Story by: Julius Eddy Kong
To the southeast of the Praelis continent lies a conglomerate of islands collectively called Olous. A tiny nation with no natural resources at their disposal. Yet, what they call ‘technology' was so advanced, that despite not being able to use magic, they were able to harness a different kind of energy. As a result, the citizens of Olous enjoyed a quality of life equal to that offered by magic to other nations.
gryphons to carry citizens across lands, while Olous makes use of wingless
metal bodies large enough to carry an entire neighbourhood, that levitate for
hours on end. Tauris relies on speedy harpies to relay messages, but Olousians
need only press a few buttons on a device to transmit their voices in a matter
of seconds. The werebeasts of Tir na Nog sleep under leaking wooden roofs, while
the citizens of Olous regulate the temperature in their rooms according to
their liking. Other nations may prostrate before statues for rain, but Olousian
farmers are freed from the rain cycle.
All this was made possible by a single man: the Rune Lord, Linx.
The Dragolord made Olous his headquarters, or to be exact, the ocean surrounding Olous, for he resides not in Olous itself, but in a mobile underwater fortress, Minerva. But one of the islands of Olous belongs to the Dragolord in its entirety. To Olous, it was a cheap payment for the numerous inventions of the Dragolord. To Linx, it was a place for his machines to build and assemble his machine troops.
Citizens of Olous hardly ever catch a glimpse of their lord. He was a reclusive man, known for his extreme dislike of social interaction. He lived almost exclusively inside his fortress, and on his private island. No one knows how Minerva looks like, and some even doubt its existence; after all, it is impossible to stay underwater for more than a few minutes, they say. The more adventurous ones have attempted to claim the fame for locating Minerva, but none succeeded so far. Their breath was simply not sufficient to reach the depths of the ocean.
In the oceans far to the south of Olous, lies a place called Frozen Sea. Tales brought back to shore by pirates and sailors alike were the same. It was as if the ocean was split in two, with noble blue waters on one side, and a heartless plains of white on the other. Those who disembarked to explore the Frozen Sea would forever be preserved. The more cautious ones lost their fingers and feet, and their appetite for adventure.
Linx had his head bent over his desk, his optical eye magnifying the blueprint he was studying three times. On the parchment was what seemed to be a detailed drawing of a giant octopus, except it was more angular, with steel for skin and blades for teeth. A chambermaid rapped on his door and pushed the door abruptly, just in time to catch her master jumping out of his seat.
“Sorry, master,” she said immediately.
“How many times must I tell you to knock softly?” said Linx, turning over his shoulder. “Do that again, and you—”
“Come at once, master,” said The Keeper. “You will want to see this.”
This was the second time The Keeper interrupted him. The first time she did, Konus was on a rampage and had destroyed three of his facilities. Linx eased his face, grabbed his rod and left with The Keeper without saying another word.
The moment Linx stepped out of his underground lab and into the heart of his military base, he heard a piercing screech. He could not identify it immediately, but knew it had to come from a very large, very angry bird. Perhaps a basilisk? A wyvern?
Something did not sit right in his mind, and Linx walked faster, falling into a gait halfway between a jog and a walk. What was it that his unconscious mind had realized that his conscious mind had not yet quite caught up with? What was it? He knew not the reason except that a feeling of unease had wormed up to him, whispering in his ears. When he reached the exit, snow was falling, and his entire headquarters was covered in white.
“Tell me, was it not spring when I entered my lab yesterday?” said Linx, hypnotized. Not by the snow, but by the apparent lack of logic in what he was witnessing.
“It was, Master.”
Linx reached out a hand to catch a falling snowflake, and it melted in his palm. At the end of his outstretched fingers was a lean, blue dragon, perched on top his communications tower. It was smaller in figure than others he had come across. The dragon was very still, and Linx let himself wonder for a moment if it was a statue that had been erected without his knowledge.
Linx's right eye zoomed in eight times and surveyed the blue dragon. It was not as still as he had thought. It moved its head left to right, slowly, as if it was looking for something. When the dragon turned its head towards Linx’s direction, it stopped moving.
Linx had an unsettling feeling that the elder dragon had found what it was looking for.
Linx was a scientist at heart, a man in pursuit of truth and knowledge. He was an immensely curious being, and had delved into many branches of science. One such branch was zoology. Linx saw Nature as a scientist, not unlike himself, and that this planet was its playground. Over the span of numerous eons, Nature conducts what are essentially experiments in a quest to create the best survivor. Its most successful creation to date was consciousness. Any being with a rational mind is given the ability to do what Nature does: innovate!
The Rune Lord believes he was a better scientist than Nature. His obsession with creating both living and non-living beings was his challenge against Nature; that he could outdo Nature at its own game.
Today, Nature presented its best killing machine.
Yet, the frenzied zoologist had never heard of this icy-blue dragon. What breed was it? Where did it come from? Where had it made its lair? How did it evolve, and from which species? A direct descendant of the First Dragon, perhaps? If so, the lack of any sense in the ice dragon's existence would somehow make sense. Enough! All these deductions and investigations could be derived when the dragon was in his possession. He could study it for as long as he want; after all, Project C.R.I was nearing its final stages.
“The Keeper,” said Linx, without taking his eye off the dragon. “Have Researcher find out more about this dragon.”
His rival has picked her representative. Now it's time he picked his.
A battle between evolution and invention.
