Irikshan has been taking plenty of notes about his journey and continues to do so as his time in Shormton draws to a close.
3121 words | 13 min reading time
Each pat of paws hitting well-travelled cobblestone was followed by a soft click of leaf-green claws contacting the stone moments before liftoff. The owner, a large and powerful creature – clad in a natural armour and armed with unnatural abilities.
Hushed voices and curious stares followed and preceded the footsteps through the city streets, crowded with humans of various saturations of the colour brown. As homogeneous as their natural colours were, their clothing more than made up for this. A sea-salted gust swept through, disturbing the bright and colourful sea of intricate patterns. The sheer excess on display would not have been possible several decades ago, even with the mercantile wealth in this city. It was instead enabled by an economic boom created by new manufacturing processes that utilized machinery to create far more than was ever before possible by skilled craftsmen.
The creature, however, did not care for this at the moment. It marched single-mindedly through the crowds, quickly leaving the affluent crowds and entering the military sector. The buildings here were sturdy-built of simple, undecorated brick and mortar.
A door was approached and opened, its metal handle rusted from exposure to the sea air.
“Ah, the bookwyrm emerges from his cave.” A sly smile touched Colonel Drew Anson’s lips as Irikshan squeezed through the door.
“Sê die man wat met papiere werk.”
For the most part of the past days, Irikshan been holed up in his tent or the town library, reading their books with the aid of Lucile and the librarian. This was, of course, after Irikshan had fulfilled his end of the bargain by describing the area in and around Tumenzar’s territory to the city’s resident cartographer.
“Pardon me?” The colonel put down his pen.
“Nothing. Good afternoon, Drew.” Irikshan bowed his head politely.
“Good afternoon, Irikshan. How can I help?”
“Lucile and Librarian Russell have refused to let me peruse some of their research notes. I was wondering if you might grant me permission to access these.”
Drew looked to Irikshan’s nigh-ever-present escorts who’d followed him into the office, Lucile and her apprentice Jared. “Are these the ones relating to military matters?”
“Then I am afraid that I cannot do that, without clearance from my superiors. They don’t like for outsiders to know much about our military. Buuut…” the Colonel lowered his voice, “It mostly contains research on tactics, tools and magic that could come in handy in various environments. While I won’t deny it might interest you, considering your voracious appetite – that is,” he added when seeing Irikshan tilt his head in confusion, “ great hunger – for knowledge, I can tell you that most of the magics and tools should already be within your realm of understanding. Look at this, for example.” The human stood up, opening a locked cabinet and then placing a device on his desk. “Can you figure out what it is?”
Irikshan lowered his head and inspected the object in question. “The enchantment on the Shiridan crystal inside looks unusually like one we use to show to our trainees how gesinchroniseer gems… crystals using energy of the same speed… can listen to one another from a small distance. To my knowledge, we haven’t found any practical use for the enchantment on its own. Our mind’s own reach is already greater. But these metal… horns you have on the thing… Copper, is it? They may help increase the range at which the devices can detect the energy from one another. Long distance communication may be possible if you have a way of understanding the pattern of energy flow. You would need mages to help keep them working. They would make sure that the setup does not degrade and that it has enough energy to work.”
“And there you go.” Drew gave an approving nod. “I do not think that these papers are worth navigating the bureaucracy to get permission for you to view. I doubt they will even give permission.”
“A complicated and time-consuming management process. Besides, are you not here to study our history and culture?”
“That is true. I’ve learnt a great deal from the books, but reading about places and experiencing them first hand are different matters. There’s such a great variety of peoples that are now under the empire’s rule.”
“That they are. Plus, take it from me, books written by the winners are very one-sided.”
“Why do you say take it from you?”
“I am largely Meihianese. My great-great-grandparents, their parents and grandparents would have a largely different opinion of the empire than I.”
Irikshan paused, recalling information he’d absorbed recently. “Ah, you’re from the human kingdom who the Scrivens joined. Conquered by the empire some two hundred and twenty years ago. You would have grown up in the presence of dragons.”
“That is correct. I think it may be beneficial for you to go out and see the buildings, the people, the crafts, the arts, and the history for yourself. Everyone has a story to tell. In fact, I’m surprised that you have not yet done so other than that initial tour that Lucile gave you. I expected it to be the next thing you did after you asked me for permission to use your illusions last week.”
“I may have been over-eager when asking. Back at the Raifal college, I have been practising with small crowds of what are usually volunteers, but those were in controlled environments with minimal distractions. While I am moderately confident I could trick your far larger crowds, I doubt I could do that at the same time as focusing on asking questions, taking notes and making sketches without having lapses in my illusions. If these lapses are noticed, it could cause… more problems.”
“I catch your meaning. Forgive my question from a position of ignorance, but would you not be a master of your skills by now? The Scriven’s schools may be different to yours, but trainees had usually mastered their skills and moved on in at most a couple decades. Though I do not recall meeting or hearing of any with unusual capabilities such as your illusions.”
