I wrote this story as an entry for Writeblr Summerfest’s short-story competition! The prompt was “Sharing Stories around a Campfire”. This story is an entry into the Real World Sequence: a science-fiction/magical realism anthology I’m developing to release in the future. The other stories in the Sequence are available on my mailing list, if you’re interested in reading more. I hope you enjoy this adventure!
Tonight, Notos and Boreas enjoyed the luxury of making camp on an asteroid with an atmosphere. They were halfway through a routine supply run to the opposite side of the ring, and they had made most of their stops on hunks of rock barely large enough to fit the two dragons and their riders. Boreas settled down, shaking the shrub-pines on their back, and stretched out with a sigh that ruffled their rider’s cloudy puff of hair. The old spacer never used a helmet. Their bond was so intertwined that they shared even their breath. Two minds, two bodies, one name, one spirit.
Notos was still growing used to that experience. They’d only bonded a few months ago, and while it surprised them how easily they’d slipped into sharing a soul, there was still an awareness, on the periphery, that rider and dragon were two separate beings, and not truly extensions of each other. When they watched Boreas, and their smooth—effortless, even—coordination that came with centuries of experience living as one another, Notos couldn’t help but be acutely conscious of their own clumsiness. How could it still be so disorienting to see out of someone else’s eyes, to feel each shudder of a step in your own bones, for the rider’s back to ache after a day of heavy flying though their dragon worked the wings?
No time to complain about the hard journey. It was only their first of many promising adventures, and what a blessing to be chosen to accompany one of the most accomplished Travellers of their tribe. They would prove themselves to be the best pupil the ancient being had ever seen.
In a matter of minutes, their human helped unload the sleeping bags and food supplies for dinner, then harvested firewood from the branches growing out of the dragon’s back. Soon enough, a soup was bubbling over their small blaze. With satisfied stomachs and smoldering coals, they settled down under the open sky for the nightly story time as Boreas began to slowly speak.
On the planet Sainha, enormous rivers cut apart the continents, emptying into freshwater seas. To survive, the people fish. Like all things, they must maintain a careful symbiosis, for if they take too many creatures from the rivers, soon they will empty of all life, and the endless rush of water will erode the earth itself. They taught their children from a young age to only take what they need from certain schools, and to always leave an offering of land-grown plants for the remaining members, as a thanks for fair trade.
In turn, the fish would not attack the humans unprovoked. Remember, these rivers are as great and wide and deep as a canal. Their denizens grow to fit their surroundings, and it is rare to find a specimen any smaller than a child. Eels the length of a barge. Sturgeon the size of sea dragons. Catfish with barbs as thick as your arm. Schools of dozens of sharp-toothed things patrolling the currents. If they wished to feast on human flesh, it was a small matter to snap one from shore and drag them under the choppy waters.
Once, there was a fisherman who allowed his soul to be seized with pride. Thinking himself above the creatures, and above his fellow men, he set out to attain a prize to prove he was the greatest fisherman of them all. His friends asked, “what makes you the best?”
He answered, “I can catch the largest fish!”
They asked, “What good is a larger fish if it capsizes your boat and you cannot reach shore?”
He answered, “I can catch the rarest fish!”
They asked, “What good is a rare fish, when you can take food from a large school that will not miss a single member?”
He answered, “I can catch the most fish at once.”
They asked, “What good is a large catch, when the river is so full and you can find food so fresh?”
He answered, “I can catch the most dangerous fish.”
They asked, “Why risk your life when there are others that take easy bait?”
He could not answer their queries, and this infuriated him. He stomped away, simply shouting, “you’ll see,” before taking his tools and boat and set out into the most remote cove, where even elder fishers dared not venture. He furnished his net with hooks, not simply one sharp line, but a mesh of barbs, meant to maim and capture all that it encountered. He held it in a white knuckled grasp as he threw it over the side and waited.
In an instant, the force of a creature impaling itself nearly jerked it from his hands. Another hit, then another, as a school caught itself in his trap. Despite the wounds, they could still swim. With a mighty jerk, they dragged him from the boat and into the water, where he became the bait for more of the creatures, hungry for human meat as they hungered for his flesh. The vicious cycle of capture and consumption continued, until the man was only a skeleton, and the fish were only shreds.
When he did not return, the townsfolk worried, and set out on expeditions, but they could not find his body. They went to the temple and asked their god to find their foolish friend. The god asked the fish near shore, who told of the great battle that raged that day, and the god understood exactly what they meant. He traveled to the cove, and cast a net of woven moonlight to pull the skeletons from the water, murky with the spilled blood. The god placed the cycle in the sky as a warning and a memorial. To this day, the people of Sainha look at their constellations and describe it as a sea of savage stars.”
With that, Boreas extinguished the fire. Notos looked to the sky, letting their eyes adjust to the lack of light from the campfire. The dilation happened almost instantly, as if on command from their dragon’s physiology. Their rider felt their attention drawn by their dragon’s sense of direction and both looked into the depths of space. Delicate white lines formed in their vision, connecting distant solar systems into constellations, and outlining the skeletons of the doomed creatures.
“We must be careful flying through their battle tomorrow. It still rages in its new form,” Boreas said solemnly. “Now get some rest. You’ll need it.”
Thank you for reading! Next week I’ll be sharing my monthly goals update, so be sure to check back for that, or to leave a writing prompt in the comments. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
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