There Be Dragons

A brief post on dragons in Sojourners in Shadow. Also on a few still talked about in legend.

Dragons came with the Shadow World. Arguably, they best represented it. While most monsters were strange, terrifying, unnatural, they were also mortal and flawed. Some could do magic, yes, but soon humans found that they could too.

Dragons were magic. They came in many shapes and sizes, they flew over continents with ease and made their nests wherever they chose. No one could contend with them. They tried, of course. Humans used science while hateful devil-beasts gathered and struck in numbers. It was all laughable. For one, magic did nothing to the dragons. It was like spitting at a rain storm. As previously stated, dragons were magic. It was their life, their blood and spirit, and they not only wielded it with ease but could do all manner of tremendous acts. Spells are needed by most magic-users, to focus the mind and summon the will along with what power someone possesses. Dragons breathed magic.

I should also take this moment to point out that dragons breathed fire too. Also, this was utterly incapable of harming them. It was their natural element, many would say. In fact, most would say dragons were just like fire – capable of giving, of life enhancing ability, and also highly destructive and tempestuous. Never piss of a dragon was an obvious general rule in the world while they reigned over it. Yet many suffered and never knew why.

Dragons left a century or so ago. They returned to the Shadow World, or at least that is the main claim. No one can say for sure. After all, the dragons didn’t explain themselves. The only person who may have an idea is Havoc, son of a dragon. Yet he is neither giving of information about his mother or her race, nor is he someone you can just stroll up to and bother with nosey questions. Much like a dragon, Havoc is known for letting an enemy live one moment and annihilating a settlement for disappointing him the next. Yet there is strong evidence that the dragons left of their own accord and went home. As previously stated (again), dragons were magic. They were huge flying beasts who spoke, could bless or curse others, and wipe out cities overnight to make a nest. They didn’t match anything this world contained, even after the Shadow World’s arrival. Not only that, but before they left, it had become noticeable that most dragons spent a lot of their time sleeping. In the early days they had soared through the skies, ravaged the land or etched their superiority upon humanity. Over time, they slowed down, then barely moved. Then they left.

A few quick details about the dragon race:

While they had their own names, they never shared them with non-dragons. They took the names of places they resided in or were associated with.

They tried to reproduce but never did. Havoc, of course, is something separate from that. There were never any new dragons. They seemed immortal and sterile. Another reason to leave.

While all were masters of fire, some also mastered other elements of nature.

They often chose islands and volcanoes to live on or in. They were also drawn to magical hot spots, for obvious reasons.

Dragons are very well remembered, also for obvious reasons. Because it has been a long time since they were around, the fear they easily conjured has lessened, as has any hatred. Even at the time, many lesser beings came to understand that the dragons never saw themselves or anything they did as either good or evil. They acted as they saw fit. They looked down on all other life. Impress them and you gained greatly. Annoy them and you were a memory within moments. While they caused many disasters, especially when they first arrived, rarely was it malevolent. People just got in their way. But they also did things to intimidate and conjure submission. Clearly some dragons enjoyed their role in the world’s hierarchy. But by now, people of all kinds speak of the awe inspiring beings, they tell tales of what they did and people enjoy listening, despite the horrors of those who had lived through those stories. People are glad the dragons are gone, many hope they never come back, but some do wonder if they could just see one again some day.

As for those remembered as individuals, here are a few famous ones:

Cornwall – Red. Male. Lived at the end of Cornwall, moved about to various posts along the coastline. Liked to watch the sea. Huge wing span. Would fly off to who knows where but always came back. At first had no time for humans, later taught them a bit, enjoyed the company of some. When he left our world, was sad to go.

Damascus – Green. Female. Devastated the city and curled up in the ashes. A long dragon. Later came to be a sleeper dragon and did not take kindly to the advances of the mutants. Warded them off. After that, they stayed away and she slept on until the dragons left.

Panama – unknown gender. Gold. Many think the reason the destruction of Central America didn’t reach Panama City is due to the dragon. Possibly even why things went weird. A nuclear attack versus a dragon’s magic, so close to a magical hotspot = a weird region to this day.

Gibraltar – Blue. Female. Had a mischievous nature, extorted ships coming in and out of the Mediterranean. Mostly playful, would scare those on ships rather than just attack and sink, but if any fought back she would destroy vessels and devour the survivors.

Hawaii – Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea – Two dragons who took up residence in volcanoes of Hawaii. One Black. One Silver. Genders assumed to be one male, one female. Romanticised story. Claim each dragon moved in, fought for dominance, then fell in love and became a couple. Their fighting terrified the people, but their relationship proved to be a blessing. There are other stories of them fighting a huge sea creature and controlling the weather.

