the enchantment.” Irikshan looked up to the sky. They’d been on the road for a while now, and the sun was lowering in the sky. “Don’t fiddle with it. I don’t feel like searching the roads in the dark.”
Lucile rolled her eyes.
“Hold on tight while I take off and climb into the sky, Jared.”
He felt hands timidly gripping his spines as if they’d be cut open the moment they gripped too hard.
“No, that won’t do.” He raised his head slowly, giving the chimp on his shoulder time to react. “Hold onto my horns.” Now his head was being pulled backwards. “Just do your best to stabilize yourself without using my head, ok?”
“Irikshan, you sure about this?” She certainly was not.
“We’ll be fine, Lucile. Jared, it’ll be roughest while I climb. You ready?” At this, the other two backed away with the horses.
“Here we go!”
A backwards lean, legs tensing like a cat preparing to pounce. Wings unfurled, membranes slowly rippling in the gentle breeze. A weight clinging to green horns, legs squeezing so tight that breathing might have been constricted if not for sturdy scales. The sudden release of tension aided by the mental application of force launched dragon and human off the ground.
Great, long wings beat the air into submission, lifting the reptile into the sky. Branches bending, horses whinnying. Up, up, up. Each stroke carrying them farther than before. Higher and higher. The world below rapidly shrinking, the ground growing further at a remarkable rate.
Sensing arduous breathing and a heavily-beating heart behind him, the dragon levelled out lower than he had planned. Give him a chance to catch his breath and adjust. We already have plenty of height.
The boy looked down and weakly gasped. A sea of green below, gently drifting backwards. The sea was pockmarked by clearings and cracked by rivers, but the road that they left behind stood as a gaping wound upon the land. Ahead, trees thinned as foothills gave way to mountain proper. Distant colossi that one could reach out and pretend to hold in the palm of their hand.
“Quite a sight, isn’t it?”
A faint affirmative sound was all that was managed.
Irikshan could feel the impact of having Jared on his shoulders in how the air moved and pushed, and how he had to put more effort into keeping his front up. The wildly fluttering blanket and cloak lost a surprising amount of energy. These added extra variables to consider in the challenge that was flight.
Inspecting each of the imperfections in the green ocean as he flew, Irikshan sighted a long thread meandering its way down from the mountains. Knots dotted the thread here and there, creating bigger clearings in the trees. These could be the waterfalls he was told about.
“Going to turn to my right,” he warned loudly. With angling of wings – membranes taught enough that only their edges rippled in the wind – and the tilting of a tail, the world banked sideways.
“Everything is so small from up here! I can barely see the specks that might be Lady Lucile and Master Kamon!”
Once he had levelled, Irikshan made a request. “Let go of my horns for a moment.” The boy quickly transferred his grip to the nearest spine in front of him. Bending his long neck, Irikshan looked back beneath himself to the wounded land he’d left behind. They had already flown quite some distance. He could make out the two back on their horses, continuing along the road. Kamon lead Jared’s horse, while Lucile was holding her crystal and looking towards them. When he straightened his head, Jared quickly grabbed hold of his horns again.
“How high can you go?”
“Past the clouds. So high that the air gets too weak for my wings to work. So high that your lungs will struggle for air. I do not know whether you would suffocate or freeze to death first.” Perhaps it is good I did not go as high as I had intended, Irikshan thought, even that may have been too high for him. It was easy to forget how reliant humans were on things such as air and food.
“Why is it colder when we are closer to the sun?”
“I do not know, but the ground must store heat within – for in certain places it can spew forth molten rock.”
“Woah. Have you ever seen that?”
“No, but I have seen drawings of the vulkane in eastern regions of Vrakura.”
“Where the Ebonscales are found? I heard they lived in a volcano.”
“Yes, they have a city near one.”
They continued to draw nearer and nearer to the mountains. Irikshan may live near a mountain range at home, but the immense size of the stone giants never failed to impress him – even from the sky. In the case of this mountain, both the rock and general shape of the mountain were different from those at home. He wondered if there was any significance to this. He memorised what he saw and planned to draw it later.
