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Held aloft in the warm updrafts swelling from a vast swamp, the soarer dragon's majestic leathery wings barely waved as she scanned the misty ground far below. Her stomach growled with hunger. It had been a long time since she'd eaten meat, and the ancient edict against killing unless it was asked for bothered her somewhat. In the distance, sharply rose the hazy-blue peaks of the Northern Mountains. Under her breath and through rows of razor sharp teeth she cursed the creature who ruled these parts as prince. Had it not been for him, her fire-breathing firstborn emperor would still rule over all the lands. She remembered how at a gathering of soarer dragons up on his crystal mountain palace far to the south, he'd promised that one day dragons such as she would be permitted the finer joys of the hunt, and to satisfy hunger with bloody meat rather than the stupid fruits of the land. She irritably snapped her head to the left on her thick gray-white scaly neck, to bring one of those mountains into sharper focus. The anger in her belly welled some more when her sharp eyes caught the stony ramparts of that waddle dragon's lair.
Prince indeed! she thought to herself. More like an idiot stuttering foul bird...
She wondered how it would feel to have his warm blood dripping from her tongue. Then she imagined herself screaming down from the heights to plunge into him like lightning with her razor-sharp talons. Those thoughts only provoked a slight gag reflex. Scales were one thing. But feathers! She'd never in her long life had a feather in her mouth.
She spat out with vile contempt when she recalled the wedding long ago up on that stone castle. Why hadn't Emperor Fire Face ended all the nonsense from these northern parts then? Instead, he'd lamely submitted to Queen Nijameeno's stupid rantings of the Ancient Mother before using a bit of the old magic to transform himself to an egg. An egg! And now everybody was doing that. With that thought, she angrily jerked the long tail flowing behind her, instantly losing some altitude. She had to flap her huge wings hard to regain an effortless glide. In that movement, she caught sight of a fiery ball plunging down from the sky near where the sun brilliantly shone. All her dark brooding vanished into fear.
The blazing ball of fire plunged across the horizon above her towards the south... but not before bits of it splintered into small, and curiously dark pieces. One of those chunks streaked directly towards her. Her fear instantly changed to guilt, and she screamed a prayer to the Ancient Mother as a dark but very hot stone bolted with an explosive sound past her head. Bits of hot ash actually grazed the thick skin of her wings and she flapped hard to rid herself of it. The stone grew ever smaller and burned into grainy bits of ash when it finally struck the foot of the mountain she had just been glaring at.
She dipped her left wing slightly, made an adjustment with her tail, and plunged down and north to investigate.
The disturbance awakened a tiny thing no larger than a tick from a very long sleep. His slumber had been so deep and had lasted for so long, that he had no idea where or what he was. Painfully he wormed his way out of his tiny, paper-thin cocoon. The slowly-returning image of being a worm and then crawling beneath a rock and then digging into the ground beneath, to then being trapped in his self-made cocoon, made him very angry. This anger flared into fury because it triggered an even older memory. A vague memory... of being all-powerful. And a dream was coming back to him, attached to this memory... a dream filled with a rage far more fierce than even the anger over being so weak.
He could not yet move his odd little legs. Cramps gripped every part of his strange body as he struggled with unfamiliar worming motions. He didn't yet understand what he was, except that he was quite angry. As he moved, weird new aches kept shocking every part of his itty bitty little body. Even the instinctive movement of a thin leg caused him great pain. Somehow he knew that his time was limited -- that he would die unless he figured out a way out of this tomb and do what every part of his odd being told him he must do. Without even knowing why, two thin antennae over his head began to sway, and from that motion two things instantly happened.
With all the might of his trivial lungs he tried shouting, EHHHH! ME! Nothing but ME!!! SCREEE! It stings so!!! Why is it so? But all that came out of his bizarre mouth was a faint chiiizz, followed by a weak motion from wings that began to unfurl, as if also to make some angry statement.
