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Alia Terra: A Minute with the Cast!

Alia Terra: A Minute with the Cast!

Image depicting two characters of Alia Terra. The Tower Princess has short, dark hair. She wears roundish glasses and a white ie (traditional Romanian tunic) with embroidery in red thread. Her tiara is coppery with swirls, rebel curls poking out from underneath. The Tower Dragon is covered in purple scales and wears narrow glasses over which their brown eyes gaze with playful kindness. Their wavy horns complement their majestic presence.

Exclusive! The Dragon Realm is buzzing with anticipation as the cast of Alia Terra step onto the stage! In an dazzling appearance, the cast will answer questions in the forest auditorium. Entrance fee is one small rock. Fallen leaves are also accepted. See you there!

As we near the end of our preorder campaign, consider the exclusive add-ons, the hardcover, and letting people (and dragons, and kittens, and critters, and cryptids) about Alia Terra.

Read here the character sheets with portraits by Matthew Spencer.

Kogaionon: the Sacred Mountain and the Other Realm

Kogaionon: the Sacred Mountain and the Other Realm

Illustration in color of mountain range and a sun setting with mosaic tile effect (by Ava Kelly). The colors are rich and deep, from yellows, oranges, to purple, blue and greens.

Today, an update about the Romanian concept of the Other Realm and how it fits with the Alia Terra stories. I hope you enjoy it. We are so close (so close!) to being able to add a hardcover, so please let people know about our queer, nonbinary, aromantic story project. Emily’s fingers are ready to type updates and posts about it; let’s get her to work. (^_^)

Read here.

The Nonbinary Folkware of Alia Terra

The Nonbinary Folkware of Alia Terra

What do we do when traditional folkwear is available in the eternal men’s/women’s binary but we have nonbinary characters? We reinvent! An update on the design of characters in Alia Terra with Romanian inspiration. Illustration by Matthew Spencer.

Gender diversity is important in the real world, and through stories we strive to impress this message. Read about it here.

Thank you for joining us on this journey through the Dragon Realm! We appreciate sharing this project!

Alia Terra: Salt and bread

Alia Terra: Salt and bread

Have you heard? We reached out first stretch goal and so we’re getting bookplates! Signed by me and Matt, their design is not in the works. Thank you everyone! Emily’s update talks about what happens next.

In the meantime, an update on a Romanian folk tale I remember fondly from childhood, and a Romanian custom of receiving guests. All with photos from the Turda Saltmines in Transylvania. Read about it here.

Thank you for joining us on this journey through the Dragon Realm! We appreciate sharing this project!

salt blocks in a wooden cart against a black wall made of salt from the turda saltmines in romania

Alia Terra: The genders of words and pronouns in Romanian

Alia Terra: The genders of words and pronouns in Romanian

photo of sunset over cityscape with handwriting of phrases in romanian and english: Domnia sa, soarele, surprins la apus. and Their lordship, the sun, surprised while setting.

As the Dragon Realm buzzes with news of the three stories, my first update to the project talks about the genders of words and pronouns in Romanian. Currently, in Romanian, we don’t have an official, ungendered, third person pronoun. What we do have is a polite, formal set. Dumneasa, in third person. It means, in literal translation, “their lordship” as it’s the modern, compact form of “domnia sa.” More about this here.

We are absolutely thrilled to have reached our first goal for Alia Terra! Thank you everyone! Minimum funding gives us one illustration per story, but if you’re like me, your inner dragon will want the hoard of pretty drawings to increase! Emily’s update talks about what happens next.

Alia Terra’s talented illustrator, Matthew Spencer, talks about his process and the stages of our main graphic image here.

Thank you for joining us on this journey through the Dragon Realm! We appreciate sharing this project!

Alia Terra: Stories from the Dragon Realm

Alia Terra: Stories from the Dragon Realm

Alia Terra: Stories from the Dragon Realm – a book of three all-ages queer fairy tales highlighting nonbinary characters, aromanticism, and personal acceptance from Atthis Arts. Written by me, illustrated by Matthew Spencer and edited by E.D.E. Bell, these stories in English and Romanian hold a message very dear to me: Our happiness is our own.

Pre-oder a copy here! If your inner dragon, wants some hoard, we have art carts, Romanian bookmarks, a custom D20 die and many other goodies.

We appreciate sharing this project! Thank you.

Flight of the Light Dwellers

Flight of the Light Dwellers

This piece has been part of the IQARUS Book Con 2021 guest posts [iqarusbookcon.com]. The history of the IQARUS banner image begins years ago, in Venice. It was winter, mild in that area, without snow or chilling winds. It rained a bit, as we ran from the center of the city to the train station, whooshing this way and that through the emptying, narrow streets. In the darkness, the lights of winter decorations breezed by like birds in flight, like creatures made of light. In that moment, it was a mesmerizing story coming to life, of friendship and laughter and youth. This light painting, Flight, (and the rest in its Light Dwellers series) is a celebration of that time.

