Tunnels and Dragons Part 1

Prompt: One day, while messing with the books on your bookshelf, you discover a mysterious passage behind it. There is just one problem, you live in a small apartment and behind that wall is supposed to be the outside world.

Sariya could never remember the mix of books she pulled out of the shelf, or in what order to create the arched, torchlit passageway in what should have been the wall facing the garden in her upper ground floor flat. Fact was, it was there, and the bookshelf wasn’t, so there was no putting things back.

She figured the best option was to check it now, so that anything that might decide to creep into her living room that night was pre-emptively dealt with.

Equipped with a large, heavy frying pan (she’d paid attention during Tangled) and the bread knife wrapped in a tea towel, then tucked awkwardly through her belt, secured by a couple of hair elastics, she grabbed her glowing bag of battery-powered Christmas lights, in case those torches decided to flake out on her and stepped through the door.

Only to step back immediately, kicking herself for only just remembering another old story, myth rather than fairy tale this time. What if she was going into a labyrinth? She unearthed her ‘experiments only’ ball of wool from her knitting bag and knotted one end of it around the leg of the coffee table.

And now she was actively juggling things. This is what came of not planning properly.

Ten minutes later, Sariya was back at the entrance to the tunnel, wearing jeans, sneakers, long-sleeved top and a cap. Her backpack was loaded with warmer clothes, two changes of underwear, water and energy bars, plus two extra balls of wool and a sarong (it took up less room than a towel and she’d read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). The frying pan and knife were secured to the outside of the bag and she’d practiced drawing both of them quickly.

The Christmas lights had gone into the bag and the miniature LED torch on her keyring was in her front pocket. The only thing in her hands was the ball of wool. At the last minute, the mobile went in as well – she doubted there was signal but the camera option might be useful.

Feeling over-equipped and slightly ridiculous, she again entered the passage.

Relieved the entrance didn’t immediately and dramatically close behind her, she set off into the dim distance.

The passage wound gently but didn’t appear to have any branching corridors, at least not yet. The air was dry and seemed fresh, so it should come out somewhere, the question was where and how far away it was. Maybe putting the timer on the phone, or at least checking the time when she set out would have been good. She can’t have been walking more than about ten minutes though, so may as well start now.

The glare of the phone screen bounced off the ceiling of the tunnel and disturbed something clinging there. Sariya found herself trying to flick a lizard not much shorter than her forearm off her head – thank goodness for the cap!

She knocked her cap off in her flailing and turned her torch on the ground to try and retrieve it from under the lizard. She froze. That didn’t look like any type of lizard she’d seen before. While it was certainly a reptile with four legs, she’d never before seen one with wings. It unhooked itself from her cap, then trod it down and curled up on it, giving her a decidedly miffed look in the process.

“What on earth?! I have to be hallucinating. A mini dragon?”

“Why is that surprising?”

Saryia’s back hit the wall, then slid down it. “Okay, there must be some weird gas in there or something, I’m hearing things as well as seeing them.”

“I’m not a ‘thing’, I’m a rare and beautiful miniature gemscale.”

She took a swig of water, mopped some more across her eyes and hoped things would revert to sensible.

Nope, still a talking, winged lizard sitting on her cap. It was right about one thing though, it was beautiful, with scales that shimmered through the colours of a tropical dawn.

“Um, well, do you have a name I can call you or something?”

The dragon eyed her quizzically, “Isn’t that supposed to be your job?”

“What? Why? I don’t know! Dragons don’t exist where I come from, they’re just in fantasy stories.”

“This sounds like a very strange and silly place – how can you not have dragons? I should visit and show your kings the error of their ways.”

“We’re not all that big on kings to be honest, or queens. I mean there are still a few around but they’re mostly constitutional and don’t get involved in actually running anything other than charities. The place is run by governments and businesses.”

“Dear me, you must be glad to have escaped.”

“I’m pretty sure the entrance is still open, at least I hope it is, I have to go to work on Monday.”

The dragon shifted on the cap, then stood up and walked across to where Sariya was slumped on the floor.

“And what do you do for work? Are you a mage? A witch? A warrior? An artisan?”

“Um, I guess an artisan? I build AI chatbots. I’m not quite sure how to describe them to you”

“I’m picking up the general idea from your thoughts, so we’ll just leave it at that – the world you live in is very different to this one.”

“You’re reading my mind?”

“No, we’re mind chatting, I was wondering why you were bothering to speak your responses, is this not a common thing?”

“It’s non-existent where I come from.”

“So strange. So, you need to make a decision, are we going forward, or going back?”