Time marched on, but Irikshan was at peace floating across the sky. He’d escaped the cage that was the ground after being confined for so long. The sun was lowering in the sky. The horizon was so foreign compared to home, but the heavens still burnt a brilliant orange that almost blended in with the orange of his own snout.
He could be over the mountains before sunset. There was nothing to stop him from discarding the human, erasing the enchantment on his crystal, and being on his way. Save for his own conscience and desire to avoid conflict by obeying the law of the land.
“Is that a river?” A shout over the buffeting wind.
“What?” Irikshan searched the horizon. He did not see any significant gaps in trees that might indicate the presence of one.
“Not there, down.” Jared released his grip on the dragon’s horns. By now he was more comfortable about holding onto the green neck spines.
“Yes, of course. It’s the one that Kamon wanted us to go to.”
“How do you know?”
“I can see the waterfalls.”
“From all the way up here?!” The boy sounded incredulous.
“My voorvaders once hunted from the skies. Skerp… good eyesight was crucial to that.”
“I wish I could see like that.”
“Hmm… Maybe you can. Lean down, hold onto my neck tightly and close your eyes. I will try to make you see more detail. Remember that you are clinging onto me, not floating in the sky. You must not let go of my neck no matter what.”
Jared did as instructed. Unfortunately forced to avoid the spikes, he hung to the left side – favouring his right arm to cling on. Irikshan also twisted his neck in a manner that would become uncomfortable after some time but allowed Jared’s centre of mass to better align with his own.
Once Jared indicated his readiness, Irikshan reached out to the young mage’s mind. He at first encountered some instinctual resistance to foreign influence, before the boy restrained himself. As he’d done with so many others, Irikshan began to trick the mind into seeing what he wanted it to see. This time, however, it was not something from his imagination or memory, but what he currently saw with his own eyes. He looked down.
Turquoise water cascading down many small ledges, bubbling each time it fell. The opaque water hiding its true depth. If the water was frozen, this might have been a natural staircase, unevenly spaced steps fenced by trees.
Their vision followed the water upstream. Happily meandering downhill, widening and narrowing, joining and branching. Several deer watered here. There, a big orange feline with black stripes. It was slightly larger than a lion, but lacking a mane.
Eventually, the pair saw another waterfall. This one had fewer tiers and far bigger falls. At the base of the lowest, there lay a great pool in which countless dark fish teemed. Their meandering dance in the water mesmerised and relaxed.
“JARED!” Noticing a grip loosening from his neck, Irikshan cut off the illusion and received a terrified scream as a response. He turned sharply to the right – hoping to save the boy that was slipping off. Instead, Jared began to slide the other direction, still screaming.
Realizing the human was not going to save his own skin, Irikshan focused on him and exerted force, countering gravity and the air – bringing the boy back into line with his neck. The screaming stopped. He straightened and readied himself to catch the boy. He raised his head and – as enamoured as the youth was with the sense of weightlessness – Jared had the presence of mind to grab onto his horns. Letting gravity take hold again, Irikshan felt the boy land where he had previously been sitting and once again wrap his legs tightly around the blanket-covered neck.
“I think it is time we headed back. The sky shall soon begin to darken.” The sun scraped the unfamiliar horizon beyond the mountains and the shadows of the mountains already grew across the land below.
There was no response, and Irikshan wasn’t going to demand one. The boy could be feeling any mix of feelings right now, shock, terror, or even heavily-lingering amazement.
Once his gentle turn brought him facing the road, he triggered the enchantment he’d created earlier. Feeling the small energy disturbance directed slightly to the left, he adjusted his course.
Drawing nearer the road, Irikshan almost completely tucked in his wings – only the tips held out for the slightest increase in friction. Instead of entering freefall, he only slowly drifted downwards. Lucile and Kamon had set tents bordering a sufficiently-sized clearing to the side of the road. In the centre of the clearing, a fire burned, trapped by a circle of stones.
