The Dragon at the Bottom of the Sea

The Dragon at the Bottom of the Sea

Digital color drawing of the seabed with shell and algae, the water above it.

July 2020 flash fiction (fantasy, disabled character). For the Patreon post, click here.

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Once upon a time, there lived a dragon enamored with flying. She soared the skies, zipping through the fluffiest of clouds, over the dark stormy ones, and under the brilliant rays of both the sun and the moon. So often was the dragon seen above, that people had started asking for help getting places. The dragon was happy to fly, so why not indulge in conversation with the occasional passenger?

Ever since that first request from a hurried woman fetching medicine for her village, word had traveled the land. Everyone knew of the benevolent dragon answering calls at all hours of day and night. The dragon’s flying became the most sought portage.

With each passing day, people came to her with boxes, and then luggage, and even crates. It was harder and harder to fly high, so the dragon kept beneath the clouds. Sometimes it rained, and sometimes the weight was too great for her tired wings, but the dragon persevered. She couldn’t let down those who needed her help. The villagers on the mountains needed flour, the ones on the planes needed wood. The wizards of the forest citadel needed their magic spheres carried over treetops to be recharged by sunlight.

One day, as the dragon struggled over the sea, carrying boulders of salt to the opposite shore, she yawned. It had been days since she’d slept, but she couldn’t give up. Not when others were counting on her, not when—

A strap holding the cargo snapped over a sharp scale, and the boulder held by it rolled over the dragon’s wing. She cried in pain as bone cracked. Cried again as she lost balance and plummeted into the waters beneath.

***

At the bottom of the sea, the dragon curled up in the white sand. Her wing had stopped hurting, but she knew it would never be strong enough to fly again. The water held her there, forever grounded. Such a suitable punishment for failing in her task.

The dragon mourned.

***

“Hey! Hey, wake up.” A poke, and another, and another. “You’re in my spot. Move aside.”

The dragon opened an eye. Next to her a stingray flapped their fins. The dragon looked away, but the stingray flew around and started poking at her other side.

“It’s rude to ignore others when they talk to you,” the stingray said, smirking.

The dragon huffed, sending bubbles up into the water.

“What’s this?” another voice came from above, just before a striped sea snake came into view. “I must say, this is too large a prey for you.”

The stingray glared at the snake and the snake smiled mildly.

The dragon sighed. “What do you want?”

“It speaks!” the snake exclaimed. “Say, do you eat snakes? Or stingrays? If the former, I’d argue for the latter.”

“Neither,” the dragon said, as a rumble shook her stomach. It had been a while, she realized, since she’d had a proper meal.

“You two! Stop pestering her. Can’t you see she’s hurt?”

The dragon counted eight fluttering tentacles carrying an entanglement of green strings that, to be fair, looked quite tasty. The newcomer set the offering next to her before swimming back to a polite distance. It wouldn’t do not to say thank you, or accept the food, so the dragon did just that. If she’d known it would gain her three storytelling chatterers for friends, she… would probably do it all over again.

***

Life at the bottom of the sea wasn’t bad. Her new friends kept her company, but the water pressed from all around and the sky was so far away. Every time the dragon tried to fly—up, up, and then break though the surface—she got dragged down by an invincible weight.

How was she supposed to help people if she couldn’t fly? How was she supposed to be useful?

The days felt darker, the water heavier and more suffocating, with each attempt.

The dragon was no longer a dragon, not without her flight.

***

Only after much insistence—and a bribe of five different types of algae—did the dragon finally tell her story to the three sea dwellers. The stingray, the snake, and the octopus latched themselves to her neck without second thought. The dragon returned their hug with her good wing and pretended not to cry.

“You know,” the snake said later, as they played by flipping empty shells at each other with their tails, “I don’t have wings and yet I still swim.” He squirmed and wiggled his tail, flopping through the water like the dragon used to above the clouds.

“He’s right,” the octopus added pensively from the side. She pushed up, rolling and unrolling her tentacles.

“Yes, the tail is a mighty thing,” the stingray said. Their eternally smirking face swam up to the dragon’s nose. “So maybe you can be a fishdragon.”

“Yes,” the other two repeated,” a fishdragon. That’s right.”

The dragon considered this. She even wiggled her tail, curled and uncurled, flopped left to right, and—

Oh. She was swimming. It took a little flop of her good wing, too, for steering, but she wasn’t tied to the sandy floor anymore. For the first time in a long while, she grinned.

Swimming wasn’t the same as flying. It was slower, and not as easy. The dragon had to practice over and over to get the tail movements right, but her friends were always there, reminding her of patience, encouraging her to try again. And again.

***

At the bottom of the sea, there lived a fishdragon. It wasn’t the life she had set out to have, but it was her life and she intended to enjoy it, day after day, the good ones and the bad alike. She didn’t need to be useful, or to serve others, to exist. All she wanted were her friends, the sea with its white sand, and the comforting weight of water, enveloping her from all sides.

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 A story for my exquisite friend Tanouska, the kindest fishdragon roaming the seas.

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