The pain of that attempt nearly stopped him from an effort to shout, So! SO??? And he stopped with that, even though no real voice came out of whatever sort of unfamiliar mouth he possessed. Somehow he felt that to say that word once more would prove disastrous. Then another thought hit him... a thought even older than the fear of that sound. If he could smile he would. Magic so old... So darkened... More aged than... Even Sososo. Eh eh eh, all for me! The painful waving of those thin little antennae brought whiffs of familiar scents into his small mind, and he thought: Eehhh, eehhh, so it be… that me shall be, for all to seeee. Screee! See me… Nothing but me!
It took what felt like an eternity, but eventually the tiny creature learned to move his muscles correctly. Thus he shifted the first of the boulder-like grains of sand out of his way in the tiny cave of his imprisonment. In the vague glow cast by some strong light outside, shining every which way through the crystal fragments of sand, he began to learn how to better use his six legs and needle-thin mouth. Bit by bit, he struggled to move aside more grains of sand. He had to go toward the light, much as he despised it. It was as though each of his two eyes had hundreds of their own little lenses, all drawing him impulsively toward that despicable source of light.
A powerful thirst pushed him forward. Though confusing anger and revenge burned in his tiny heart, he had to ignore that for now. He must immediately find a larger creature -- one much warmer than himself. He must find such a creature very quickly, or life would end for him once and for all. He knew this but without knowing why, and this bothered him tremendously. With each grain of sand that he pushed aside, so too grew his sense of being all-powerful. The vague memory of this power flowed in his blood. It was vital that he find this other, much larger and warmer... and winged creature. He had to possess it with that cold blood that flowed -- with each passing heartbeat -- ever weaker within him. He would find it and take it over, and then this maddening hunger and approaching death would end, and he would regain his older, more intelligent mind. Yes!
And there, in the blinding crisp light beyond that last grain of sand, he saw an enormous dragon scratching in the dirt nearby. She would serve as his ride away from this cold.
Far to the south in the Land of the Saha, among gently swaying fields of flowers of all colors and scents, hovered the mad activity of small dragons. Many of them clicked their long snouts as they teasingly competed for the nectar of the brightest, most aromatic flowers. With them flew also the dragons' new cousins, who had long been lost in the evil-bound foggy swamp between the Hemlee and Northern Mountains. Many of these new-fangled, feathered fliers had actually hatched from dragon parents, and were a cross between birds and dragons. Prior to Farluna's defeat of Ewot twelve years earlier, they'd been known as fouls.
The dragons were teaching their feathered cousins how to suck up the sweet nectar and not worry about the powdery pollen that scattered about or stuck to their feathers and legs as they flew from one flower to the next. Birds pretty much were inclined to ignore the hard work of learning how to use their wings in that new way of hovering like small dragons over a flower without destroying it. They were inclined to eat and drink on the wing, so it was also tough to learn the difficulty of using their mostly thick -- and if a half-dragon half-bird, their often toothy -- bills to draw up the sweet liquid and store it without swallowing it. Some of the newest breeds of birds hatching in the magical southern half of the Land of the Saha were quite small and equipped with very long and thin beaks. For these hoverers, the task of sucking up nectar came quite easy. Yet, it seemed so much more fun to chase and catch the insects also attracted to the flowers.
One of these tiny hovering birds -- hummers, the small dragons nicknamed them because of how their wings hummed as they flew -- caught a glimpse of an odd insect that barely moved on a bright red flower petal.
"Ignore it!" hissed a tweedle dragon with tattered brown and blue scales, who could remember in her old memory the thrill of chasing insects.
The tiny, bright-yellow hummer with orange-tipped feathers on his wing expertly flew backward, showing off to his teacher. "Why?" he sang.
"Because," gurgled a larger, pot-bellied sac dragon sitting nearby on the ground, wrinkling the pale, bald skin over the vivid dark scales above her eyes, "that's what Solmoa has decreed." As she talked, her bulging throat-sac wobbled, causing its green scales to rattle from its load of nectar. The two little knobby horns above her emerald-scaled head jerked all over the place. When she talked, her whole body moved expressively.
"Yeah, yeah. It's always Solmoa this, Solmoa that..." sang the young hummer bird, hungrily eying the little dark insect that barely moved on the flower's red petal. "This one's not even trying to get away. I bet it truly wants to be eaten. That's not against the rules. And that's what Queen Nijameeno says."