He dialed a few buttons on his wrist device. At the side of the open ocean, splashing sounds could be heard, and after a while, two dragon heads emerged from the waters. The two heads shared a single body. A hydra. But where the scales should be, there were steel plates instead. Where the eyes should be, there were windows instead. And where there was supposed to be life, there were only gears. Even with half its body submerged, it was more than three times larger than the hangars.
This was the Dragolord's representative: a clockwork hydra. The two-headed machine peered around curiously in the waters, on standby.
His inventions have minds of their own, always updated with the latest combat framework that he had personally programmed. All he needed to do was relay the target to his machine via his optical eye. And once that was done, it turned its heads toward the enemy. One head reared up, and from its mouth shot out a firebolt.
The dragon took to the air, evading the fireball, and hovered a few metres above the hydra. The other head snapped at the dragon, but caught nothing. The aerial predator let out a stream of breath towards the hydra heads. The hydra that had just been thrashing around and swinging its head left and right, began to slow. It was getting frozen, and finding it harder to move.
Linx realized the flaw in his framework and made a mental note, which was immediately saved to another device. For now, he acknowledged that this foe was not like any foe.
"The Keeper," said Linx. "I'm going in.""Acknow--"
His vision changed. He was no longer looking at the battle beside his homunculus. He was in the ocean, and the hangars looked like miniature models. Immediately, he let out two jets of fire. The necks were rigid and could hardly direct the shots at the dragon, but they served their purpose. The heat generated by the fire breath thawed the ice that had begun to form in the ridges between the hydra's metallic scales. A few seconds later, his hydra regained its natural fluidity.
The dragon of cold death stopped its frozen breath and flew higher. For a moment, it seemed to do nothing. Then Linx saw it. Shards of ice were materializing in the vicinity of the dragon.
The scientist in him could not help but marvel at the process. Lazy minds would chalk this up as simply magic, brought about by the powers of a dragon. But not him. Everything can be explained by science – for is not magic simply science that has yet to be understood?
He had half a mind to let the dragon have its way. To observe how large the ice shards can grow, how they would indubitably dart towards him, and the damage it could cause to his hydra's armor. But too much was at stake. Another time, perhaps.
He dived underwater. Shortly, shards of ice began hurtling through the water. Even at five hundred meters deep, the shards of ice shot at him with high velocity. One of them struck the hydra's claws, taking two talons off, and sinking into the deep sea.
Rising to fifty meters underwater, Linx circled to the dragon’s back. But he found himself stuck in short order, unable to propel forward. Feeling a force tugging from behind, Linx realized he was pulled by the dragon's powerful grip. He turned and thrashed around wildly, setting the hydra’s propellers to maximum output, but his gears were no match for the dragon’s wings. With a few more flaps of its giant wings, the dragon dragged the hydra out of the water and tossed it onto land, crashing into and demolishing one of the hangars. Out of water, the hydra's webbed feet and fins were clumsy, like a newborn calf standing for the first time. Linx cursed at himself for not accounting for this possibility. A fatal mistake.
In his desperation, he took his eyes off the air, and more crystal shards darted towards him. Unable to maneuver freely, the shards found its massive target easily. Holes bore through the hydra. Its horns were chipped off. One of its heads dangled by its side, its innards of wires and gears exposed for the world to see. This sham of a dragon.
The icy dragon wasted no time. It swooped down and snapped at the hydra's half-severed neck. The hydra's head crashed to the ground. Unlike the stories he heard as a child, the mechanical hydra did not sprout more heads.
The ice dragon was unrelenting. And as if it was mocking him, the elder dragon of bitter cold was freezing the hydra with its breath.
Linx attempted to reverse the process again with the hydra's own breath, but it was much too slow. Driven to frustration, he swung the hydra's head about furiously, snapping at the dragon. Its iron teeth scraped the dragon’s tail.
But that was all he managed before its head was locked in place by ice. The ice dragon swiped at the hydra's frozen neck, and dislodged it.
The last of the hydra's heads had fallen.
Linx found himself evicted from the hydra, beside The Keeper again, and in time to see his hydra's chassis crashing to the ground and rolling into the ocean with a huge splash.
What was left of his innovation was the two heads lying in the middle of his barrack grounds. The Dragolord's shame in full display.
The blue dragon then left as mysteriously as it had appeared. Though, Linx felt that there was something odd about the dragon, as if it had a sense of purpose in its behavior. But that was a thought for another day. Linx walked towards what remained of the hydra.
The battle between evolution and invention was over. The new had lost to the old... Lost, lost, lost! Lost to a primitive beast! Lost to a beast millennia old! State-of-the-art invention bested by a prehistorical brute! How can a machine that takes on the merits of a biological dragon, upgraded by science be conquered by an antique? Has the chain of evolution stopped with the dragons? Will he -- he, the greatest mind to ever live, never design a being greater than a dragon? Impossible! The wave of progress never recedes. It made no sense! No sense at all!
... Yet, he had lost. It only stands to reason that it does make sense. Linx knelt down beside the hydra's head, surveying the damage. He noticed something inside its mouth. A dragon scale. He turned it over and over in his hands.
“Master,” said The Keeper. “The Researcher has answers.”
Linx made no movements.
“We have sufficient reasons to believe it was UIrisc,” said The Keeper. "The Lord of the Glacier.”
tightened the dragon’s scale in his palms. A smile appeared on his face.
The wave of progress never recedes...
illust: Yigit Koroglu/Artomica Studio/NAKAGAWA/Agri Karuniawan/Boris Nikolic/EmVariety
illust: Yigit Koroglu/Artomica Studio/NAKAGAWA/Agri Karuniawan/Boris Nikolic/EmVariety