*** *** ***

The workshop is quietest in the dawn hours. Out there, the world wakes with groans and whispers, but in here, the air remains still for a while longer. From their perch on the shelf, Birdie can see both the narrow street and the expanse of the glassblower’s shop. Outside the window, hoarfrost covers the cobblestone, glittering under the biting winter sun. The furnace at the center of the floor is cold as well, but it always leaves a lingering taste in the air, a reminder of its warmth, and Birdie is thrown back to the beginning.

Back when they took shape in the hands of the apprentice. When they received life from her breath.

Now, the apprentice is the master of the workshop, teaching her underlings the same she was taught. Birdie’s been here all these years, watching over her.

“Good morning, uccellino,” she calls, entering through the squeaky door.

As it does every time, the tip of her finger pets Birdie’s head, sliding down Birdie’s glass back in a smooth motion. It leaves Birdie rocking on their belly, swaying crookedly for a while.

***

Birdie’s wings are uneven. Not that they ever blamed the apprentice for this slight, but it was her doing. Birdie’d been her first tiny creature, born out of a blob of blue glass, red streaks fanning out over her wingspan. When Birdie was almost done, a loud noise from outside startled the apprentice, and half of their left wing was clipped.

It didn’t hurt. It never hurts. Except…

Birdie turns their attention to the street. With shouts and clangs and ruckus, the winter heralds are finally beginning their work. Climbing on ladders, reaching up, up, up, they decorate the street with wires, some crisscrossed in between the buildings, others intricately wrapped around the lamp posts.

These are them, the glass birds filled with incandescence. At night, they come alight from within, fiery creatures in green and red and blue and yellow. Some are as white as the snow, others take a purple tint that reflects off everything. Even off Birdie, as they sit with their beak pressed against the window pane.

One of the younger glassblowers leans against Birdie’s shelf, rattling the pieces there.

“I hear they’re trying to make it look like a giant snowflake from above,” he says.

Birdie wishes to see it, too. Wishes to fly over the city and its canals. Wishes—

***

With the dusk and the night, the lights outside begin to sparkle, one by one until the entire street is bathed in their brightness.

It doesn’t happen immediately. It takes days, a gradual build-up that Birdie thinks is necessary when preparing for the sky. But it does, eventually, begin.

The light dwellers spread their wings.

They rise. One day above their installations, the next above the rooftops, then higher, and higher, to mingle with the stars above. Their bodies are wispy, wiry and twisty, fluttering against the darkness. In silence, they dash through the air, flocks of color in the corner of Birdie’s eye.

In the deep yearning of Birdie’s heart.

***

Time passes, Birdie watches. Then, one nightfall close to the final flight of the light dwellers, something happens. A shutter above bangs open under a stronger gust of wind, causing one of the wires to flop down. It comes to a stop with a bulb hanging right next to Birdie.

For the first time, Birdie can see the fire within, as blue as Birdie’s body, scorching and frosty and entirely mesmerizing. With care, Birdie rocks closer, clicking against the glass separating them. If only…

From where the light dweller’s shine touches Birdie’s wings, beams form, bouncing back and forth, to meet in the center of Birdie’s chest.

Oh, Birdie thinks

The rest of the flock gathers, coiling in a twining beacon. Birdie’s new friend moves back and—and—Birdie rushes after. Through the window, into the cold winter air, up above the city, above the sea, above the world.

It springs from within.

Birdie flies.

*** *** ***

The Witch of Nok

The Witch of Nok

This story is set in the Dragon Souls universe. Part of the Havesskadi 2021 Dragoniversary. Nok is a village at the borders of Danv, Sesgrond, Uvalhort, and Hriss. Many roads intersect here. Go here for the Patreon post.

*** *** ***

Stillness permeates over the garden and the cottage under the mid-morning sun. Spring is a fickle season in Nok. From the west come the warm winds of Uvalhort, tempered by their southern, Danvian, cooler counterparts. The plains stretching into Sesgrond draw them eastward, creating a constant breeze. But on days like today, the freezing air of the Ahrissal mountains descends from the north, threatening with the last vestiges of winter.

Nina kneels in between the rows of seedlings, checking for frostbite. As she waters them one by one, the memory of her mother flows to the forefront of her mind. In this very spot, she’d keep the ground warm, blanketing it with an invisible hand, protecting the plants.

