This story was originally published in Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond
I see our great empire has retracted to squabbled chaos, retreated behind fortified walls, and abandoned me to my great chase. Yet I still pursue the dragon with a passion that amazes me. As a magician, I was branded to hunt her through ancient, worn-down cities, without ever sleeping.
All the hospitality has gone out of Perd; the ancient magician’s city has faded to a resting place for weary warriors and monks. I pass an ancient portrait of the restricted God Ka, with smears of dried grease atop the canvas; I see the remains of a torched Inn, its burnt wood smeared with the blood of the empire’s enemies. Once locked inside with the fire, their charred remains now traced the ancient archaic symbols they died to protect. Even the magician’s schools near the mountains have been converted to forts towering over the snowed city, poised ready to turn against their own people. The children point to me, spot my dirtied cloak and empty eyes; they know I am among the last generation of magicians, we spell-casters who the empire once branded as heretics. The children take no time from me, for they must also know who I am hunting: a dragon, that last visible ghost to an empire already crumbling.
My spell of direction has picked up the beast’s scent, and the children follow my furred boot-heels to the city gate, but they cannot go any further, for they, like myself, are prisoners of their own imperium. I am not yet asleep, and I have nowhere else, so I follow the dragon’s diminishing cry.
The petrifying wind of the north stanches my thirst, numbs my skin, and freezes the grip upon my staff. The spell of direction leads me outside the imperium, towards untouched primitive land hemmed in by frozen cliffs scrawled with dragon’s claws. The dragon knows I am behind her; her trail takes me on a mystic eddying ride down steep cliffs and frozen ice. I will follow her anywhere, even after my spells have drained. To death, to the greatest reach unmapped.
I pass the imperium’s last archway, chewing on clumps of oats and walnuts. With my death, all magicians will finally fade into memories of pleasing songs, ritual dances, and parades, where our descendants will be held up, weak and sputtering, for the crowd’s gaze. The empire could never dwindle our numbers by attacking us directly. No greater hatred could they exploit than that between magicians and dragons, for that ancient war brought purpose to our schools, gave us an identity beyond that of heretics. We felt useful, locked in a war with a radical, beastly enemy. The war between us, a war the empire had begun, would be our end.
Bereft of the spell of warmth, I continue into the grey, cloud-speckled sunlight onto the flatness of frozen ice, a still lake bordered by hardened seaweed. Standing under that heavy sky upon the remains of a vast, dim moor, I see the shadowy figure of that wild dragon Evald, the last wild dragon, her rugged skin so unlike her domestic brethren who play fire tricks behind iron bars. Her wings shine in the grey sunlight like a crescent moon; her nose expels a deep bright orange flame. Cornered in the harsh tundra, she seeks to frighten me away, the last primitive impulses of her life now caught in a rabid dance of flame, smoke and ice. I cast a multiplicity illusion so that I appear as a hundred rather than as one, and she takes aim at my copies, crushing them in the fierce fireballs that split open the frozen ice. Then she aims at nothing, her crazed dance now a spinning, fire-spitting pirouette, and below that chaos I hear the crazed near-death laughter of the wise beast, and following her, the fuzzed traces of my own incantations, ice spells, and weather alterations that bring lightning to strike her wings. She is battered across the frozen lake, her escape put to rest by the bright fogged cold, her tattered body too numbed for chasing.
With Evald’s passing, I am left alone, waning across the crunched cracks of snow, stepping languorously across a spacious sky, the cold sometimes slowing my breath, sometimes shocking me into a fearful, flailing sorrow. With nothing left for me in the imperium, I march northward, through the foggy ruins and silver-imprinted runes of an even more ancient civilization: the Tydes, the legendary high-elves who we magicians once expelled from our own dominion. The Song of Wharre tells of the Tyde necromancers from the north with strange powers over the minds of men, powers of possession and resurrection, powers we could not understand nor hope to master. In one generation of war, we magicians wiped them out, with not even a single surviving elven child who we could ask repentance from. I join them now in their frozen heaths and haunted tombs, with my boots on death’s step, far from the imperium’s reach.
The ruins are frozen over, inhabited only by smog and mist, a circus’ silhouette, where no voice can remind us how it once was and who it was for. In a frozen caved-in Tyde dwelling I sit and let my breath sink beneath the snow. With my magic drained, my staff can no longer emit light, yet the glow of that stark diamond sky brings me familiar, mindful offerings.