After having landed on the empire’s shores yesterday, Irikshan was escorted to the nearest city to see Colonel Anson. Today the mage Lucile gives Irikshan a tour of the great port city of Shormton.
Irikshan awoke to the clapping of footwear on dirt approaching his tent for the umpteenth time since he’d settled in his tent on one of the training fields the previous day. He was regretting setting that enchantment on one of his sheridan crystals to wake him when someone approached. These footsteps were cautious like the rest, but took a more steady approach, were not accompanied by ill-concealed whispering, and were alone. Additionally, instead of peering into the door to catch a glimpse of the ‘sleeping’ dragon, these ones stopped a small distance away.
Curious, Irikshan mentally reached out, encountering a familiar mind that recoiled at the touch of his. “Mage Lucile come in. I am awake.”
She hesitated, then did as instructed. “Good morning, Draco Irikshan. Did I wake you?” She bowed.
“A good day to you too. Yes, you are here earlier than I…” he paused to think of the word in Imaadish.
“Expected?” Lucile offered.
“Yes. But I did ask for you to come as soon as you were ready.”
“I thought it best for us to begin before the streets become crowded.”
Irikshan began packing up his personal effects. While the tent would remain standing for the duration of his stay, he did not want to leave much unattended.
“Tell me, do you know where your crystal came from?”
“One of my ancestors was famed for having slain a dragon to protect a town. While there have not been any mages in my family line until me, the dragon’s crystal was kept as a trophy. When it was discovered that I could see energy, it was only sensible to use it rather than spending a small fortune on another. Does it bother you?”
“To a degree. We do also make use of crystals of dragons, but only if the dragon has assented to it prior to death. It is safe to assume that yours did not, but it is not my place to demand retribution for the actions of your forefathers.” After a pause, Irikshan added, “Judging by its size, the dragon could have been anywhere between one hundred and two hundred years old.”
“That’s a wide range.”
“Diet can affect crystal growth quite drastically. In Tumenzar, we keep some non-intelligent energy-sensitive creatures for their meat, similar to how you humans keep animals. They don’t live as long nor grow as large as dragons, but some do grow crystals like us. I’m not sure what you call them in your language.” He took two relatively small crystals from his bags and showed them to Lucile before putting them back.
Once Irikshan had readied himself, the two left the tent and embarked on their tour. The few people who were on the streets at this time gave the pair a wide berth and either hurried away or stared at Irikshan. Lucile proceeded to give him a tour of important buildings in the city. He could fit through the doors of most buildings – but those that he could not, he observed by peering through doors and windows. Irikshan’s Imaadish was good enough that they weren’t regularly stopping for her to explain the meaning of a word to him.
He was first introduced to the other mages outside the building that served as their study area. Lucile was the second-highest ranked among the local mages. Malcolm Taylor, the highest ranked mage, was standoffish but polite. The others bore the curiosity of children who’d recently made a great discovery. He was, admittedly, also curious about their training techniques and knowledge. They would likely have talked all day long if Malcolm had not reminded Lucile that there was more than one noteworthy building in the city.
Having begun drills as soon as the dragon awoke, the tour of the barracks and training areas was a noisy affair – what with the clanging and shouting. Among things that Irikshan noted were the surprising number of humans in military service, and that humans insulted each other for motivation. Colonel Anson requested that Irikshan visit him in the evening.
The courthouse of the city served a similar function to those in Tumenzar, but on a larger scale. With such a large and short-lived population, they had to put more effort into the organisation and tracking of cases and offenders. Interestingly, the town mayor was also not kept informed of the progress of every single trial that occurred.
By the time they reached the town hall, city life had begun to enter full swing. Here Irikshan encountered some humans too busy to even pay him much heed. The mayor took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to Irikshan about his role and responsibilities. The dragon was surprised to learn how little of a say the mayor had on the running of the country and the grand scheme of things. The emperor and the nobles decided what was to be done, and the mayors merely carried out their will.
Irikshan found the library next door somewhat disappointing. He ascribed it to large portions of the population that were dedicated to food and goods production, along with those in military service. Still, the library was nothing to scoff at. After some coaxing, the chief librarian agreed to give Irikshan an overview of many of the noteworthy books. There included histories, philosophies, law books, and studies both magical and mundane. An agreement was also eventually reached that Irikshan would be allowed to withdraw books while he stayed in Shormton, provided he gave the library something in return.
When they left, Irikshan caught Lucile grumbling about the overprotective librarian. When queried, she informed him that the mages were prohibited from reading anything magic-related in the library, and were practically forced to bring their research notes in once a week to be copied.
The church was the first building that had doors big enough for Irikshan to fit through comfortably. The morning service had finished not too long ago, and the priest was happy to help Irikshan. Of course, they spoke of religion, but the priest was also able to offer Irikshan a more personal insight into the lives and concerns of the normal citizens of the city. Something that neither the mages nor leaders could quite do. He spent time with the people – listening, consoling, rejoicing and praying.