“There is no such thing as perfection. While the proper mentors uh… increase the speed of one’s learning, there comes a point where training slows to a creeping pace as you push the limits of what you can do, and seek to expand these limits. Most stop learning and merely maintain their skills once they reach their natural limits.”
“And you did not?”
“I did not. Additionally, although I have good teachers, no one is known who has abilities in illusions and is still alive. The archives’ records on illusions were also upsettingly scarce. Advanced abilities are rare. Although… I am somewhat surprised that you have not seen any at all.”
Drew shrugged, an expression that Irikshan had seen used by the humans living in Tumenzar.
“However, I do now have an idea.”
“Something about advanced abilities?”
“No. Well, yes. Mine. For talking to your citizens.”
“Pray, do tell.”
“As you said, everyone has a story to tell. What if I were to pose as some sort of travelling artist or historian, and sit with only one or a few citizens at a time to document their stories and capture their portraits. It is more or less what I am doing already, but the individuals take a more active role in sharing – rather than me simply observing them.”
The colonel hemmed. “Yeah, that could work. How are your artistic skills?”
“See for yourself.” Irikshan looked to one of his shoulder bags. Drew moved towards Irikshan before noticing the buckles had undone themselves and a book, large both in surface area and thickness, floated out of the bag. It was bound in a white leather and had thin strips of various fabrics sticking out between pages. Irikshan plucked it out of the air and opened it at a peony-pink strip. He turned a few pages and placed the book on Drew’s desk, avoiding the paperwork the man had been working on a few minutes ago. Lucile and Jared moved closer for a view too.
On the left page was a detailed pencil sketch of Drew in his uniform. On the right were notes, inked in moderately neat lettering, in a language foreign to him. Tumenzarian, he assumed. Drew gave an impressed whistle. “Almost like looking at a mirror.” He reached to turn the page before asking, “May I?”
He turned the pages to find sketches of various places in the city. Not only the buildings but the crowds as well, all drawn with incredible levels of detail. Eventually, it seemed he reached Irikshan’s notes on the books he had been reading in the library, as the number of illustrations decreased drastically after a depiction of Russel, the head librarian, alongside his cartographer at work. “How do you draw these? How long do they take? Do your illusions help with making these?”
“It would be more appropriate to say that my artistic skills help my illusions. I first started drawing as a means to improve my ability to imagine and then depict things I imagine in a realistic manner, but it eventually became one of the ways I earn a living. It depends on the complexity of the picture, but they can take many hours. My approach when I do not have time for that, such as the first day with Lucile, is to make a very rough and quick sketch that would later jog my memory.”
“That makes sense. Very well, what kind of location would you need?”
“Simply somewhere where I cannot be seen or heard by the general public, and have some warning before someone enters the room.”
“How fast can you-” Drew felt an urge to look down at his desk.
“Fast enough,” an unfamiliar voice responded. It spoke with a local accent. Drew looked up to find an unremarkable civilian standing before him. “Now that I know more about your history and have acclimatized to your people somewhat, I need not even appear foreign.”
Drew glanced to the mages. They had definitely noticed something, seeming mildly alarmed, but were looking slightly above the civilian’s head. When Drew tried to look there, he found himself meeting the civilian’s eyes again.
“Only you’re seeing this currently.”
Drew knew who this civilian was, and what they were doing – but he was having a hard time processing it. “This is a bit disconcerting.”
“Sorry.” Drew rubbed his eyes and suddenly there stood a dragon before him, whose head was at a height slightly greater than his own. “This is why I’d prefer to know when people are coming. I can mess with one’s perceptions – such as sight, sound and touch – but the mind still has to process what it perceives and will struggle when there are disconnects from what is expected. It is easier to trick someone when they already expecting to observe or are observing part of what I want them to.” The dragon glanced to the mages, “For example, I still spoke – but I just caused you to perceive my rougher, deeper voice and Tumenzarian accent as something more local.”
“Interesting. I know just the place for you. A balcony overlooking the gardens should serve well in interviewing the richer class.” He began writing on a new sheet of paper. “Lucile, can you take this letter and Irikshan to the gallery curator. In the meantime, I can get one of my subordinates to seek out some other locations for you to meet people from other walks of life.”
“Thank you, Colonel.”
“You are welcome. Let me know if you require any further assistance.”
Irikshan bowed his head in way of farewell and thanks, then left.
Paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork. It never ended. Drew was certain his fountain pen’s nib would have all but worn away before the paperwork ended. Paperwork about training, paperwork about troop movements, paperwork about that dragon. Drew was going to have to find something to do other than paperwork later today. Maybe a special training session with the troops would allow for some fresh air.
Seeing the dragon was worth the effort, however. It had been so long since he’d seen the Scrivens who he had called friends. He’d been a high-ranking official in the Meihian-Scriven capital. In charge of many military and civil matters.