The sac dragon slowly shook her head and was about to reply when two smaller dragons, whose iridescent green scales glittered like tiny rainbows, flew to her and began tickling her throat with their snouts. So she opened her huge, toothy mouth to allow the dragons to deposit their small quantity of nectar into her throat sac. At that moment, the hummer flew at the dark insect and was just about to catch it in his thin bill, when the insect jumped up and flew into the bird's chest, where it buried itself beneath his bright plumage.
"Idiot," gurgled the sac dragon, as she stretched her neck to be more comfortable and accept nectar from the next group of dragons.
The hummer was confused. The insect on the flower petal had looked so weak and willing to be eaten, as was one of the few acceptable ways to kill another creature in the Land of the Saha. But it had sprung upon him as if waiting for him. The hummer irritably flew a mindless zigzag dance as the other dragons and birds looked on in amazement.
"Out with you! Now!," he sang. "Out of my feathers!" He landed on a thin branch beneath a large orange and purple flower that always turned to face the sun. The little insect crawled around on his skin. This disgusted the hummer, and he kept pecking at himself until he actually tasted blood on his long, thin tongue.
Suddenly, he felt a horrible pain in his chest.
"NO-!" squealed the little hummer once. He hovered for a second in mid-air… before promptly falling to the ground like a lifeless rock.
All the dragons looked on, many of their mouths opening wide and spilling their loads of nectar. The hummer suddenly began to fitfully flutter on the ground. Even the sac dragon rose on her two thick legs to waddle backward a little, her short, dark tail helping her keep her balance. The fluttering hummer grew still again, now on his back, feathered wings stretched out wide. The absolute lack of movement from the tiny bird's feathered chest did not sit well with the onlookers.
The sac dragon looked around to the other dragons and birds standing shocked on the grassy ground or clutching tight with small talons to branches, but they were all as speechless as she. The skin above the sac dragon's eyes wrinkled deeply. She slowly moved a thick, brown leg forward, the sharp claw-blades at the tips of her flightless wings stretching forward like the deadly saber claws of legendary Emperor Fire Face's mighty flame dragons. She took one more lumbering step forward, her scales rattling as her engorged body slowly rippled with its liquid load.
"Screeee!" And with that unearthly screech, the hummer's tiny little body spasmed so hard that it jerked into mid-air, only to fall into stillness..
The sac dragon belched in bewilderment and all her stored nectar gushed out in a yellow stream from her toothy mouth. This drenched a couple of small black-capped birds in the flowering shrub nearby with sticky nectar, but they stayed mute. The sac dragon paid no attention to them as she cautiously walked toward the tiny lifeless hummer on her short legs while snaking her thick tail on the ground behind her. She carefully reached forward with her sharp wing claws. This relaxed the two black-capped birds enough to begin fluttering and fluffing dry their sticky feathers, combing each one through their bills. Several assorted dragons and birds nearby took to the air, and flew circles around the sac dragon's inspection of the motionless hummer. Everyone remained quite silent, totally confused over what was going on, as their eyes begged the older sac dragon for an explanation.
Now close enough to sniff at the hummer, she said, "Well, don't just look at me. You..." and she pointed a wing-claw at a red-breasted bird who had alighted on the ground nearby, "go to Queen Nijameeno's castle right away."
"And do what?" sang the mid-sized bird.
The sac dragon madly shook her knobby head, several scales flying out to her dismay -- dragons everywhere after Prince Farluna's battle with Ewot had begun losing scales -- and then ruffled her wings in irritation. "I don't know, for dark moon's sake! This is all new for me as well!" She now stood right over the hummer, and sensed absolutely no life from him… no sign of a heartbeat or breathing. "Just get somebody strong and wise with medicine over here. Go! Fly! Just tell the useless guard dragons at the palace what happened. Queen Nijameeno will figure it out. Now, go!"
The red-breasted bird jumped up and flew off, singing, "Dragons! They think they know everything."
As the dozen or so birds and dragons looked toward the angrily singing bird's flight over the flower field, the small hummer on the ground suddenly sprang to life like nothing had happened. He oddly zigzagged a bit in mid-air with a weird buzzing sound, as if to test his wings.