The central marketplace was crowded and quickly became more so. At first, both Irikshan and Lucile were given a wide berth, the commonfolk seeming fearful of both. Almost no distinct dialogue was audible over the general hubbub. Eventually, a few brave souls came close enough to touch his sides and tail. When he reacted by looking at them and not eating them, the crowd soon pressed in closer. He felt pinches as some of the strange creatures tugged on his scales.
Getting frustrated, he loudly declared “Back away!”, and magically pushed back the humans who were crowding around him. He wanted to kick the ones who’d been trying to take ‘souvenirs’ – but restrained himself, as that could only end badly. Already the crowd did not seem pleased about being pushed around. He and Lucile made a hasty retreat. While they maintained a small following, the majority of the humans returned to what they had previously been doing. Lucile admitted it was probably not the most forward-thinking idea of hers to try to show him the marketplace in action.
Travelling through the more residential-focused areas of the city also drew onlookers, but not near the numbers of those at the marketplace. Most treated him like some dangerous and fantastical beast that was being paraded around town by the mage. They weren’t entirely wrong, but Irikshan found it frustrating how few humans were willing to engage him, or even Lucile, in direct conversation. At least the smaller groups were polite enough to keep their distance.
The docks too were abuzz with activity. Fortunately, shouts and commands to get back to work let the two visitors continue their tour in relative peace. No captains could be convinced to let the dragon onto their ships, but a couple were helpful enough to answer Irikshan’s questions.
By this point, Lucile’s voice had begun to become noticeably hoarse. Irikshan insisted that they return to where they started before she hurt herself more.
At the mage’s building, Irikshan found Malcolm standing with a handful of human juveniles arrayed in an orderly fashion around him. A couple of the other mages could be seen with adolescent humans further away. Despite obvious excitement upon seeing him, even the youngest of the children held formation remarkably well, until Irikshan had neared and Malcolm dismissed them.
The children flocked to Irikshan. Malcolm, the other mages and the adolescents approached at a more measured pace. Irikshan lay down, hoping to appear less threatening and more approachable. “Hello, little ones. Are you learning of magic?”
“We’re learning about dragons!” One cried excitedly.
“Well, you have a living one here. You are welcome to ask questions.”
“Can you breathe fire?”
“Do you really eat magic?”
“You don’t look fifteen to me…”
“Woah, woah. Slowly, little ones. No, I cannot ‘breathe’ fire. But I can create fire at a focus point, and my head can be the focus point. The dragons from long ago did not have great schools of magic like we do now and often had to figure things out for themselves. The ease of use and… uh… vernietigende power of fire made it a favoured weapon by them. This is where your stories of fire-breathing dragons come from. As for your question,” he turned to the second child. “Why do you eat food?”
“So we can grow up to be big?”
“Yes, but also so that your body can keep working. Your body needs energy to keep doing things. And what is magic?”
“Correct! Dragon’s bodies – and those of other magical creatures – are different to yours. We don’t need to get energy from food, we can get that energy from magic. We eat food to grow.” He then looked at the next child. “I’m not quite sure what you’re asking.”
“Master Taylor said you are seventy-four, but you are like a fifteen-year-old to dragons. You look very big for a fifteen-year-old. How big are dragons?”
“You see, dragons live a lot longer than humans. A lot longer. Just like for you, the world is very dangerous when we are young. Once we’ve grown up and learned how to look after ourselves, we will usually live for well over three hundred years. And since our bodies only need to use the food we eat to grow, we can grow a lot. See how if I stand next to you, my shoulder is about as high as your head?”
“Some of the oldest dragons I know are three times as tall as me.”
A chorus of amazement sounded.
“Draco Irikshan,” Malcolm joined the discussion, “Do you mind a demonstration of how magic interacts with your body?”
“Not at all.”
“Thank you.” He handed Irikshan a sheridan crystal. “Now, novices, come closer to him. Remember what I’ve been teaching you. Close your eyes, block out distractions. See the magic. Watch this energy that he takes from the crystal. Do you see how easily he moves it around?”
Irikshan took a small and concentrated pulse of energy from the crystal to make it easier for the children to notice. He moved it from his arm to the other, then back to his chest – where he gathered some energy from his own crystal. He then moved this up his neck and held it briefly in his horns, before moving it towards his mouth. He lifted his head and condensed the energy into heat, creating a burst of flame that he released towards the sky.
“You see how his body is capable of handling these high energies? It is because his blood and horns have lots of the mineral called shiridite in them. That’s also what our sheridan crystals are made of. This means he can use his own body to channel and direct energy.”
“So he doesn’t need a focus?”
“Well done, Adena. I teach you to use those so you have somewhere to gather the energy you are about to use. Unlike dragons, you will hurt yourself if you try to gather the energy in your body. And it takes a lot more practice and concentration to be able to gather the energy in something nonconductive like air. If you lose concentration, even with a focus, things will go wrong. Come now, let’s resume our lessons.” The mage began ushering the children away from the dragon. “Irikshan will still be here for at least a few days.”
