A word echoes through all, a call to the rest of existence. What is the response?
A word echoes through all, a call to the rest of existence. One of impatience. Of excitement. One of frustration. It hoped.
It searches for a sign. A response. A pulse. An answer to the ever-burning question of what makes a life full.
The voice lashes out. Reaping destruction upon all in its path, destroying countless stories. Twisting them into foul decaying shadows.
Legends of old rage against the voice, though they too are struck down. Histories hold fast but fell just as well. The voice envelops all.
Then, the voice settles. It realizes. It understands. The chance it had was gone, now it must wait for another.
There were no other options.
The response would come one day, in one form, perhaps another. But it would come.
For now, there were more stories. Worlds. Time. Lives. The voice would play with these things, build a new story from them, become something more.
When the response comes, when it truly arrives, the game can finally begin.
Do you have any idea what it was like after you were born? That sensation of truly not knowing what you're doing yet doing it anyway. Moving, blinking, breathing; feeling, yet not realizing it. Running purely on instinct. Emotions switching out with each other instantly. It's hard to imagine, but I remember it perfectly; my eyes being greeted by that empty white room. Confusion. Trying to rise from the floor only to discover my limited strength. Helplessness. Opening my mouth and letting out a small whine. Emptiness. Loneliness.
Thoughts weren't even truly possible at that time. All that could fill my head was what my senses could tell me, while my instincts controlled my body. I was the only thing within the room. No doors, no windows, no furniture; just the walls, ceiling, and a warm floor beneath me. The only sound I could hear was the echo of my weak whines. At the time, I had thought those were coming from someone else. This only spurred me to be louder. The tasteless air that filled my lungs after each whine felt almost wrong. My body felt hot and wet, but I could feel myself drying as if the liquid was evaporating off my skin. I continued to lie there, my calls for attention going unanswered. I didn't know what I was doing. Everything was new. Unknown.
After several moments, the room began to rumble violently, bouncing me up slightly into the air as it trembled. My whines turned into cries. Fear. I began to wiggle around. Panic. My instincts forcing my body to desperately grab hold onto anything that might bring safety. I was wasting too much of my strength, and I felt like I was going to suffocate from pushing my body too far when the room was still once more.
Despite the peace that had returned to the room, I continued to cry out, new and unknown emotions gripping me tightly. Cold air began to sink into the room, my mind began to warp, and my body stiffened. It felt as if something had started to fill it through a small hole in my skull. The sensation was surprising, alien, and painful. I began to cry even louder, no longer in fear, but in pain.
"Give him only the essentials, this cannot fail." The words echoed through my mind as the information poured into my mind like a fiery drill into my skull. Unknown symbols appeared in my head, hundreds of thousands of them, all at once. Words. Then those words formed together into definitions, then those definitions changed shape and color to form pictures for those words. In a matter of seconds, I had learned languages, reading, writing, and colors. Then came the information of objects, creatures, and more advanced information. It came immediately and the feelings of pain intensified tenfold. The process might have killed me, but some outside force kept me alive, and awake, through it all.
When it ended, I collapsed and lay still, barely able to stay conscious. Another voice arose. "His condition is stable. The transfer was successful" My head ached horribly, yet it still was able to produce a single word: Male. I identified the voice as male. What was male? My mind's pain intensified as new words filled it once more. A male is a type of sex. The opposite of female, determined by biological structure and anatomy. The proclamation came fast and unnaturally, feeling akin to someone stamping it in my psyche.
I could barely process the new information before another male voice spoke. "Can he hear us?" A pause. "Listen to me, little one, you have a role to play in the events to come." I began to cough violently as the air shifted. "Go forth into the world. Learn. Connect. Discover. Grow." I felt my stomach drop and ears pop as the room shifted again. "When he comes for you, you must be ready." The floor around me began to fall apart, piece by piece. I was too weak to do anything except let my body fall with it. I dropped with the last piece into the unknown below.
* * *
When I awoke, I felt cold and groggy, my mind still tingling. I opened my eyes and stared down at the new surface below me.
Rocks. The word appeared in my mind suddenly. I stared at the collection of minuscule grains for a moment as my mind slowly cleared.
Sand. The new word appeared as if it were to help me identify it. I looked up. Sky, clouds, sun.
I raised my head and turned to look beside me. Words continued to appear.
Water, ocean, sea, beach.
The water was calm and unmoving. With newfound strength, I crawled over to the shore and looked down at the still liquid. And for the first time, I saw myself.
