I was looking at other people’s cute dogs on Twitter before writing this.
Some Like Bones
by Heidi C. Vlach
What the dragon couldn’t figure out was why humans insisted on running from him. He bore the magic of Everytongue; he spoke words that perfectly matched human chattering; why, then, did they flee even when he uttered words of peace?
After some thought, the dragon asked one of the misshapen wolves guarding a human town — dogs, they were called. This dog hackled and growled at first, but melted into tail wagging once the dragon spoke a bark-like greeting and allowed his scales to be sniffed.
“I thought humans were friendly,” the dragon asked. “Why do they run from me?”
The dog tilted his head. “Humans are friends! Dragon is friend. Why …” He harrumphed and scratched at his floppy ear with a back paw. “I don’t know. Ask humans.”
“I’ve tried that,” the dragon repeated.
“Oh.” The dog continued thinking, only briefly distracted by a passing fly. Eventually, he decided, “You need to be a good boy.”
It sounded simple enough, this riddle. The dragon asked, “How does a creature be a good boy?”
The dog opened his mouth in a wide grin. “I can show you!”
It turned out to be an absurd practice, full of grovelling, tail-wagging and biting back his fire. But after some weeks of practice, the dragon got it right.
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I’m going to try something. Since long-form fiction has been a struggle for me the last few years, I’ll be focusing for a while on posting short, experimental flash fiction. That method helped me build strength as a younger writer, so hey, maybe it’ll help me now.
Without further chatter, here’s a story for today. I asked Twitter what my prompt should be and the answer was (unsurprisingly) dragons.
Come Flying Forth
by Heidi C. Vlach
Each morning, the dragons emerged from their cave. Flying on wings so nimble they never did collide, flying out in a rush of glinting scales and fiery eyes. They were every colour and size imaginable, those thousands of dragons; they were a kaleidoscope made liquid to pour upward and fill the sky.
The humans, frightened though they were, turned their faces up toward each morning dragon flight. They murmured in their throats, they pointed at the turbulent flock. Generations passed and, in the footnotes of time, some humans crept closer to the cave. They listened to roared words until understanding began. They left food offerings — including the ripe, fragrant fruit that dragons did covet.
“Why do you fly like that?” asked a brave youth one year. “Why do you always emerge together?”
The dragon addressed — a dog-sized example of her kind, lavender-coloured, licking mango juice from her snout — replied, “Because we can.”
“We fly. We are one. What else is there?”
When other humans arrived, the youth told them. Those humans told others. The wisdom spread.
Because we can. Because the dragons were all different, all fierce and vividly alive, but under their myriad colours they were tied together by same hearts.
It took more years, but the humans held a walk. An event for all, a pouring of humans down the same street, the colours of their faces and clothing making another kaleidoscope. All together.
Popular as it was, more walks were scheduled. More and more frequently until the dragons came to watch, perching on roofs and by roadsides, watching the human masses with a dancing fire in their eyes.
And when a dragon gifted them with fruit — a small, lavender dragon dragging a tooth-punctured watermelon to lay at the king’s feet — that was when the times of joy began.
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It’s been two years since I published my last book — and a rough two years, where my mental health and employment status have both been patchy. But hey, I’m feeling okay again and think it’s time for me to write another novel.
Choosing which novel to write hasn’t been easy. Another short story collection? Another Story of Aligare? More in the Tinder Stricken universe? I don’t have enough sales numbers to decisively point at one of those. It’s hard to say which readers my stories are reaching. But when I tell friends and acquaintances about the ideas I’m kicking around, I’ve gotten a warm response to one story concept in particular — Wyndren’s story.
The working title is To Know Arcanely. It’s set on modern-day Earth where Bigfoot, Nessie and all manner of legendary creatures are real: they’re lost souls who accidentally came to Earth from their own magical dimension. Main character Wyndren is a faerie/dragon hybrid who crossed the dimensions while still in her egg, and she was found and raised by human scientists who study cryptids (more properly called Arcanians).
This upbringing leaves Wyndren stuck between worlds. She’s fond of humans but definitely not one of them. She assists with cryptobiological research, and studies the many fascinating types of human language, and runs a popular aesthetic blog, and through it all she longs to know where she comes from and what her Arcanian parent races are like. Visceral “seeking” needs like this are often what brings Arcanians to Earth in the first place — but how can Wyndren know why she’s here, when she came before she even hatched?
Accompanied by her best friend Holly — a dryad bonded to a potted bonsai tree — Wyndren begins travelling through cities and towns. If she meets new people and learns enough about Arcanian kind, maybe she’ll track down her own purpose.
And this is a first for me: To Know Arcanely might be a trilogy of novels. Wyndren has multiple societies to explore and she could easily find more than she bargains for! I’m focusing on one satisfying book for the moment, but I have ideas for Books 2 and 3. We’ll see.
