The Emerald Dragon by Solitaire Parke
All mandatory things officially out of the way, and “bodda bing bodda boom,” Demios and I are walking to the Nursery. Quite frankly, I wanted to see the accommodations, if for no other reason, to see if it matched the first of their gifts, the boots and flight suit.
OK, the Nursery smelled of feces…no, no wait…Like a ton and a half of feces – the knock you down, roll you over and kick you right in the sinuses smell of feces; and I seemed to be the only person there who actually smelled it…at least by outward appearances. No one noticed us as we made our way down the corridor and into the Nursery proper. What they did notice was the baby dragon cavorting in a circle. I think it was chasing its tail, but everything I knew about baby dragons and just dragons in general, would not let me think of them in this manner…Kittens and puppies sure, but not an advanced species that was as old as time itself. The place was a menagerie and noisy as hell. Burping, farting, wheezing, honking, screeching – and that was just the tip of the iceberg. Eager to get the show on the road, so to speak, I walked over to the first person available for directions, and not completely covered in dragon crap.
“Good evening, I just impressed with Demios and we were wondering…”
The woman I spoke to pushed past me without even looking, and pointed vaguely in the direction toward the interior of the Nursery. I think I could have guessed that much on my own. I mean, really? Demios giggled. There goes yet another preconceived notion about dragons. They don’t giggle. They don’t fart or burp. They don’t make noises unless they’re breathtaking and dramatic. I guess on second thought, some of the dragons here in the Nursery were actually breathtaking, just not in the way I had imagined.
The Ariella had explained on several occasions about the grottos, and the riders and dragons that occupied them. This particular grotto was one of seven located here in Mt. Drago. The list included Green, Brown, Gold, Red, Harlequin, Grey and Blue Grottos, respectively. Both the Green and Brown Grottos were also used in the capacity of nurseries. After having given it a sufficient amount of thought, I elected to think of my new home away from home as just the Green Grotto. It sounded so much more rider “esk” than living in a nursery. It was also at this point that Demios decided to confide in me that she had known where we would be bunking the entire time. For some reason this struck me funny considering everything that had happened to me so far. It was simple, just go down the main corridor about fifty yards, turn right at the third sub corridor, go fifty yards and enter the third opening on my left. See what I mean? You can’t get lost and the distance is obviously not an issue. Demios never said a word during our trek deep into the heart of the mountain. I’m a newbie sure, but you’d think even a newbie would decide to ride the dragon instead of walking. Did I? Not a chance and I was exhausted by the time we arrived at our new and barren living quarters. Oh, and one more thing, their version of fifty yards and mine are somewhat different. They think big, I mean really big. I guarantee since that night, I have never walked it again. It’s one of the perks of being a dragon rider, and Demios seems to take great pride in the undertaking.
How long can anyone look at a relatively empty bunking area? It was four walls and a lot of space, but beyond that, nothing. That’s what our new home consisted of, albeit we had an enormous amount of it. Even the door, if you could call it that, was gigantic, with plenty of room for even the biggest dragon to just walk right in. This far back into the mountain the noise had subsided to a dull roar that echoed dimly against the walls and became defused, disguising the direction of its origin. I had nothing to sit on; there was no furniture of any kind. I wondered briefly where I could find something to drink and eat, but I hadn’t noticed any machines or food areas on my way in. The smell was musky, with a faint odor of reptiles and wet rock. I made the temperature at around seventy five degrees with a slight breeze coming from God knows where. The room itself was the size of several houses and the ceiling was so dark and lofty that I couldn’t see it. It was the overall light that emanated from everywhere that disturbed me. I mean there was light, but there was no means for it to exist. It was as if it came from the walls themselves, but on close examination there didn’t seem to be any light coming from them…strange. Just a heightened level of sand colored rock everywhere I looked. The one thing I did notice was that at the very least, this area had been artificially cut from an existing but smaller opening because there were no stalagmites or stalactites anywhere.
Having gotten past the awkward, hey check out the empty area we’re gonna live in stage, and the ridiculous looking at everything but each other part, we finally stood there in silence gazing at each other.
