Fiction — The MagicLand Chronicles
The Dragons Amongst Us
There are some who say that there is a third species. Not of Gath. Not of Moria. A species that has achieved complete mastery over genetics. Some say these beings live in the cylindrical moon, others say they dwell beneath the earth. If they exist, nobody has seen them. But evidence sometimes emerges with a destructive, mysterious force.
Tociferous Collonade wore a dark hooded cloak that sometimes worked, carried a staff that rarely did, and wore a pile of unruly black hair that always looked to be a denser forest than the previous day.
“Toq, over here!” his friend and fellow soldier in the Stolen Light was screaming from a fallen building.
Publication Note: This story takes place approximately 1300 years prior to the events in the novel MagicLand.
Tociferous was a Spiritmancer who collected spirits from the mortally injured in battle. Almost like a medic for lost causes, he’d scoop up their souls and trap them in his staff. Or at least try to. His success rate wasn’t the greatest, but he did his best and he was pretty sure that his clients preferred his attempts over the alternative.
If he was unsuccessful they never knew, but if he was able to acquire their spirits, his clients were normally grateful to be able to see the war continued through his eyes and contribute their magic to the cause.
The cloak offered him the advantage of invisibility when it worked, and when it didn’t, he’d find himself frequently on the run. The staff was a different matter. It was the energy source for speaking to the spirit world, and Tociferous thought that it sometimes seemed as effective as a square wheel.
But it gave him immense power on those occasions it did work, because it allowed him to absorb the magic of the souls he was able to acquire.
Tociferous ran to his friend, who was summoning stones off a woman lying in the rubble, wheezing her last breath.
“God,” said Tociferous when he looked upon her. “So young. Are you sure nothing can be done to help her?”
“Look,” said Sadonti Merle as he continued to heave the stones away from her body. Her legs were gone. Along with everything beneath the torso. She had seconds to live.
Sadly, Tocifirous bent to his knees and took her hand. He looked at Sadonti and said quietly, “If you’d stop lifting those rocks off her she’d maybe have a chance, but once the…” Sadonti grabbed his shoulder and shook his head.
“The dragon,” her mouth spluttered through a cascade of blood, and then she was gone.
Tociferous found himself crassly wondering what kind of magic resided within her as he gently closed eyes that seemed even more terrified in death than during her last moments.
“Dragon?” he said to Sadonti. “Did she say Dragon?”
Sadonti heaved one last stone, threw it far away out of anger, and nodded slowly.
“Never heard that one before.”
“Delusional, probably. Who knows what we see in visions before we die, eh?” said Sadonti.
Tociferous rose and surveyed the fallen city. “So many people we could have saved,” he lamented.
“But from what?” Sadonti was kneeling on the ground picking at some rubble. He stood up and held a large piece up to his eyes. “Where do they come from do you think?” he said after a few moments of quiet.
“Where do what come from?”
“Nowhere. They don’t exist.”
“I mean the stories. Where do they come from?”
“Oh. I don’t know. Old Earth I guess. Perhaps an animal that once lived when all the others did.”
“There are legends of great animals. Four-legged, fast mammals called cats. They were all sizes, and…”
Sadonti interrupted Tociferous with a laugh. “I know about the great cats. And the little ratty ones that still roam the alleys.”
“And beasts with long flexible tubes on their faces.”
“I know about elephants, too,” Sadonti scoffed.
“Alright then. But you see my point. In those days, all different kinds of beasts roamed the earth.”
“Maybe a few dragons lived on?”
Tociferous laughed. “Sky creatures such as they would have a difficult time hiding all these centuries methinks.”
“What if they were created? By the people in the sky?”
Tociferous looked up to the west at the cylindrical moon. It was slowly falling towards the horizon amidst a red haze from the setting sun. The moon was a massive structure, created centuries before by mysterious earthly inhabitants. It was said to be larger than the natural moon. The structure’s blue plating shimmered in the western sky; a floating edifice that acted as a monument to a dead race.
Tociferous wasn’t in the mood to explain dead mythology knowing the cylindrical moon to be an empty shell, so he simply went along with the charade. “But why a dragon? Why not something beyond our imaginings? Like an oversized marshmallow with huge canines and thirty legs or something? I mean, if you can create creatures at will, show a little ingenuity.”
“A marshmallow? What’s a marshmallow?”
“Never mind. You get the point.”
“No, really. What the hell is a marshmallow?”
“It… it’s hard to explain,” said Tociferous, unable to reach for a satisfactory description.
“Try,” said Sadonti as they clambered over the rubble leading to the edge of the city.
“Okay, well, imagine a square piece of squishy sugar.”
“No. I’m sorry I asked.”
They started to work their way forward. There wasn’t much left of the city and none of the troops from the Stolen Light had arrived in time to save anyone. But as Tociferous and Sadonti gingerly stepped through the rubble, Tociferous thought that there was too much burning and not enough pure destruction. The Gath were efficient. Rarely did you see such rubble from one of their attacks, which usually rendered buildings to dust.
“Why would one use advanced genetic technology to create marshmallows with legs?” asked Sadonti after some silent walking.