Thoughts? Share in the comments!
One of the more enduring ideas of Western-style dragons is that they hoard things. Gold and treasure, most typically. It’s a mental image I have from childhood, where I read The Hobbit in 4th grade and attempted to redraw the cover art of Smaug coiled around his mountainous heap of gold.
More recently, Smaug’s hoard was brought grandly to life in the Hobbit movies, where the coins in Smaug’s hoard were painstakingly computer animated to spill across his scales. Fans are trying to estimate the worth of Smaug’s hoard, and it seems like no one can agree on the dollar value except to say that it’s astronomically high.
Why did this traditional idea of gold piles come about, though? Why do dragons hoard treasure?
In a basic historical sense, dragons were found alongside gold. Or, at least, that’s what our ancestors would have assumed when they dug up precious minerals and ended up finding dinosaur fossils. We’re a species compelled by stories, so people would have made up stories about these ancient, reptile-like beasts who were always found deep in the earth, near gold.
It’s logical enough that dragon hoards are meant to represent greed. Western dragons are classically portrayed as greedy beings of pure evil. They’re thought to have hoards just because that’s what dragons do: dragons simply sit on their treasure and revel their ownership of it, as opposed to a rich human who could use their wealth to build things, provide for the poor, or otherwise improve society.
In stories where a dragon hoards treasure, that treasure can doubles as a reward for the human hero. Anyone brave enough to slay the evil beast can claim its hoard as their own — although Norse and Germanic stories often specify that a dragon’s treasure is cursed, dooming any human tempted to be as greedy as the dragon. Maybe the curse would be dispelled by giving the gold away to needy people, or similar acts of charity? That would make narrative sense.
Okay, so the greed metaphor works when dragons are depicted as evil monsters. What about more benevolent dragons, though? More recent fantasy stories acknowledge that dragons are interesting creatures and they might make good allies to humans — so why then would a dragon covet gold and treasure? What motivation would they have to collect it?
I grew up watching The Flight of Dragons, in which dragons need a soft bedding material that can’t be accidentally set on fire. Gold serves this purpose well.
Other franchises suggest that dragons are just fond of shiny, pretty objects, or they like the idea of owning valuables to impress others with. And why not? That’s why we humans wear pretty jewelry or expensive watches. It’s why we consider a golden crown to be headgear for an important, royal person. It’s not such a stretch to think that other intelligent beings would feel the same way about rare, precious metals.
I tend to think that lifespan is a factor, too. Dragons are generally imagined as long-lived beings, able to watch human dynasties come and go like the tides. They have more than enough time to build up a collection of money and valuables. Maybe dragons want savings for the same reason human beings want savings: to look after themselves and their loved ones in the inevitable hard times to come. Whereas short-lived creatures wouldn’t be as concerned about what the world will be like 50 years from now. I’ve never made this idea explicit in my Stories of Aligare, but the dragon-like korvi people have the longest lifespans of the three peoplekinds and they’re also most interested in the earth’s mineral riches, and they’re most likely to have a stash of metals and gems in their homes just in case. That’s not a coincidence.
Peregrine liked to think he could endure a little work. He had tempered himself in the mines, hauling rock until his body balked at the thought of more, until he felt like spent ashes all over and he still needed to cross the plains home. Fyrian hadn’t intended his sky-child korvi to break rock, but they did it anyhow. Someone needed to provide.
-Remedy (A Story of Aligare), Chapter 9
And the whole reason I wrote the Serpents of Sky collection was to spin lots of different dragon scenarios. Dragons guarding gold to save humans from their own greed. Dragons who physically manifest the concepts of greed and chaos and destruction. Dragons whose close-guarded treasures let them bend time and space. Even a dragon whose precious stash is just cream and sugar to put in their coffee.
In short, there are lots of reasons dragons might hoard gold. It’s one of many traits we can get creative with, and reinterpret as we see fit. If you haven’t seen the Unusual Dragon Hoards artworks by Iguanamouth, I highly suggest taking a look — it’s a cute series where dragons sit possessively on piles of stuffed animals, spoons, comic books and other unexpected treasures. Golden hoards are just one more way for dragons to capture our imaginations.
Haven’t made much progress on Tinder Stricken lately. I’m mostly trying to get my head in order.
But I am dabbling more with painting, while trying to get some mental images in place. Here’s a concept piece of a Tselaya Mountain leviathan:
Leviathans are water dragons with overtones of salamander/nudibranch/deep ocean fish. These intelligent, amphibious beings live underground and are rarely seen by humans. I’m thinking leviathans are accustomed to dark, narrow, water-filled spaces. Their sensitive fins and whiskers tell them everything they need to know about the crannies around them.
They have a different headspace than a human, that’s for sure.