Warily, Nina steals a glance toward the village. The cluster of houses and inns and stations sits behind the slope of the hills it stretches over. Their cottage has always been hidden from view, it’s how her mother liked it. “If people really need me, they’ll find me,” she used to say.

Nina’s not so sure. People have needed a witch around these parts for too long, yet their own prejudice has been the main impediment in Nok. Yes, gemstones are scarce, but it would be worth it to collectively pay a witch for good crops instead of facing starvation. With a sigh, she pulls her neck chain from under her shirt. Its locket holds a tiny amethyst shard, the last stone left from her mother. It would be enough to protect her garden, but Nina’s been saving it for emergencies.

She shakes her head at herself. Not only that, but finally using it would mean… would mean she’s chosen her path in life. There’s no turning back from magic. Touch it once, let it rush through you, and nothing else will compare. That’s what Nina’s mother taught her. Because Nina has the inclination to become a witch. She can see it.

Dragon magic.

The very magic her mother yielded.

Yet, Nok has never been grateful for her presence here. Now, Nina faces this crossroad of choices. Her father is an ordinary man. He’d learned a trade, worked as a carpenter most of his life. Nina could follow in his footsteps. Shaping wood is not that much different than shaping magic, although a much slower process.

Then again, Nina is reminded of their nearest neighbor, a young man saving whatever sliver of gemstone he can find for a transition ritual. He could use a witch that won’t make him pay an arm and a leg.

Working with magic requires dedication. But is it something Nina is ready for?

With another sigh, she hides the locket again, but before she can return to the seedlings, a shadow falls upon her. Curious, since no clouds have been gracing the sky. Nina looks up and almost chokes at the sight of great wings above.

She watches in awe as the black dragon lands on the road, and with less grace than she would’ve liked, she scrambles to her feet in time to see a rider climb down from the dragon’s back. The man—or whatever man-appearing creature this is—wears a hooded coat, with a bow peeking from his shoulder. Nina’s sure a quiver is there, too, out of sight.

So, so weird. Dragons aren’t known for letting others ride them. Perhaps it’s under a spell, in which case Nina should… do something. She’s not sure what, however.

Hurriedly, she approaches them and bows.

“Great dragon,” she greets them as per custom. “Our souls bask in your brilliance and our doors are open. We are grateful for this visitation.”

The rider laughs and Nina shoots him a glare.

Only—she can’t—

She can’t actually see his face. It’s there, she knows it’s there. A nose, eyes, mouth, but when she tries to bring them together, they slip away from awareness.

Magic, then. Nina allows her othersight forward.

Oh.

A gasp leaves her, unintended, but the veil of magic surrounding the two visitors is unmistakably draconian. Mesmerizing, like a river flowing around them, water upon which the sun shines to glitter into a myriad of rainbows parting and twinning and separating again.

The archer tilts his head, as if aware of being seen, but Nina wouldn’t look beyond the veil without permission.

“Nina!”

The shout brings the world back into focus, the voice raw and desperate. She turns.

“Papa?”

From the thicket of trees down the road, her father half-runs, stumbling. His clothes are torn, there’s dirt on his face and— Is that blood? Papa holds a hand over a row of gashes on his other arm.

He falls to the ground when he finally sees the dragon, eyes wide, mouth open, and Nina takes off toward him. The rider, however, reaches him first. He’s crouching next to Papa when Nina comes to a stop. Her hands are shaking, but she’s determined to see to her father’s injuries.

“Please, don’t be alarmed,” the rider says. “We won’t hurt you. My name is Ark, and that is Havesskadi. Can you stand?”

Nina can’t help glancing back at the dragon. Her fingers jerk toward the necklace under her shirt, but she forces them away. Havesskadi, the amethyst keeper, who her mother had always wanted to meet, is here.

She takes her father’s weight on the other side, as Ark asks, “What happened?”

“A wolf,” Papa wheezes, “attacked my cart, got the horse. It was alone, but it looked rabid. We have to send word into the village, or it will hurt someone.”

Ark exchanges a long look with Havesskadi—and Nina still can’t believe the frost dragon is standing right there. When the dragon nods once, he unhooks his bow.

“I’ll catch the wolf. Can you take him inside?”

Nina answers yes, though she’s not sure the full word came out of her mouth. Between the magic and the dragon and the wolf and Papa bleeding, it’s a lot to think about.

“We have a friend already in the village. Havesskadi will fly there, let him know what’s happening, and they’ll ask the healer to come.”

“No,” Papa says before Nina finds her voice. “We can’t afford the healer.”

“He’ll bring a poultice, then.”

“But—”

“It is decided,” Ark says.

He gives Nina a small smile, before disappearing in between the trees. Havesskadi flaps his wings, displacing some of the road dust, and he’s off, too.