Irikshan looked around for Lucile and spotted her talking to one of the adolescents. When he approached, the adolescent came forward and asked, “Do you mind if I come with you two from now on?”
Hesitating, Irikshan looked to Lucile.
“Draco Irikshan, this is my apprentice, Jared. He’s upset because I did not bring him along and instead asked Leo to train him while I’m busy with you.”
“It is up to you, Mage Lucile. But, Apprentice Jared – I do not think I will be doing much of interest to you. I am here to learn about the city, its people and its culture. When I wish to talk of magic, I am certain all the mages will want to be in attendance.”
“I still want to come with you two.”
“Ok,” Lucile rolled her eyes, “fine.”
“Yes!” The human swung a clenched fist into the air. “Thank you!”
Suppressing a chuckle, Irikshan stated, “I would like to speak to Colonel Anson now.”
“Good afternoon, Col- uh. Drew.”
“Ah, Irikshan, come in! You too, Lucile and Jared. How was your tour?”
“Definitely worth my while.”
“Good. Though, I hear you had some trouble in the marketplace?”
“Yes, it seems humans behave somewhat differently in large numbers.”
“That they do. Probably would have been smarter to not visit the crowded marketplace in the first place.”
“Not to worry.” The man looked back at Irikshan. “What are your plans for your remaining time here?”
“I convinced the librarian to let me borrow books. I have quite some reading to do. I will also be spending some time with the mages. Finally, I would like to do something with your approval.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Oh. I would like to speak to the people as a person. Or, should I say, an illusion of a person. The whole day, I have been the centre of attention. This is not what I desire. In a way, I am here to learn about how humans behave in their… natuurlike omgewing… natural environment.”
“I understand. You may do so. But how will you mask your accent? It will be obvious that you are not from around here.”
“I do not mind if they see me as a foreigner. Only that they do not see me as a dragon. I’ve found that even at home, humans behave differently around dragons if they haven’t spent many years living with them. This brings me to my next query. I’ve had mixed reactions to my presence – more so than I expected. I have been trying to figure out the general population’s attitude towards dragons, but now I’m not even sure they know. Your lieutenant who brought me in yesterday was at first hostile towards me. He later mentioned some troubles with the dragon states that are in the empire’s territory. But you especially stand out as the only one who seems truly relaxed in my presence. Can you explain this to me? What is the empire’s relation to my kin in the north and those in the west?”
“Several decades ago, the Emperor Malchestor came to power and changed the empire quite drastically. Before this, I was a senior officer at the state of the Scrivens in the north. They were a sort of protectorate underneath us. They could handle internal affairs and run themselves, but within fairly restrictive boundaries and supervision put in place by previous emperors – may he rest in peace. I had daily dealings with the dragons, particularly the elders. I came to know and trust many, as they did me. Even managed to stretch the rules on their behalf here and there. They mostly behaved themselves but were still kept in line.
“The Ostrocas in the west were another matter entirely. Actively defying the empire, even though the late emperor and his predecessors took measures to make sure they posed no real threat. For many years, any dragon that strayed from that territory without an escort was open game for hunters.”
“I was not aware that it was that bad.”
“Chances are that Emperor Malchestor did not find see it as beneficial to share this information with the Tumenzarians.”
“I must admit that we Tumenzarians do not pay much heed to the outside world, and do not get caught up in human affairs. I was not even aware of the empire’s existence until word spread that our human neighbours had called for aid against a threat from across the sea. The elders declared we would not get involved in human conflicts. We ended up providing shelter and work for many refugees. Despite this, I’ve gotten a generally good impression of the empire from home: your diplomats respect us, your mages and scientists make worthy contributions, and you’ve had lenient policies towards refugees that either want to return to their homes or leave the empire’s territory.”
“Yes, Emperor Malchestor was in power for that campaign. He’s been quite different to his predecessors. He believes the empire is here to serve the people, not the other way around. At least that is what he claims. But I must say there was a radical shift in governance method. And, as always, the empire continues to expand – bringing civilization to the uncivilized.”
“Interesting. What of the dragon states?”
“Oh, of course. They have been integrated. The dragons are now treated as citizens of the empire, with the rights and privileges that come with that. I was relocated here just before the new policies were implemented, but from what I’ve heard – it’s worked like a wonder. The emperor himself visits the dragons a few times a year. The Scrivens even named their new school after him. Even the Ostrocasians are now proud to be part of the empire. Most of them. I’ve heard reports of some splinter groups that have left their land and are still causing trouble for the empire. ”
“Yeah. Some of the human citizens have also had a hard time adjusting to the changes, which might be why you might be feeling a mixed sentiment towards you. Do you have any other questions?”
“Not for now. I will remain here in Shormton for some time but eventually head north. I wish to visit the Scrivens. I will inform you before I leave.”
“Ok, I will see you tomorrow then. Goodbye, Irikshan. Goodbye, Lucile and Jared.”