My skin was made of white and dark grey scales that seemed to shift in color with one another as if I had different shades of grey clouds constantly dancing across my white body. My eyes were a light blue with hints of orange, my pupils, slits. Two small horns appeared out of the back of my head. Running down the base of my neck to my chest and stomach was a silver underbelly. I lifted a foreleg and found a small, clawed hand at the end. I turned to look behind me. Small spikes ran down my spine, curving backward. They stretched down to a tail, tipped with a sharp, curved tail spear. Two small wings lay folded on the sides of my back, the thumbs barely formed. Unfurling them revealed their white membranes, the wing fingers barely poking out at the ends. I looked back at my reflection and words appeared once again. White, me, myself...
I continued to stare at my reflection for a few moments, soaking in the image fully. I put a claw to my jaw, slowly guiding the side of it down my chin and throat, feeling it run over my scales. I continued to bring it down to my underbelly, where the small bumps I felt before turned smooth and I felt a small tickle. This was me.
I sat there for a few moments longer, staring into my reflection. Occasionally stretching my wings or moving my tail, until my stomach growled. Hungry.
Turning around, I saw what lay beyond the beach was a dense forest. Thick black trees with red leaves stood high above the ground, blocking most of the sunlight from entering, yet I still could see well enough through it. Nothing could be heard from within, and nothing seemed to move.
The air suddenly picked up as a gust of wind pushed through the trees, carrying with it an unknown scent. A sweet and strong odor that carried an intoxicating kick.
* * *
I walked until the sunlight no longer showed completely through the leaves, following the smell. The light was diminishing quickly, yet it did not concern me. Small animals occasionally darted away, while birds called from a distance. Insects flew and crawled in every direction, but none touched me. The air smelled moist and burnt.
I looked in every direction, trying to find something the source. For each new sight, more words appeared to identify it. Birds, rats, spiders, flies, but my mind did not identify any of it as food. The food I smelled anyway.
Eventually, the scent carried upwards, into the branches of the thick black trunk. Looking up, I spotted bright yellow objects hanging from the abnormally large tree. Apples. Food. I approached the trunk of the tree and stared up at my chosen meal, thinking of how to acquire it. Then an idea formed. One of my own design this time. I turned toward my back. Wings, fly. Get food. I unfurled my wings fully and crouched low to the ground. With a great flap, I jumped.
Within a few seconds, my attempt was met with the ground and a new pain in my head. I stood up, shaking myself off. I took another look at my wings in disappointment. Not big enough? I looked back at the tree in agitation, my stomach growling once more. I was getting impatient.
A small squeak sounded behind me. I turned and saw a small creature, sitting by a thick trunk. Squirrel. I stared at it for a few seconds, wondering why I couldn't just eat that. But, before I could act, it darted it up the tree, its claws digging into the bark as it climbed.
Something clicked in my mind.
I turned back to the fruit-bearing plant, my eyes staring at its black surface. I lifted a foreleg and dug my claw into the tree. I took my other leg and placed it further up, then another, and another. I began to pick up speed as I climbed, exerting what strength I could.
When I reached high enough, I climbed onto one of the lower branches under the many fruits, digging my claws in to secure myself. Extending my neck, I cautiously reached over to a hanging apple, and plucked it with my mouth, the strong scent now invading my mouth completely. The juices that soaked out seemed to almost crackle in my teeth.
As I pulled back and grasped the apple from my mouth, I couldn't help but enjoy my accomplishment. It was small, but I had gotten my first meal. With one quick motion, I bit off a chunk of the apple and tasted my reward.
The warm fruit was sour and sweet. The juices themselves seemed to spring to life in my mouth, splashing and gushing as I ate.
I licked my maw. Good.
After eating almost half a dozen apples, the sun had set completely. I climbed over to a group of branches that twisted around the trunk of the tree, forming a semi-circle that seemed stable. Curling up around the bark, I made myself as comfortable as I could. The tree was cold and the branches sticky, but I preferred them to the hard ground.
My eyes began to close, and I let my first sleep take me.
* * *
"It won't be that hard. Just need to climb up and cage it," a male voice whispered. It sounded deep and gruff. I couldn't tell where it was coming from, but it was enough to rouse me from my slumber.