Perhaps Nina’s been imagining them, she thinks as she settles Papa on the day bed in the front room. She busies herself with boiling water, and then with cleaning the worst of the dirt and blood off her father. Just as she’s about to search for something to treat the wounds, someone knocks at the door.

The person standing there is another magic-veiled creature that looks like a man. He holds out a jar.

“As promised,” he says.

“We can’t—” Nina begins, but he shakes his head.

“A gift.”

Something comes through the thick magic filling the space around them, something that tells Nina to accept without complaint. She does just that, and tends to Papa while this other stranger paces around the room, studying the various items lining their shelves. Most of them are full of herbs, from when Nina’s mother was still alive. But without gemstones, they’re useless.

“What is your name, jitrush?” he asks when Nina has finished washing her hands and Papa is asleep.

She freezes, for a moment, because that was what her mother used to call her. Very few know the word and even fewer can tell who it would suit.

“Nina,” she says. “Yours?”

The stranger watches her intently for a while. Finally, he answers, “You can call me Orsie.”

It feels like something important eludes her, but before Nina can say anything else, commotion from outside draws their attention.

Ark has returned with the wolf. The animal is large, its snouts smeared with blood and froth, lying on its side and panting.

“I’ve calmed it down, for now, but it’s sick,” Ark says and draws an arrow.

Nina watches with increasing dread as he nocks it, then points it at the wolf’s chest. The animal whines, a soft and catching sound that worms its way beneath Nina’s skin. Unfair.

“No!”

“It’s suffering.”

“Then why did you have to bring it all the way out here?” Nina hisses.

Ark shrugs a shoulder. “Either way, there’s nothing we can do for it.”

Nina shakes her head vehemently, because he’s wrong. He’s very, very wrong. She fumbles with the locket, her fingers tingling, fiery ice spreading through her veins.

The stone touches her palm and suddenly she knows. Nina can’t let it die, not without trying. Can’t let the magic go, not without trying to make life better for whoever needs it.

She’s decided.

The small gemstone vanishes from her fist as the magic is drawn from it to heal the wolf.

And then—

The world blooms into colors Nina didn’t even know existed.

The wolf licks her face, allowing itself to be hugged close. Nina’s heart pounds with a rhythm that echoes the trees, the ground and the sky, the wind beneath wings and the thrum of one—no, two anasketts. These ethereal gems carry the essence of a dragon’s magic, and two dragonsouls can only mean that there are two dragons here.

Orsie pets the wolf’s head before nudging it toward the trees. Nina remains kneeling, speechless.

“See,” he tells Ark. “A witch.”

They help her stand, and as she rises, the veil thins until gone, revealing otherworldly faces. Eyes too bright to be human—a pair in rubinous amber, the other in dark amethyst—stare back at her.

“You know my name, Nina,” Orsie says.

She nods, swallowing against the lump in her throat.

“You understand our nature must remain secret.”

She nods again. “I—yes, I do. But how—”

“Dragons,” Ark says, as if that explains everything.

Although, on second thought, it rather does. It takes a few deep gulps of air before she can even begin to order her racing mind, when curiosity finally gets her.

“Why are you here?”

Orsie gestures in a wide arc. “We were passing by when we smelled it. This place reeks of indecision, but more like a cry for assistance than a malicious spell. So we stopped to see if we can help.”

With a frown, Nina turns to the trees and back. “So the wolf was your doing?”

“Not at all! It was indeed a very sick animal. We would’ve taken it elsewhere for healing if you hadn’t done it. But it aided you.”

A shuddering breath leaves Nina and she picks up her empty locket. She doesn’t regret healing the wolf, but now the last gemstone is gone. More magic won’t be possible for her soon.

Cold fingers ending in very sharp claws wrap around her hand.

“Jitrush,” Orsie says. “Little witch. Show us to your winter cellar.”

***

It’s hours later when Nina is allowed to climb the rickety stairs down into the deep cellar. Between their dwindling preserves, the shelves are tucked to the brim with gemstones. Both raw and polished, the stones shine in violet, red, black and amber. Her breath catches and she covers her mouth with both hands.

“Why,” she whispers.

“We might be sending others your way,” Orsie says. “So better start practicing.”

Nina’s eyes fill and spill over her cheeks in hot trails.

“If you need more, I assume you know how to call for us.”

“Yes, yes. Thank you,” she says. Or she thinks she says, because she’s half choking.

Ark’s red-clawed hand grasps her shoulder. “You can refuse, you know. Give it all away.”

Nina wipes her face. The connections between dragons and their witches are delicate, her mother used to say. They are territorial, at times, and the magic of the stones leaves a mark on a witch. Havesskadi’s stones have impressed upon their cottage since before Nina was born. Now, this unimaginable treasure before her is an invitation. She sacrificed the last of her mother’s stones and now she’s getting a connection to Havesskadi himself.