As the ground finally began to near, it became apparent how slowly Irikshan was actually descending.
“Why are you wasting effort to slow yourself when you have wings?” They suddenly jerked downwards, accelerating before Irikshan spread his wings and slowed again. “Oops, sorry for distracting you.”
“No need to shout right beside my ear. We are not moving fast enough for the wind to carry your voice away anymore.”
“It is not a wasted effort. I can… herwin… get back some of the energy I spent getting so high into the sky.”
“I spent energy going up, I can get energy going down. Certainly, there’s a lot that is lost, but not all.”
“You can do that?”
They were finally upon the campsite, Lucile and Kamon watching as Irikshan glided over. Trees and dragon-sized wings did not mix well. He did another sharp turn, aligning his path with the road before dropping down. Once finally at a stop on solid ground, Jared sprung off Irikshan and sprinted into the trees, two legs dancing across the ground and cloak fluttering. Irikshan followed at a measured pace.
“That was awesome!” came a muffled shout. An unintelligible response from Lucile could be vaguely heard.
At the campsite, Lucile looked as if she wished to speak to Irikshan, but remained in front of Jared while he excitedly recounted what he’d seen. Kamon, who’d deposited all his travel gear in his tent except – curiously – his pistol and sword, came to Irikshan’s aid in untying the blankets and setting up his tent. When Jared’s tale reached the incident, Irikshan was sure he could feel Lucile’s eyes boring into his back, but he remained focused on his task. Once the tent was set up, he unburdened himself, placing his bags in his tent.
His preparations for the night at last complete, he lay his journal on the groundsheet before his tent so that he might sketch while talking to the three that huddled by the fire. Fishing in his bags, he dug out his green crystal and inspected a much-used enchantment on it for any signs of wear. Satisfied that it’d still work, Irikshan held the crystal up in front of him and activated the enchantment. The crystal began to glow, a pale green-tinged light escaping from between his fingers. Once he let go of the crystal, it remained floating in the air, illuminating his immediate surroundings.
This got the others’ attention, who had been talking for some time. He began his sketching, but he seized the opportunity to speak. “Lucile, we have to talk about what you’re teaching this hatchling.”
The humans turned to face him, Kamon leaning to the side so that he could see beyond the fire. “What am I teaching him?”
“He doesn’t know it’s possible to absorb the movement of an object to recharge a crystal.”
What little air was held escaped Irikshan’s lungs in an exasperated sigh. He breathed in slowly before continuing. “If you are trying to stop a rock that is thrown at you, what do you do?”
“Push against it with my mind.”
“If you want to throw a rock at someone, what do you do?”
“Push it with my mind.”
“What’s the difference?”
“What if the rock is very big?”
Lucile thought for a bit. “I’d need to take energy from a crystal to launch the rock. If I could even push it hard enough to throw it.”
“So you are giving the rock energy?”
“So what about when you slow the rock down? Surely there will be energy going somewhere?”
“If you’re not going to take it, it will just go to the air, and be lost to you. But if you capture that energy and put it in your crystal, you could recover some.”
“But you’re pushing on the rock.”
“There’s a difference between pushing something and changing its energy.”
“I guess…” Lucile didn’t sound fully convinced.
Irikshan thought up another example. He’d finished the framework for an aerial depiction of the mountain from afar and was now drawing in the detail. “Think of a rock on the ground. The ground is always pulling it down. Swaartekrag. Gravity. If you gently pull it without moving it, you’re applying your magic to it – but you’re not changing the rock’s energy.”
“And if I pull it up harder, I am giving it the energy to move up?” She looked to one of the rocks by the fireplace. It quickly levitated a metre into the air before slowing and then halting. “I push it less to make it slow down,” the rock rocked unsteadily as she spoke, “and try to push it the same amount as gravity pulls it, then it will stop. It has no energy now, because it is not moving?”