“You can call me Demi”
Her voice still had a preteen sound to it, and it just didn’t fit the green dragon standing in front of me. I shouldn’t have, but I laughed. Her head tilted sideways and I heard bells in my head…again. It broke the ice and we laughed until my face hurt. She was in my head, knew my thoughts and understood me better than I did. She knew I was laughing with her and not at her. She also realized from my point of view, how odd all of this was, and that I was struggling with who and what I would become. She knew all of these things at a level that I would eventually come to understand. Not bad for a somewhat large, green kid in a dragon suit, wouldn’t you say? So, Demios Reptillus Stag became Demi. I was amazed, and she told me that she was honored to have me as her rider. The area suddenly didn’t seem so empty.
Riding out of the Nursery and back into Commons was a hell of a lot faster than the walk in. Demi told me there was no flying in the nurseries because of the babies, both dragon and human alike. No running, trotting, cavorting, bucking, hi jinks, low jinks, no nothing (unless you’re a baby of course). Everyone agreed the safety of the young ones was paramount and the rules were adhered to religiously. The corridor leading out of the Green Grotto was sharply steeped, and even that had been planned to keep the little ones in the Nursery unless they were strong enough to make it out on their own. If they were…then they were ready to leave. Well, at least for short periods of time. As I rode out into the main Commons area, I was hit again with the size. I know it sounds like I’m easily impressed, but if you haven’t seen Mt. Drago then there’s no way to describe it accurately. Just saying it’s big doesn’t do it justice. Oh no, this place was humungous, gargantuan. If you just stopped and looked around, especially up, you couldn’t help feeling how tiny you really are. Even the dragons looked small by comparison.
The downfall to the mountain, if it had one, was the distance between things. It was not uncommon to go for several miles to get from one place to another. The Green Grotto was roughly at the same place, figuratively speaking, to the South Entrance, just hundreds of feet below it. From its entrance we turned right and went roughly one hundred yards, where we passed another corridor opening that looked very much like the Green Grotto, only in this case Demi told me it was the Brown Grotto – also a Nursery like the one we had just left. I had already experienced enough Nursery life for one evening. So we continued on a couple of miles until I could see what looked like a small city that was literally sticking out of the side of the cavern’s East wall. Following along the same wall for another two or three miles, were the edges of buildings that were butted up to each other. It was a continuous line of structures that had a kind of jammed up feeling to it, and there were no spaces between them to enter the city proper. Halfway down I finally saw an entrance in the form of an archway. Demi explained to me that dragons were too big to fit into the city, so she had never actually seen the interior. Seemed sort of weird to me that the stewards of the mountain, the Dragos, had built their part of the mountain’s architecture in such a way as to deprive the very creatures they were there to serve. It made no sense to me, but I certainly wasn’t going to point it out on my first night. We stood there for a minute as I contemplated whether to go in, and I eventually told Demi to continue farther along the East wall. I really didn’t want to be separated from the only source of protection I had. Demi snorted her disapproval but turned and slowly continued on. An indentation immediately followed the Drago City edge and continued for roughly fifty yards, (my version of fifty yards) plus dipping in about one hundred feet. Inside this hollowed out area, was what looked like an impromptu tavern. It had an awning that stuck out about ten feet and stretched across the entire opening, giving it a sort of half Hawaiian and half old world Irish pub – a screwy combination at best. Music played and there were the usual sounds you would expect coming from the interior, which would hold about fifty people at the most. I estimated there to be almost twice that, and the mood didn’t seem conducive with keeping your face intact. It was time to move on. Don’t get me wrong I’m not a coward, but I was already on the downside of plausible deniability where violence was concerned, and wasn’t looking forward to explaining my antics tonight with The Ariella. Not to mention, I wasn’t sure how the inhabitants were going to take my darting two of their riders, and then trying to party at their favorite alcoholic hangout. Sounds like a bottle over the head, right? Count me out. Exit stage right. Demi and I continued walking north along the east wall.
Beyond the Pub for about two hundred yards, respectively, was the corridor that Demi and I flew down just a little while before. We turned left and passed in front of it and continued for about the length of a football field, when I finally asked Demi to stop.
“Demi, I need to get down.”
“Ok Tanis, is there something wrong?”
“No, There’s just some questions I’d like to ask and I’m beginning to get a cramp in my leg, so I figured this was as good a place as any to walk around for a few and clarify some things with you.”