The Scrivens would serve when the empire asked, but the previous emperors could not see past their primordial fears of the great reptiles that had once troubled their distant ancestors. The emperors used the dragons to fight, and nothing more. Occasionally a dragon or two would vanish, but for the most part, they stayed put and simply strove to live well and help one another.
While the dragons were certainly dangerous when it came to it, the community he had grown up inside had fostered a positive attitude. Drew had learnt to read the expressions of their scaly exterior and knew that they were really just big softies. The Scrivens at least. From what he’d heard, there was far too much bad blood between the Ostracations and the locals to that area for them to be anything more than compliant. But judging by what he’d heard from travellers and seen of this Irikshan, the Tumenzarians were not too bad. Greed for knowledge seemed to be their biggest fault. Even under the previous emperors’ rule, it was an honour for mages, scholars and craftsmen to be sent on imperial-funded expeditions to study at Tumenzar.
The new emperor seemed to understand the Scrivens better. Drew had heard that the dragons were being sent to help around the empire. Help, not fight. Mainly things that could use their abilities to do large amounts of work quickly, such as construction or maintenance. That was still something. Plus there was the now-increased funding towards the schools in what was once Meihian.
A knock on the door.
Malcolm, head of the local mages. One of Drew’s direct subordinates. “Pardon the interruption.”
“No worries.” Interruptions were nice. Drew liked distractions. He glanced at the ornate wooden pendulum clock that hung from his wall. “Ah, it’s time.” The mage nodded and began placing some crystals around the room. Drew unlocked the cabinet that he’d opened earlier when the dragon had been there. He took out the device Irikshan had examined, along with a chart that mapped groups of dots and dashes to various letters of the alphabet. Malcolm took the device and chart, although he did not really need the chart any more. Drew placed a blank sheet of paper in front of himself: to write what he heard from the mage.
Malcolm interacted with the machine. Drew knew he was broadcasting their standard opening message.
SHRM IN HQ RESP
He waited for some time, then nodded to indicate that they had gotten a response. Although letters and paperwork were exchanged back and forth constantly, the imperial governance liked to use this system for more urgent matters. Malcolm began sounding out the letters as he received them.
P U B L I C W O R K S T E A M D E P A R T S T O D A Y
Drew’s heart lifted. While still tactically important serving as a major thoroughfare, Shormton was under no immediate threat, and thus had not received as much imperial attention as many border cities. If this ‘public works team’ included some Scrivens, he might hope to know some of them.
Malcolm began sounding out another message.
T R A V E L L E R pause R E P O R T O N I L L U S I O N
Drew looked questioningly towards Malcolm.
“We’re under orders to report whenever magic is used by foreigners or unregistered mages. Lucile has been keeping me informed of Irikshan’s activities, and I have been filling out reports. You allowing Irikshan to interview citizens must have caught their interest.”
“Oh.” This dragon sure did cause a lot of paperwork. “He’s simply been making citizens perceive him as a human. While I do see the potential for his ability to cause trouble, he has been using it minimally and responsibly – to my knowledge. Would you agree?” Malcolm indicated in the affirmative. “Tell them that.”
N O Y O U R E X P E R I E N C E
“Hmm, well it caught me completely by surprise. I would not have noticed it had he not turned into a man right in front of me. He managed to slip past my mental guards without me noticing. Could cause trouble in the hands – or claws – of someone of less than scrupulous intent.”
Y O U R J U D G E M E N T
“He definitely seems well-intentioned. Genuinely interested in learning. Polite. His notebook was filled with, well, notes and skilful sketches of the city, people, locations.”
C O N T E N T S O F N O T E S
“I could not understand them. I assume they were in his language.”
T R A V E L L E R L E A V E S T O M O R R O W
Drew nodded. Irikshan had said he was ready to leave Shormton and was planning to explore other regions of the empire.
S E N D T W O M A G E W I T H pause O R D E R T O R E P O R T I N W I T H L E A D O F T E A M A N D E A C H T O W N pause C O N F I R M N A M E S
“Malcolm, do you think Lucile and Jared are up to it?”
“Lucile, definitely. Jared… I’m not certain.”
“You said a few months ago he’d soon be ready for proper assignments.”
“I did not imagine dragons with mind-affecting abilities.”
“Irikshan means well. You forget that I grew up with dragons, and managed them for a good while. I can read them.”
“Yeah, then you got essentially demoted when moved here.”
“Through no fault of my own. The new emperor himself came to thank me for my service there but said he would be shifting officials and officers around a lot. He asked where I would like to retire outside of Meihian, then told me he’d move me here when I said I’d never seen the sea. I’m still getting just as much pay, but he said he was not retiring me just yet in case he needed me. I think this is certainly better than the frontlines across the ocean.”
Malcolm began to respond, then stopped. “They want an answer.”
“Lucile and Jared.”
“So be it.”