“I think I’d make a buffalo with a scorpion stinger,” answered Tociferous.
“And horns the size of people.”
“Alright, I guess I get your point. Dragons. Not creative. But still,” and Sadonti again examined the rock he had been holding.
“I’ll admit that the forensics of the destruction are a bit off for a Gath attack,” said Tociferous.
“Any other explanations you can think of?”
Tociferous shook his head. “Proven formula. Large scale and complete destruction has worked for the Gath for 700 years. So, no. This makes no sense.”
The ground, littered with broken masonry from scattered buildings and smaller ancillary stones, crunched beneath them. But Tociferous thought he heard something else. It sounded like air from a woodwind instrument breathing a constant baritone key aimed for an audience that spanned the sky. He signaled Sadonti to halt. “That building there,” he said, pointing to a damaged but stable-looking bell tower that probably belonged to an ancient church. The side of the structure was shaded with an arc of black ash. “Take cover.” The two ran for the building as the sound grew.
Sadonti pointed skywards from behind a wall with a small square window covered with mesh fencing. “Creative enough for you?”
It looked like a massive snake flying through the air at a rate of speed no bird could match. It wasn’t really flying through the air. It was more like the robotic weapons of the Gath shooting across the sky at such tremendous speed that Tociferous found it impossible to track with his eyes. Its length seemed endless as it shot over their heads, the air sounding a deep siren from the creature’s body.
Tociferous shook his staff to try to call forth a spirit to provide some kind of defense in case the creature spotted them. “Shaddannon,” a female voice uttered from his staff. He recognized her. Shaddannon belonged to a spirit he had acquired just a few days prior, after a similar attack, he was now realizing.
There had been no talk of dragons at that battle scene. And it had been a rare win for the magicians, who fended off a brutal attack by hordes of Gath flying ships. “It was the dragon that turned back the Gath,” Shaddannon said through Tociferous’s staff. “Not us.”
“What do you mean?”
She sounded like a high pitched, melancholy echo. “The snake’s flames destroyed their craft, and their craft were no match for the speed of the creature.”
“But how? Where does it come from?”
There was no answer.
“And why does it attack the Gath?”
“The creature consumes every living thing it finds,” said the echo.
“But the Gath use machines.”
“The creature knows. Somehow it knows.”
The endless snaking creature rocketed across the front of the building, blowing debris around its girth and into billowing clouds along its sides, then shot up into the sky before swirling around the building as if trying to wrap itself around the tower at its impossible speed. The beast was coiling around the tower but still moving so fast that Tociferous was unable to discern any patterns on its surface.
“What is it doing?” wondered Sadonti out loud.
“Surrounding us I guess.” Tociferous couldn’t imagine how the creature knew they were in the building unless technology was involved. He took Sadonti by the shoulders. “Do you trust me?” Sadonti nodded. “I’m going to cloak and see if I can divert its attention from you.”
“You mean sacrifice yourself for my benefit. No, Toq, we are a team.”
“Trust me. Today is not my day to die.”
“Do I have a choice?”
“No.” Tociferous smiled and disappeared.
He hoped he could summon a Flight spirit, but he had poor confidence in the odds considering he had only a few minutes ago succeeded in summoning Shaddannon, whose powers he didn’t even know. Two quick successes in a row seemed unlikely. But he knew if he ran that his footprints would alter the ground and alert the coiling animal to his movements. He had to try.
Almost before he knew it, he was in flight, holding his staff in front of him and smiling at his luck, wondering who it was he had summoned. Maybe, he thought, after all this practice, I’m finally getting the hang of this. He then considered the possibility that adrenaline had something to do with it. He soared high and watched the beast coil itself around the building. It wasn’t touching the walls. It seemed to be acting like a sentry to prevent anything from escaping.
He shook his staff again, saying, “Shaddannon!” as if in a command or as a vibrant chant. Almost immediately, a thunderhead gathered above and bolts of lightning stretched across the base of its clouds.
Branches of electricity lit up the clouds and assaulted the snake with pinpoint strikes, causing the beast to shriek horrifically. Its body seized as if captured in a violently epileptic fit, its head spinning and thrusting and careening all about, banging against the ground repeatedly as it desperately tried to regain control of its motor functions. Finally, the snake dropped fully to the ground with a thud.
Tociferous ran back to the bell tower, leaping over the snake with the help of his unknown flight benefactor and staff. When he entered, Sadonti was staring out the window in motionless disbelief. “You did it,” he smiled broadly.
Tociferous looked at his staff. “I didn’t do much,” he grinned.
He was glad the beast was down. But as he looked outside and saw the top edge of the cylindrical moon burrowing below the rubble-strewn horizon, he felt a distinct sense of foreboding. Perhaps the moon was indeed empty. But somewhere, he knew, another enemy lurked. A hibernating enemy that was now waking, and preparing to stalk the lives of Moria.
About The MagicLand Chronicles
The MagicLand Chronicles are web-only short stories related to the MagicLand Timeline. None of the characters in these stories appear in the novel.