“I want it,” she says.

“Good.” Orsie smiles, pleased.

Nina follows them outside. The setting sun bathes the garden in warm colors. The air itself is a little less frigid than in the morning, the seedlings safe in their rows, but even if the weather changes again, it’s fine. Nina has the resources to care for them properly.

“Goodbye, Nina.”

“Wait!” She clears her throat. “Would you like to join us for dinner? If you—if you have time, that is.”

“We would.”

“There’s someone who would’ve wanted to know you, so perhaps you’d be willing to hear of her. My mother. She was the witch of Nok. Before me.”

“Nothing would please me more,” Orsie says.

Nina breathes, free.

*** *** ***

Lost in Ynys

Lost in Ynys

*** *** ***

Lost in Ynys (by Ava Kelly and Minerva Cerridwen) is a crossover story with the world created by Minerva Cerridwen in The Dragon of Ynys, featuring Ark and Orsie from the world of Havesskadi.

*** *** ***

Lost in Ynys

by Ava Kelly and Minerva Cerridwen

Violet, knight of the village of Ynys, had just settled in his softest chair with the intriguing fantasy novel his librarian friend had recommended. It had dragons, a character described as asexual—a term he thought was quite useful to learn for himself—and a beautiful black cover with a purple gem on it that he thought Snap would have a thing or two to say about. He couldn’t wait to dive in, but as soon as he turned the first page, he was startled by a knock at the door. Grumbling, he got up, resolving to make it a very quick chat with whomever was there so he could return to his comfortable spot.

However, his interest was piqued immediately when he opened the door. He didn’t know this person, and he knew everyone, both in Ynys and the cave in the mountains. So either this was a merchant, or—

“I need your help.”

Tall and wide-shouldered, the stranger cast a shadow over Violet. One hand rested on the doorframe, the other poised to knock, pointy red nails at the end of long fingers. On second look, most of his clothes were red, too, and even his hair glinted a burnt amber.

“You are Sir Violet, aren’t you? The knight?” the visitor asked, urgency in his voice.

“Erm… Yes…” Violet straightened his back so he’d look a little taller, but he doubted the stranger was impressed. “How can I help you?”

“I lost something. Someone.”

Violet winced. Recent experience had taught him that searching for a missing person might lead to proper adventures and could invoke important changes in his life. He wasn’t sure he was ready for a repeat of all that.

He must have hidden his displeasure poorly, because the stranger rummaged through a pocket and shoved a large ruby under Violet’s nose.

“I can pay you, but you have to help me find my dragon!”

Violet stared at the gem. He’d never seen anything like it outside of Snap’s cave. “Your… your dragon? But Snap’s the only dragon around here. And he can’t be yours. He’s not anyone’s, even if we call him the dragon of Ynys. That just means he lives here…”

“Who’s Snap? I’m searching for Havesskadi, the frost dragon.”

“A frost dragon? Here?” Violet blinked incredulously. Sure, it was February, but Ynys hadn’t seen any serious frost in weeks. “Listen, I think we’d best go find Snap. He’ll be able to help you better than I can. And you can tell me everything on the way. Starting with your name, perhaps?”

“Oh. I’m Ark,” he said, straightening, and brushed some sand off his lapels.

Violet frowned, wondering how the sand had gotten there in the first place, considering that most dust around here had to be firmly stuck to the ground by the insistent drizzle of the past days.

He grabbed his coat and, after shuffling around each other awkwardly, they stepped out, with Ark following him down the path.

“We were on a walk through the woods when we found a cave hidden behind a boulder. And inside, there was a… peculiar rock. Shiny, but not like gems. Orsie—that’s him, Havesskadi— He touched it, even though I told him not to. ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ he asked, and then I woke up on the riverbank to the east. One moment we’re standing on the Baurin Shores, the next I’m in Ynys. Wherever Ynys is. And Orsie is gone.” Ark gestured around them. “Some people I met on the road sent me to you. Said you could find anything and anyone.”

“That’s very kind of them,” Violet said. “I must admit I’ve never heard of the Baurin Shores before. Not even from Lady Edelweiss.”

“They’re on the northern side of the Sal. I’ve never heard of Ynys either, but I haven’t traveled as much as Orsie. I must say, you carry fewer weapons than I’m used to seeing on a knight.”