“I would love to talk Tanis; maybe we could get something to…”
“No Demi, well probably, but first I need to find out why you called me. Yesterday the dragons wouldn’t let me in the mountain and today, well…I’m supposed to be here because you called me? What’s wrong with this picture? Everyone here hates me and most likely wants me gone. Just being me has put The Ariella in a precarious position that there’s no real answer for. That compromises her authority and causes ill feelings between her and the other riders. So why DID you call me?”
My voice had crept up to a louder volume, and even I began to hear the panic in my voice. Demi turned to face me and then sat down.
“You worry too much about politics you have no control over, Tanis.” I called you because you were the only one tough enough silly.”
“Politics I have no control over, I mean what in the hell are you trying to tell me?” “Are you trying to break some level of the rules, re-write new ones or just do away with them altogether?”
Demi took a deep breath, eyes darting around like she was afraid of who might be listening. She resettled her wings and then hunkered down until eye contact was kind of one to one.
“Try to understand, Tanis, we are both misfits and outcasts. Look around, do you see any other green winged dragons? They don’t want me any more than they want you. There hasn’t been any of my kind since before your father’s father was born and I don’t think they wanted me in any generation. Further, The Ariella is going to hang back and let the pieces fall where they may. I think she feels that if you aren’t strong enough to break this hatred, then it can’t be broken. Her hands are tied and even she can’t remove the stigma that she…yes, she started all those centuries ago. There used to be winged greens and browns, not just the non-winged kind that you see now in the Nursery, but entire grottos of us, and we constituted the highest order of superiority within the species. We were magnificent and in our arrogance we challenged even The Ariella. She was saddened by our indiscretions and then she became furious when we would not accept her tenets. We rebelled and lost. It was that simple. We were banished until we could learn our lessons in humility. Twenty five years later, before we could be reinstated, she died. No one came for us and the centuries passed until our kind was all but wiped out. We had no protection given from the mountain, and for all practical purposes, we had been forgotten. Our sub-species had been maligned due to our arrogance, driven out and then lost in the passage of time.”
“Now all that is left of the dynasties of green and brown are the non-winged that you see in the nurseries, and they have learned to be subservient to the other sub-species…just nannies and nurse maids. The reincarnate Ariella doesn’t like it, but the sentiments lie deep and have been unable to change. I think she is depending on us to alter that. So you see, it isn’t just you, it’s both of us and two entire sub-species of dragons that are at stake here. The Ariella didn’t plan on dying, and now that she’s back her guilt runs deep and she suffers as a result of it every day. She never told me about you because she knew I would find the Emerald Warrior regardless of her actions. It keeps everything honest. So, you originally bringing the dragons here and The Ariella banishing us is kind of like killing two stigmas for the price of one. You see, you’re the only one who is tough enough.”
When I got here tonight and saw the reception given to the Emerald Warrior, i.e., Me, I wasn’t surprised by their attitude – quite the contrary, actually. I didn’t anticipate the revelation that Demi had just laid on me though. I had come in acting like a one man army had and reduced myself to a one man pity party, never once considering Demi’s feelings in all of this. I just assumed that all dragons got along with all dragons. I mean, why wouldn’t they, they’re all dragons, right? The politics involved went way deeper than I had ever been told. The Ariella had kept all of this from me for the entire time I had known her. It was too big a burden to shoulder alone. My actions tonight so far had included, not impressing people, making new enemies and thinking this was the Tanis show. As usual, my feelings were to be the only ones considered. Tanis Theatra…one monumental milestone for humanity. Then, another epiphany struck me.
“Demi, after you hatched, what happened to you then? We were assigned an area tonight and it didn’t take rocket science to figure out it had been unoccupied prior to us getting there. You don’t have an area do you, and never have? I know that you’re three years old, but I’m not sure how I know that. In the back of my mind I see dark corridors and people sneaking around and I know it has something to do with you, and I’m not sure how I know that either.”
It’s funny how things occur to you at the weirdest times, and this constituted pretty high up on the weird-o-meter. Suddenly so many things flashed across my head and I knew they came from Demi, but she had never said anything about them to me. I mean hell, we’d only known each other for a few hours and there hadn’t been that much conversation until now. The whole impression thing came to the forefront and it occurred to me there had been more to that than I had originally thought…A lot more.