The sac dragon's mouth opened so wide it hurt.
One of the sticky, black-capped birds sang, "You're alive!"
But the hummer said nothing. He just continued to buzz around, often bouncing into a huge flower or branch, until he slowed down and alighted on a large purple stone near the sac dragon. The sac dragon hesitantly walked closer to the hummer. Nervously she asked, "Are you alright?"
The hummer stayed quite still -- not even his long orange-tipped tail feathers twitched -- but he gripped the stone hard with his tiny talons.
If she wasn't confused before, the sac dragon was now totally baffled. She had an excellent sense of smell, and this little bird reeked of death, yet there he was, looking very much alive. That fact stirred something in her memory... something told to her when at a feast up in the Hemlee Mountains. Prince Rapaza, the black-scaled sage dragon had shared an old story from long ago. She was trying to remember that story, when suddenly the little hummer opened his long, thin beak as if to sing, but instead of a song, dozens of madly buzzing insects flew out. At the same moment, the hummer simply hopped into the air and quicker than any hummer should, flew in the direction of Queen Nijameeno's castle and after the red-breasted bird. The dragons and birds by the purple rock had no time to think, as the awful insects that had buzzed out of the hummer's mouth now swarmed and attacked them, burying themselves beneath scales and feathers, and then drilling through their skins to the warm and delicious blood beneath. For each bitten dragon and bird, the beauty of the glowing yellow sun above and endless fields of fragrant flowers departed from their minds, being replaced by a fellowship of dark anger.
At once, all the dragons and birds by that purple rock screeched, "SCREE! See Me! Nothing but Me!"
The red-breasted bird flew over a hill of silver-leafed trees between two small mountains thick with golden boulders, when Queen Nijameeno's castle came into sight. With his sharp eyes, he saw a steady stream of gatherer dragons and birds fly in and out of the castle's many small portals. A huge soarer dragon, once a member of the Emperor's mighty air force but now entrusted with more humble duties, gripped a complacent and very fat sac dragon in his talons. Everything looked so normal. He was still complaining to himself when he heard a mad buzzing just behind him. He turned his head around slightly, diving a bit so as to not lose speed from the movement, and was amazed to see the tiny hummer quickly catching up with him. No hummer could fly this fast. That was enough to make him lose speed, and then the hummer flew right alongside of him.
"What are you doing?" sang the red-breasted bird. "I thought you were dead."
The hummer mysteriously did not reply but just fixed him with a very chilling stare, like those stories of the evil snake dragons that grew out of holes in the ground. He loved listening to the endless ballads of old, sung by the Swampedge Tribe of Songbirds who still lived on the other side of the Hemlee Mountains. The bird was just about to sing out another question when the hummer opened his bill. What came out of that thin bill was more frightening than any of the scary stories he'd heard from those birds in the swamp far to the north.
Krona Copyright © 2008. Bent Lorentzen. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.
Bent Lorentzen was born in Roskilde, Denmark, ancient seat of the Danish Kingdom. He lived in Montreal for seven years, BS in biology, four years graduate education in cultural anthropology and neurobiology. He taught science at River School in Florida, was associate editor to North County News and book reviewer and photojournalist in both Denmark and USA. Bent is currently writing a syndicated column and three books.
Having written for several governments, including Denmark, Israel and the USA, Mr. Lorentzen has had his works translated into over thirteen languages. He has also studied journalism (Goddard College), photography (beginning in 1976 as an undergraduate with the Alice G. Wallace Planetarium and completing in 1998, photography certification in Copenhagen with Skolefoto Asb), and editing (Associate Editor for a newspaper syndicate and founder of the magazine, Many Leaves One Tree).
Additionally, much of Mr. Lorentzen's cultural journalism takes place through his unique ability to view and report elements of society from atop a bicycle. He has raced in Denmark and in America as a captain of a USCF cycling team, and has authored a three-year syndicated column on bicycling culture. He recently completed a 2500 kilometer bicycle ride along the mountains of eastern USA, in the dead of winter, for a book on American culture and on behalf of the mental health advocacy group, M-POWER.
Bent is available for speaking and promotional engagements worldwide.
More information on his writing can be found at his web site.
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