“Oh no!” Violet patted his sides frantically. “I forgot my sword! Do you think we’ll be having a dangerous adventure before we find your dragon? Because then I should probably go back and get it…”

Ark gave him a look. “If you’re worried, I have my bow,” he said, throwing a thumb over his shoulder. “Not that I need it anymore, but I grew up with it. Practicing is peaceful. Nobody dares approach with chatter, the forest is quiet, and usually Orsie reads while I shoot. Or naps, but he won’t admit to dozing off.”

Violet smiled. “That sounds like a dragon, all right. Trying to convince you they’re a terrifying menace and then you look over and they’re drooling all over their gold.”

“Gold smells funny.” Ark wrinkled his nose. “Now, sleeping on a pile of sand, that’s the dream. All those grains, all yours and no one else’s, and so, so many.

“Right,” Violet said, feeling a little wrong-footed. He doubted Snap agreed with that view, and he definitely didn’t. “Anyway, it’s a relief not to have to bring that heavy sword… Hey, Ark, look!”

As they’d walked onto the square, Violet had spotted Snap sitting in front of the bakery. “Looks like we won’t have to walk all the way to the cave!” He pointed at the huge, black dragon.

“Orsie!” Ark yelled next to him, loud enough that Violet staggered to the side.

Snap lifted his head. And then lifted his other head. No, that wasn’t right, Violet thought, just as his friend split in two in front of his eyes. One half was still Snap, yellow-eyed and familiar, but the other’s eyes sparkled like purple gemstones, even under the overcast sky.

“Hello,” Snap’s deep voice greeted them. “Violet, meet Orsie. I’ve never met anyone like him!” He was clearly delighted by that fact.

Orsie, the second dragon, stopped chewing and blinked at them. “Ark?”

And then he was rushing at them, faster and faster until he was plastered against Ark. Violet barely had time to resign himself to the upcoming trample, except— The one hugging Ark next to him wasn’t a dragon anymore, or at least didn’t look like a dragon, with arms and legs and a human face.

“How did you get here?” the new Orsie asked. “I thought I was the only one pulled through.”

“Hold on,” Violet said, staring at Orsie, and then glancing at Snap. “Can you… Can you do that too?”

Snap chuckled. “No. I don’t think any dragons from our world can shift their shapes. We’re always dragons.”

With a huff and a growl, Ark glared at him. “We’re still dragons.”

Suddenly, a few things came into focus: the claws both visitors shared, their otherworldly eyes, the sharp fangs visible behind Orsie’s grin. Violet took a sensible step back.

“I… I didn’t realise you were…” he stammered to Ark. “I’m sorry.”

“Fascinating, aren’t they?” Snap asked as he ambled closer. “And so shiny!”

“Please forgive Ark’s grumpiness,” Orsie said. “Nice to meet you, Violet.”

For the second time in one day, a gem was offered to Violet. This one a raw amethyst, with white and purple intermingled inside the stone.

Snap leaned in. “If you’re not going to take that…”

“It’s beautiful,” Violet said, touching it with a fingertip. “I’ve been reading about these recently and I’m tempted, but… There’s no need to pay me. I barely did anything. It’s an honour to meet you both, really. And wonderful to see Snap actually getting along with other dragons.”

“Hey!” Snap protested.

“We like to give,” Ark said and held his ruby up to Snap, who picked it up between two claws gently.

Violet raised his eyebrows, because it seemed that the gemstone had grown since Ark had knocked on his door. He shook his head. Must be imagining things. “So, what were you doing here?”

“Well—” Orsie sighed and scratched the back of his head. He hadn’t stepped away from Ark, Violet noticed, their hands clasped between them. “Against dear one’s better judgement, I touched an artifact that should’ve been demagicked before handling. In my defense, it smelled like apples.”

Ark made a face and Orsie matched it.

“It’s been a while,” Orsie continued, “since I could stomach apples. Used to like them, but.” A deep breath.

“We’ve got great apples in Ynys,” Violet said. “Have you tried Juniper’s pie yet?”

Orsie’s face brightened. “Oh, yes! Snap was kind enough to share.”

“How did you two find each other?” Ark asked.

“Woke up in his cave,” Orsie said at the same time as Snap’s, “Fell on me while I was napping.”

“Snap has a book hoard, Ark, larger than your library.”

“Quite rude to fall on someone while they sleep.”

“He’s invited us to visit it, up in the mountains.”

“The dream I was having was quite excellent.”

In an attempt to follow their conversation, Violet looked from Orsie to Snap so fast he almost felt dizzy.

“How much pie did you have already?” Ark asked Orsie, peering closely at him.

“Our entire batch.” Juniper walked over to them with a full tray.

“Well, I helped,” Snap said proudly.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you on a sugar high before,” Violet mused out loud.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t offer you any fresh biscuits, then?” Juniper asked Orsie. “They’re very crispy.”