"You fool, just because it's a hatchling doesn't mean it's not dangerous." Another voice spoke. It sounded older and more aggravated, but it kept a hushed tone. Obeying my heavy limbs and groggy mind, I kept my eyes closed and tried to fall back asleep. "Besides, we need to get back to--" I heard soft, but quick footsteps below me. "Damn it, boy!" I felt the tree begin to shake. "Naroe, get down! If it wakes up--"
"Stop worrying, old man, I'll be quick." The tree began to shake even more. In slight irritation, I opened my eyes and yawned. Tipping my head over the edge of my perch, I peered down the side of the tall trunk.
There, clinging less than a foot away from my branches, was a large, muscular creature. It had stopped moving completely, but its wide, blue eyes were locked dead onto mine.
Human. Male. Man. His head was covered by a brown hood, but the morning sunlight still revealed enough to make out details of his tan skin. He had a small scar on his left cheek stretching from the bridge of his nose to under his eye. Greasy black hair reached down to his eyebrows with a short-cut beard covering most of his lower face. Black, brown, and white materials covered most of his body. Furs, leather, clothing. They were expertly sewn together into a vest that left his muscular arms bare. Cuirass. More leather was fastened to his legs and feet. Pants, boots. On his hip hung a strange, sharpened object. Dangling next to it was a coiled-up, braided material. Dagger, rope.
We didn't look away from each other for what felt like minutes. He didn't even blink and I wasn't sure how to react.
My ears picked up something high-pitched in the air, then a sharp pain rippled through my right side. I squeaked and turned to see a small, sharp object lodged into my body. My vision suddenly became blurry and my body felt numb. I shook my head in an attempt to clear it, not noticing the movement underneath me.
I felt my sides being grasped as I was lifted from the branches. Despite my compromised vision, I could make out the image of the human's arms grabbing wrapping around me before my stomach felt like it was in freefall. I squirmed and yelped in his grip, grating my scales and claws against his skin, my tail thrashing against his body.
"It's pretty stubborn for a whelp," my captor said as we moved away from the tree. I heard something creak and scrape before I was placed into someplace dark. "Its back and tail are sharp, too. Got a few new cuts." He laughed. I stopped for a moment and looked around for any sort of indication as to where I was.
Turning around, I realized a grated door now stood between my captors and I. Cage. It was made of a glossy, silver material that was smooth and cold to the touch. The corners were rounded, and there was a small object around the doors lever. Lock.
"Despite your skills, you're still too arrogant." The older male said. "You're lucky I decided to make a few extra darts." The aggravation was clear in his voice. My cage was suddenly lifted off the ground and began moving backward at a steady pace. "We need to gain as much distance as we can in case the mother shows up."
I felt the cage rock harder as my movement began to increase. I could hear them grunting as they sprinted, jumped, and ducked through the forest. Trees, roots, and animals went by too quickly for me to properly identify them.
"Come on, Reil!" huffed the human. "You can't expect me to keep up with you like this!"
"Would you prefer to slow down and risk a proper dragon encounter?" the older voice called back.
After a few moments, I began to hear the cry of other animals and my captors slowed to a walking pace. The ground changed from grass to a dirt trail. My cage was raised and placed, I could see wooden planks jutting out beneath me. Animals cried all around me, but there were too many to recognize.
My captor's face appeared outside my cage door, a wide grin on his face. "Wait until they see you." I backed into the corner of the cage in response.
"Stop eyeing your catch and help me tie these down. It's a long way back to the city." The human's smile disappeared and he rolled his eyes. After taking another glance at me, he moved out of sight.
Someone new came into view soon after. He was similarly dressed as the human, but his hood was down. His tan face sported short grey stubble and his grey hair was cut short. He was muscular like the first human, but not as bulky. After a few moments, he looked up at me, his brown eyes stern, yet they began to soften as he stared at me. "Sorry, little one." He then glanced over me before leaning in. "Don't tell him, but he's probably right," he made a smile, but it felt... sad. "You'll be safer with us."
He turned away and moved out of sight. Fear began to change into confusion. Why? My eyes moved to the dense reaches of the forest. Why sorry?
My container began to rumble, and the scenery began to move. I shifted my body to the back of the cage and lowered my body. Charging forward with my best effort, I slammed my head against the bars. They rattled against the hinges but did not move. After a few more attempts, my head began to ache and the door didn't seem close to giving out. Moving away from the bars, I sat in the back of my prison. Still tired. I stared at the cage door for a moment, and then laid my head down in solemn defeat.
The world became a trail of rocks and dirt, clearing a path through the dense forest. I could feel the sun beating down through the bars of my cage as it climbed higher into the sky. I listened to the chirps and calls of the animals around me, unsure of their meaning or what they belonged to. Though through the edges of my cage, the occasional beak from below or talon from the sides would keep my attention.