“It does have energy. Not movement, but the possibility for movement. If you let it go, this will become apparent.” The rock fell, clattering against the other rocks surrounding the fire and rolling a little further. It then spontaneously rolled back into its original position. “That sound you heard when it hit the ground? That is the energy being lost to the environment. Not much here, but with bigger things – like a dragon descending from the sky -” he looked to Jared, “the energy you could get back becomes much more important.”
“If I’m not spending energy on it,” Jared asked, “how come I feel tired if I hold something in the air for too long?”
“What happens if you’ve been holding a rock in your outstretched hand too long?”
“I get tired and put it down.”
“Why is that? You’re not changing the energy if you’re not moving it.”
“My arm gets tired.”
“What happens if you’ve been reading scholarly papers all day?”
“I struggle to focus. I find something else to do.”
“Your mind is like a muscle. If you exercise it, it will get stronger. If you ignore it, it will get weaker. Using magic is like reading a very hard book that will try to close itself every time you stop reading.”
“I wish we didn’t have to focus on the things we wanted to do the whole time.” Whether intentionally or not, Jared’s gaze wandered to the crystal now floating to the side of Irikshan’s head.
“That’s what enchantments are for. But you need to know how to make them.”
“Thank you for the explanation, Master Irikshan.” Lucile seemed pleased to have learnt something new.
“Thank you!” Jared echoed.
“I am no master. There is no comparison between my skill and the masters that taught me. But conserving energy is very important to beings so reliant on it as me and my kin. This probably will have little impact on the magic you do now, but it may someday. Just be aware that your bodies aren’t designed to absorb energy, just as you aren’t designed to talk while breathing in. If you don’t have a crystal to put it in, the extra energy in your body might actually hurt you.”
A gurgled “I can do it” was heard from Jared who had, of course, decided to immediately try talking while breathing in.
“Don’t absorb energy unless you have a crystal,” Irikshan reiterated – just to be safe. “And please don’t try stopping falling boulders. If you can’t catch it with your hands, you can’t catch it with your mind.”
“What about your crystal?” Jared asked, speaking normally again. He pointed at the green glowing object floating
“I’m not giving that away.”
“No, I meant how does it stay up? It doesn’t get tired… does it?”
“It doesn’t. Think of it like building a table. You have to know how to build a table, and there are stronger ones and weaker ones. The table will do its job, but wear down over time. And anyone with an axe could come along and smash it to pieces. Or a falling boulder.”
“Except it all happens faster, as with everything in magic,” Lucile added.
“Master Irikshan,” Kamon decided it was his turn to ask something, “Can you tell us about shattering? Or was it sharding? Or something else…?”
Irikshan dropped his pencil, but quickly scooped it up and continued drawing a waterfall. “What’s to be said about shattering something? Surely that’s nothing novel to you? You’ve never dropped something delicate?”
“No, not that. It’s something you dragons can do. I think you might call it verdeel? I want to know how it feels, how you do it, and so on.”
He just wants information from me. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Irikshan put his journal inside his tent and moved his floating light inside too. The supernatural green backlighting and his intimidating silhouette reminded the three primates that they were in the presence of a descendant of ancient apex predators that once preyed upon their kind. “I am going to finish my journal and go to sleep now.”
Irikshan retreated into his tent, closing the entrance behind him with a gentle mental tug. He proceeded with his sketches and while thinking about what he was going to write for today.
Unsurprisingly, the dragon’s reaction had piqued Lucile curiosity. The humans talked in hushed tones that still carried far enough in the dense night air. “What’s shattering? Smashing a crystal?”
“That isn’t it. Dragons seem very reticent to speak on the topic. I am very uncertain of what I know. However, it is clear Irikshan wishes not to discuss it, so I shall respect that.”
At least he can do that, Irikshan thought. Unless he’s merely saying that because he knows I can still hear him.
As the humans’ conversation turned to different topics, Irikshan focused fully on writing his journal for the day before going to sleep.