“You have to try these, Ark,” Orsie said. “They crunch almost like rubies, the smaller ones at least. A wonderful experience.”

Crunch like rubies, Violet mouthed to himself, and turned to Snap in a silent plea for help.

“Don’t look at me,” Snap said, grinning. “I don’t eat gems!”

“What would be a better experience is going home,” Ark countered, but he accepted one of the biscuits Juniper held up. “How are we— Oh. These are— Oh.”

Juniper beamed while Orsie nodded in agreement.

“Are they?” Violet asked innocently. “I’d better try that for myself.”

Laughing, Juniper handed him a biscuit too, which he ate happily.

“If you don’t know how you got here,” Snap asked Ark, “how will you be able to find the way home?”

A loud rumble interrupted them. It came from above, and as they all looked up, a hole opened in mid-air. Not exactly high in the sky, but not close enough to reach, either. From the other side, sunshine spilled through, and a head popped over the edge. Violet shielded his eyes, squinting, but he couldn’t make out who it was. Probably more dragons.

“It’s good to be friends with witches. I knew I’d be found sooner rather than later. That rock also smelled quite strongly of doorways.” Orsie waved at his friend, squinting upwards. “It appears to be calling us back… and it’s rudely impatient about it. Hmm, I wonder if it’s sentient.” With a push, he grew back to his dragon shape, and took flight toward the portal.

“Oh,” Snap said. His scales gleamed purple in the otherworldly sunlight. “Do you think you’ll come back later to see the books?”

Ark looked between Snap and the person above, until the figure threw both arms up.

“You can come back to see the books in a few days. But right now you have to return so I can stabilize this magic!”

“That’s Tamara. She knows so many spells. Maybe you can meet her next time?” Ark smiled at the three on the ground. “Thank you for taking care of Orsie,” he told Snap, “and thank you for helping me find him,” to Violet, “and thank you for the pastries.” With that last bit, he produced another ruby for Juniper.

He took off just like Orsie, and turned into a dark red dragon, with amber streaks spanning his wings.

“Wait,” Orsie called after Ark. “Snap’s… so shiny. Can we steal him?”

To Violet’s dismay, Ark laughed, but he was immediately relieved to see him nudge Orsie upward.

“You can’t steal a whole dragon, dearest.”

“I could try,” drifted down in a mutter as they flew through the portal. Before it closed, though, Orsie twisted around and flapped his wings with a shouted, “Until next time!”

Violet waved and then accepted another biscuit from Juniper. “Well, that wasn’t so bad, as detective quests go.”

Snap sniffed and leaned in. “What’s that in your pocket?”

“What?” Violet frowned and slipped his hand into his coat pocket, his eyes widening as he felt something smooth and hard. “It’s… It’s a gem.” He took out the ruby Ark had shown him back at home. “But how did he—?”

A satisfied grin spread over Snap’s scaly face. “It appears that dragons everywhere share one important trait. We can be very sneaky when we want to.”

*** *** ***

Savior of Humanity

Savior of Humanity

savior of humanity artwork: black/white photograph of a gloved hand manipulating an analog vintage ampermeter

January 2021 free fiction (science fiction, post-apocalypse). For the Patreon post, click here.

*** *** ***

Hands, shaking. Blade, sharp.

“No. No, don’t come closer.” Stop, please.

***

“Do you remember?”

Morr gives Kate a look. Nobody remembers anything anymore. Well, nothing from before the world turned itself upside down. Metaphorically.

“No, not that,” Kate says, waving a hand. “Do you remember when we woke up? All that confusion? None of us knowing where we were… who we were?”

Down below, at the foot of the hills, the evening stretches in celebration. The crops have been plentiful this year, and, on top of that, Kate and Jay finally managed to revive the power plant sitting up the river. They have electricity now, a better water filtration system, and sure heating for the winter.

Morr clutches at the grass and digs his heels into the earth. Many times he thought they wouldn’t make it, but their settlement has survived, against all odds. The mere thought constricts Morr’s chest with affection.

These are his people.

“I remember,” he says. “We were all so furious, though, at the ones that caused it. What were they thinking? How could they look upon the world and decide that this… this miraculous diversity needed stifling? And what were they going to do, program us all to conform?”

Kate pats his arm.

“I just don’t get where that hatred came from,” Morr whispers, more for himself than her. “Anyway. What were you going to say?”

“Nothing important.” Kate shakes her head with a smile. “Guess I was reminiscing.”

Voices reach them, mirthful, beckoning to join the dancing. Morr lets himself easily convinced, brimming with joy. They really made it. Twelve years after the worldwide event that had wiped everyone’s memory and left them without infrastructure or support or families.