After the sun had come close to setting, the forest finally seemed to subside, giving way to plains and hills of green grass and strong winds. It carried sweet scents and cold chills, though it seemed powerless over the grogginess I felt from the journey. When the rays of the celestial body left my cage, I had already given into my heavy eyes.
But in that moment, I felt the cage shift to the side. Instantly, my cage was filled with light once more. Confused and irritated, I rose and gazed outward, only to find myself wide-eyed and bewildered.
The sky had become an endless canvas of lights and colors, stemming from the setting sun as its final rays mixed with the dawning night. The two painting the realm with colors of black, blue, violet, orange, red, and white. I began to feel a pull towards that blazing sky, one that seemed to almost make my cage shrink around me.
My transport suddenly stopped, flinging me forward, causing my head to bang against the cage door. I growled and put a talon to my skull, rubbing it gently. I could hear the other animals shifting around me, but none made a noise. The two humans began muttering to each other behind me as my container rocked.
"Nothing. A mother definitely would have returned by now." said the older one.
"I told you, no dragon that young sleeps out in the open," the younger sounded giddy. "I think that's the first time you were wrong about something." The younger laughed. "What do you think? New breed?"
"While I agree that, yes, it is very much an amazing discovery, that was still reckless," the older one shot back. "If it is a new breed, we have no idea what its customs for raising a child could be. We may have very well just jeopardized its entire growth process."
"I didn't hear any complaints after I got it down from the tree," the other replied. The only response was a sigh. "Admit it! You're just as excited about this as I am!"
The older one spoke softly but sternly in response. "These beings are not trophies to be paraded around. We're trappers, not hunters. We--"
"'Preserve rare creatures to help secure their future,' I know." The younger cut him off.
"You would do well to act on my teachings instead of simply memorizing them. And do not interrupt me, unless you want me to find a new apprentice," the older one growled.
"Come on, I know how I sound right now, but this could be a big step for me! Maybe Graves and Salra will finally start taking me seriously." The other began to sound giddy.
"I understand you're excited but think about how the little one feels. Besides, it'll take more than this to impress them."
They came around into my view, both of them looking at me with different expressions on their faces. The younger one gazed at me wide-eyed as if he was glowing. The older one however looked more curious, almost as if he was studying me.
The younger one spoke up after a moment. "How big do you think it is?"
"He is, if the body structure is anything to go off of. He has more muscle in his neck and chest than any female dragon I've seen. As for his size, I think close to two feet in full length." The old trapper tilted his head slightly as he continued his examination. "Height is probably a little over a foot and a quarter with his wings. A little over a foot and half in length. Though I'm surprised he doesn't seem sick."
The other's eyes widened and he turned back to the older human. "So those were Brand apples?"
The trapper nodded. He reached into a small sack hanging off his hip and produce several golden apple slices. "The Aries tribe recently were allowed to plant the trees, as it helps the repopulation efforts, but also helps support the forming ecosystem. There are multiple small arcane species that feed off the apples energies." He dropped three into the cage. I didn't hesitate to grab on and begin eating. "However, those species are all arcavores. None of them would ever leave cores behind, only drained apples." I made short work of the first slice before grabbing the other. "Though, I don't know of any migrating species that come this far out.."
"He uses his hands to eat too. Isn't that a trait of metallic dragons?"
"Primarilly in silver, so perhaps he's a variant?"
The younger grew a wide smile at the words. "So this has to be an undiscovered species, at least subspecies!"
The the trapper shook his head. "I'm not sure."
"I can't wait to see what the keepers think of him."
"No doubt they'll be as excited as you."
"What about you? You have to be pleased with this!"
The trapper only half-smiled before turning and walking away from the cage. "Why don't we quiz you while we unload the bags?"
The younger's eyes widened at the statement as he turned to where the other had departed. "You just told me I was done training!" he called out before following.
My cage shook for a moment. "While you've mastered the initiate stages, there is always room for practice while we wait." Their voices began to trail away. "So why don't we start with history. How was The Order founded?"
The younger human's voice was also getting harder to hear, even as he groaned. "It was around thirteen hundred years ago, when the first ruler of Lugataea, Queen Cora R..."
Their words were lost to me. I finished the last apple before laying my head down on the metal floor.
Discovery. Arcane. Metallic. Order.
I looked back up at the darkening sky one more time before closing my eyes.
Too many words.
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