“It really wasn’t so bad Tanis…most of the time. I wasn’t born in either of the nurseries. My egg was moved to a remote area of the mountain, although I’m not sure where it had been before that, or who took it there; well, not for sure. The area was very warm, secluded and compatible to my birthing needs. I remember seeing green eyes when I first broke through the shell. They made me happy and I felt loved. I had no trouble with first meal, which was the egg itself…all dragon newborns do that. I slept a lot for the next few days and I could smell water. I discovered that there was a bowl near me and it was full of water most of the time. I don’t know who filled it; it just got filled when I needed it. When I was strong enough to move I went short distances for a while, and then longer when I stopped being afraid. Food, candy and toys began showing up in the Holders of Things I found in the corridors.”
“Holders of Things?”
All I saw in the mind’s eye were trash cans and I couldn’t make myself believe the people here were making her eat out of garbage receptacles. The thought pissed me off and Demi picked up on it immediately.
“No, Tanis, not the trash cans…the Holder of Things. I’m told the garbage is placed in the grey plastic buckets and nobody would eat out of those – blech, nasty. The Holder of Things is shiny and clean and made out of metal. They hold the most wonderful things like Frisbees and candy and beef. No one would put those things in the trash.”
I glanced around and didn’t find any of the metal containers, but I could see them clearly in my mind and I could feel the difference when she spoke of them. They were like Easter eggs or impromptu shopping sprees to her. She was also slightly bummed out that she didn’t have one for herself. She obviously didn’t think she should ask for one, although for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. Mental note: Find out where they got the Holders of Things and procure one for her…full of the correct things. Second mental note: The candy she kept referring to looked like a porous cube and didn’t seem like candy to me. I could actually see them when she spoke but it didn’t make much sense. I could taste them too, and then they did seem like candy. I could taste sesame seeds and sugar just for a few moments and then the sensation went away – strange.
“Eventually I began to see The Holder of Things showing up everywhere, and some of the riders were putting things in them. Some of the riders actually liked me, that was clear, and it gave me hope that I wasn’t just an outcast. I wandered the mountain from the Down Below all the way to the upper reaches called the Castle, and everything in between. I slept in the alcoves that lead to the Castle…every tier and every alcove. I went to the river at slow times and stayed close to the walls and shadows. I learned how to take care of my body needs by watching other dragons and how they did things.”
It occurred to me now why Demi had such a hard time with landings. It would seem that her training had started only when she had called me, so she was considerably behind in the more refined talents like flight positioning and landings. It was my job to get her up to speed, so to speak, and to give her support instead of ridicule for her shortcomings. I understood too why the area that had been assigned to us was such a big deal. She had never had one before.
Our trip around the area called Commons was a great deal more important than I thought, and moreover, I’m not sure who it was more important to. It seems that both of us were outcasts and thoroughly new at a bunch of things, the very things that the other riders and dragons took for granted. We eventually strolled all the way around Commons, which caused us to pass the front entrances to all the other grottos which included Red, Grey, Harlequin, Gold and Blue. Demi seemed bound to be seen by as many as dragonly possible and paused several times to pose, as well as making sure that the highest number of Denizens or dwellers noticed us as we passed. Virtually none of them spoke to us and many showed deliberate signs of passive hostility, and at best I felt ignored. Demi on the other hand pretended not to notice and spoke with everyone who would even remotely listen, which in my opinion, accounted for exactly zip.
Demi’s mentalized language was a hodge-podge of different dialects, slang and in truth, chunks of other languages, some of which I didn’t understand. Her responses were widely varied, utilizing words and phrases that I was unfamiliar with, as well as retorts like the term “Duh.” It gives one an unusual feeling to hear the word “Duh come out of a dragon’s mind. It was yet another one of those worthless misconceptions about dragons and their supposed habits and mannerisms.
Eventually we ended up at the same spot where we had started, at the entrance to the Green Grotto, and we slowly headed down the ramp to its interior. The noise hadn’t abated and if anything, was louder as we passed through heading for our area. Has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? Our Area. No one noticed anything we did, or everyone noticed nothing…Take your pick. I for one didn’t care.
Thus ended my first night at Mt. Drago, and some real soul searching I had not planned on. I think the results were adequate, more for Demi than me, but as a foundation to build on, well…maybe there was hope for me yet. All I had to do was make my way home and hope that The Ariella wasn’t too disappointed with me for the treatment I had dished out for two of her riders and dragons.