***

“It is our duty to preserve purity,” the man on the screen says. “Our sacred honor and mission to rid the world of imbalance. How can they demand equality when it is clear they are not our equals?”

No.

“Equilibrium can only be reached one way: similarity. Convert those who can be saved, rip away those who cannot.”

No.

Someone screams, nearby. His throat is raw but someone screams and he can’t stop it. Must stop it.

***

Kate watches Morr run down the hill with the others, laughter echoing under the darkening sky. A shuffle of skirts accompanies Jay as they sit next to her.

“He’s really outdone himself, hasn’t he?” Jay says.

“Yes. He loves this community deeply and genuinely.”

“Good. Can’t wait to see his face. We’re doing it at midnight, right?”

Kate hums, lying down. The stars will be bright tonight.

Justice served.

Time passes, slow and steady, and despite their words, Jay curls into a ball, hugging knees to chest. “What if… Kate, what if we don’t say anything. Look how much we’ve accomplished already.”

“And what? Let him be happy?” Kate spits it, but somehow it lacks the usual bitterness. She groans and covers her face with her palms.

“Would that be so bad? He’s redeemed himself.”

“It’s not redemption if he doesn’t know why. He needs to make the right choices not for himself, but for others, and not expect forgiveness.” She sits up, places a hand on Jay’s neck in an attempt to comfort. “No one else remembers but us, and we cannot forgive him, Jay.”

“But that man is gone. You’re talking about punishing the son for the sins of the father.” A grimace. “Sort of.”

“What brought this on? Yesterday you were all in.”

Jay shrugs, fingers twisting in the material of their skirt. “This morning.”

Nothing follows and, as Jay’s silence stretches, Kate realizes she doesn’t want to know. It’s probably something she should, though, if it’s shaken Jay this much.

“This morning,” she nudges.

“Bennie’s kid is turning ten next week and they’re supposed to choose pronouns to go by. Caught them on the verge of panic because of it, even though it’s no big deal. First choice is not final choice, right?”

Kate nods, running her palm down Jay’s spine.

“But, well, anxiety is a thing and the kid was worried they’d choose wrong.”

“And you explained I assume.”

Jay shakes their head. “Morr got there before I did, so I stayed hidden and listened in. Kate,” —they turn, a sharp inhale— “you should’ve heard him. He put as much passion in that reassurance as he did b-before.”

“When he called for our deaths.”

Jay nods with a sniffle.

***

The hummed song bounces off the walls with his descent. Kate and Jay’s anniversary is tomorrow and Morr has prepared the best present for them. A book they’d talked about for years and couldn’t find in traveling distance. Morr clutches it, happy with the treasure he’s been saving for the past few weeks.

In the main room of the underground bunker that used to be their shelter, a door is open. A secret door? Morr steps in, investigates equipment and monitors with curiosity, and then clicks—

***

It’s been almost two hours of them sitting on the grass in the chilling air, and Kate’s shivering.

“We promised each other,” she finally says, “that if we were in disagreement we wouldn’t push. We’d take the time to reconsider and re-examine.”

“Yes.”

“All right, then. But the moment he shows any sign of hatred, I’m dragging him to the bunker and showing him the old video files.”

Jay looks at her, blinking. “Deal.” A pause. “Still wish we’d tell him. I want to see him suffer, but at the same time…” They sigh. “I can’t.”

“I get it. How about we wait another year? In the meantime we’ll keep a closer eye on him.”

“Sounds good.”

Kate drags herself up, then, bones creaking with age. “Let’s get down there and turn off all the equipment. We don’t want one of the children to be scarred for life.”

***

“What happened?” Head aching, heart pounding, breath shallow.

“The machine.” A cough. “It detonated.”

“But—wait, I still remember.”

“Everything?”

“Everything. You?”

“Same.” Around them, the floor is scorched in thin concentric circles. “Must’ve had some safety bubble around itself, to protect whoever activates it.”

“So… what do we do now?”

“We get revenge.”

***

He can’t stop crying and he can’t stop shaking.

It can’t be him.

Kate’s taken his knife, so he doesn’t even have that as an option. Wait, that’s not true.

“I have to,” he says, scrambling to his feet. “I have to make it right. I have to—”

Jay’s long fingers wrap around his trembling ones. “You can’t.” The finality of the words slices and scrapes. “But you can continue what you’re doing.”

“It’s not enough.”

“It will never be enough,” Kate says.

Morr’s been hating himself, it turns out. He surely does now. But he also loves them, the ones still laughing above ground, embracing their differences, their kindness, their true selves.

“Don’t you ever dare forgive me,” he pleas.

Jay pets the side of his face and Kate squeezes his shoulder.

“We won’t,” they promise. “Not ever.”

*** *** ***