A piece of flashfiction I submitted originally to the Mythgard Institute’s “Almost an Inkling” writing contest using Week Two’s prompt: “Here Be Dragons”. It didn’t win, but I wanted to share it with you anyway because I had a ton of fun with it!
The Leaders, perched atop their chairs of bronze, tell us that humanity has never been greater than it is now, in this fifth age of knowledge which has eclipsed the darkness and uncertainty of what came before. As evidence they point to the eight mighty cities, gleaming bastions of civilization and culture. They gesture to the polished machinery and ab-tech that fills the wide streets of And and Then and far-flung So.
But the Leaders are wrong, deceived or deceiving. Our cities are symbols not of progress but stagnation; it is in ignorance that our imaginations flourish and humanity thrives. Before this expedition I scoured the dusty archives — shrines to a past the Leaders would rather we forget — and located the ancient maps and charts made when humans still had fire in them, and the will to discover. If I were to show them to a citizen of Then, one reared on Leaders’ maps which do not extend past the borders of the eight cities, they would scoff at the shaky inscriptions in the corners: Here be dragons! Such things have no place in their unrelentingly enlightened existence.
And so here I am past the edges of the Leaders’ world with Merv and Tiffany, the only two others whose curiosity has not been sapped by the crushing certainty of knowing everything. In the last few weeks, we have journeyed well beyond, relying on the fragile bundle of third- and fourth-age maps I salvaged from neglected shelves to guide us. It is hard because they are inconsistent — frequently disagreeing on the terrain and markers along the way — but nonetheless we have forged a path through wilderness and puzzling ruins of the past. What disaster befell them? We found a leveled city, covered in ash.
The only thing the maps have in common is the placement of that ominous inscription: Here be dragons! I am nervous, but not overly so — we came prepared for anything, and Tiffany brought a fearsome ab-tech weapon that roars and bucks with power. Merv has a spear which a piercing diamond tip saves from hopeless primitivity. I am the pathfinder and thus unarmed, but I have armor from a bygone era which promises protection.
As we near our goal, the ground begins to shake and shudder beneath our feet, and fierce animal cries rumble in the distance. I glance at Merv, and he shrugs uneasily but nods ahead. He is right — we need a discovery, proof of something enough to jolt the Leaders from their languish of centuries. The soil turns ashen and gray underfoot.
We push through the final copse of blackened trees ready to confront hideous beasts of scale and flame. The ground trembles violently; shadows of savage creatures in flight ripple across barren rock; deafening shrieks and roars engulf us, but we see nothing. The dragons are here to be found, but it is us who lack. With knowledge at our fingertips, we are blind to the wonders beyond.
Image copyright Sony 2015