“We?”

“Of course, you interest me, I want to find out more about how you react to things and the strange things you know. The question is whether I accompany you further into the fortress or back to your world.”

“I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to come to my world, I’m not sure what people might do! We don’t have dragons and I can’t guarantee that people will react nicely. In fact I’m pretty sure some will want to either kill you or lock you up and study you.”

“Well in that case, forward it is.”

Sairya eyed the dragon worriedly but got up and dusted herself off. She jumped when the dragon took off towards her, and tensed when it landed on her shoulder, climbing around her like a scaly cat until it was comfortably draped around her neck.

“Don’t forget your strange headgear, and that you’re supposed to be giving me a name.”

“Oh, yes”, she bent awkwardly and retrieved her cap, stuffing it in a pocket of her jeans, “So is there any protocol on this naming thing or do I just throw ideas at you until you like one?”

“The usual way is to open your mind to me and understand my essence, to then inspire your naming.”

“Except I clearly don’t know how to do that, is it easy to learn or do we just chat about you for a bit?”

“Start walking and just clear your mind. Don’t worry about danger, I’m far and away the most dangerous thing in here and can keep you completely safe. You just need to wander, relax and let your mind do the same.”

Sariya started walking and relaxed into a moving meditation of sorts.

Her mind began to fill with strange sights, smells, sounds and a new way of looking at the world. Flight really was a whole different dimension, and this world was a very different place from the one she knew. She put the worry aside and focused on the feelings and impressions she was receiving from her new companion.

The passage continued, starting to slope upwards.

After some time and a fair bit of distance, Sariya stopped.

“I think I need to start talking through how I relate to the things you’re showing me. They might give you an idea for a name you like although some of the terms are rather specific to my home world.”

“Your ability to fly, and see the world from a new perspective and move through it in a way I can never manage is what really grabbed me. With your beautiful colours, you’re like a bubble, but an indestructible one, which is a bit of a contradiction in terms. Your strength and speed through the air, plus the amazing images you gave me reminded me of a drone – they’re sort of flying robots, that can record and transmit images, but can also be used for destruction. And your agility made me think of dancing butterflies, although, again, they’re fair more fragile than you.”

“I know of bubbles and butterflies, but these drones you describe, I can see them as you think about them. These are intriguing. They gift beauty, but can also rain terror. I like it, I believe my name is drone.”

Sariya wasn’t sure whether to amused or horrified. This beautiful, magical little creature, being named after a mindless worker, it felt wrong. Yet the dragon liked the name. She looked for a way to modify it, to bring it more in line with the determined individuality at the core of the creature draped across her shoulders.

“I think Drone is a little simplistic. It needs something more, to describe your independent nature and way of being in the world. Drones are supposedly copies of each other, while you’re unique.”

“Well there are no other Drones in this world, so I am unique in that sense, but if you find another name you’d like to add, I’m not adverse to considering it.”

Sariya thought hard. This was no fun without other people to bounce ideas off and with something as important as a name at stake.

Then she laughed, it wasn’t pretty or graceful, but it was a perfect contradiction in terms for the being currently turning her life upside down.

“Maverick! It means you go your own way, do your own thing. In a lot of ways the opposite of the original meaning of a drone, and I could call you Mav for short, which I think is very cool.”

The dragon considered it.

“Is it Drone Maverick or Maverick Drone? I think I prefer the former.”

“It doesn’t really matter, whichever you like better, it’s your name after all. What do you think of Mav though? Drone Maverick is a bit of a mouthful if we’re in a hurry.”

“Oh yes, I like it. Much better than the names my siblings have been saddled with – Jewel Sparkle, Glint, Rainbow Wings and Flutter Prettyby. They’re going to be so jealous!”

“How on EARTH did they end up with those names? I thought you said it was about examining your essence?”

“It’s supposed to be, but my siblings have all been named by frilly girls who can’t see past themselves. Except Glint. Glint’s namer is more interesting, but a little too unsure of herself to pull the best names out. Our exit is around the next turn by the way, make sure you shield your eyes after so long in the dark.”

Sariya did as Mav suggested, momentarily distracted from the strange naming setup just described.

She paused just inside the doorway to let her eyes fully adjust. She had no interest in being blinded, however temporarily, while stepping into a new and possibly unfriendly world.

When she couldn’t stall any longer, she took a deep breath, squared her dragon-laden shoulders and stepped out of the doorway, straight into a familiar chest, one she’d already bumped into twice this week.

Not overly fussed with the way this one’s going, I’ve got a bit more to add next week but that will likely be it.

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