That will do. I said the post would be brief. I should really learn to implement that word more honestly.

Yet this is just to give a flavour of what these beings were like, and how, despite their long absence, how their presence still lingers. People remember them changing their world. Literally.

Books From my Childhood

So recently I have been reading two books I came across when very young. The first, which I tore through in one afternoon last week, is Earth Invaded, a short, scifi novel. The second, of which I am nearing halfway, is the Doomfarers of Coramonde, a fantasy novel. The first was written by Nathan Elliott and is the first of the Hood’s Army trilogy, published in 1986. The second was written by Brain Daley and came out in 1977, with the Starfollowers of Coramonde coming out later. I have read all of those and hope to do so again.

It has been amazing to recapture the magic these books had for me and quite startling at how much they affected me. Despite being different genres, they follow the same basic concept – a good few versus a mighty enemy. A number of scenes and images have stuck with me all this time, some of which I had forgotten where they came from. Both have been easy reads because there are so many lines which I knew deep down.

To Earth Invaded first. As the title suggests, the Earth has been invaded by aliens, a warrior race of cold cruelty. Their technology is far superior and their soldiers and vehicles are protected by a golden energy glow. The year is 2052 and humanity has become peaceful and united after the Third World War’s end in 1999 (I do love reading of futuristic things in our past, don’t you?), so we’re getting spanked. We meet First Sergeant Hood and his comrade Corporal Will Redman as their unit is slaughtered amidst the wreckage of London. They flee and run into Marianne and her robot assistant AMOS (Automated Motive Operating System). Later they meet Big Mac and a number of battered survivors underground, along with the suspicious Adair.

If you’re feeling a twinge of recognition about the names, think Robin Hood. This story is a neat little twist of the Robin Hood tale, with aliens and a treacherous human governor. Oh, and get this – the way to defeat the aliens is to use projectile weapons because the golden shields deflect energy only, so guess what Hood uses? Yuppers. They run about with swords, bows and pikestaffs from a museum, if they later get hold of machine guns.

Another note is the cover. I like it, but it doesn’t reflect the content. Hood is 19, but looks over 30 on the cover. Marianne has long black hair but on the cover she is a redhead firing a laser gun (never happens). The K’Thraa (love the name) are described as slug-like but on the cover they look like, well, Rogue Trooper from the 2000AD comics.

It is odd but nothing new in publishing, let’s be honest.

So the story itself is quick, entertaining, a bit simplistic but a solid scifi adventure. The bickering between Will and AMOS is a little overdone as a comic relief support type-of-thing, but it is still amusing and probably somewhat fresh in 1986. The burning need for revenge is portrayed in capturing style. I did feel that this story is told very well in terms of pacing – you get the feel of a new world very quickly and also a good sense of characters without taking forever with descriptions. Images of huge spaceships descending to crush streets is such a stark picture due to its cutting simplicity.

Without spoiling anything, I will say Adair is the best character due to his mysterious past and eventual revelation. I liked him a lot and wish there was more of this story to develop all their characters. Still, it was a very good read, even now.

On to the Doomfarers. Told very differently, with much more description and slower language. But again, some great imagery and moments of action slapped into your face with a short sharp sentence. The telling of Duke Hightower falling to one knee, broken sword held out before him, was something I have never forgot. Other little sentences spring to my mind in completion as I read them – Andre slapping his sword at his side, dead bodies slain by sword and lance wounds, the fist raised in solidarity from the battered APC.

Wait, APC? Armoured Personnel Carrier?

The very same. This story has a neat little twist as well. Set in another world of magic and dragons, there is a man in it from our world. An American (but let’s not hold that against him, folks 😉 ) who invented a machine to travel across dimensions and has settled in Coramonde, helping the famous sorcerer, Andre deCourteney, and his sister, Gabrielle. They summon the APC and its crew from the Vietnam War to fight a dragon, sent against them by their enemy, Yardiff Bey.

The main character is Springbuck, however, and we start with him. He is prince and heir to the throne of Coramonde, except his stepmother seeks to put her own son there instead. Springbuck is ready to let him have it in fear for his life, but when he witnesses the death of Duke Hightower as the man speaks up for him, things change. He is meant for death but manages to escape, then reaches the only people who can stand up to his enemies. The wizard Yardiff Bey is behind what is going on at court, so they soon enter an alliance. Springbuck is an unlikely hero but we see him changing from self-doubting youth to warrior and leader. He is certainly a lead character to be cheering on.

As I said, I’m only halfway through this book, but I’m loving it. I wish I had bought it when young so I could have read it a few times by now, yet the impression it left on me has proven to be a lasting one. I know there are moments to come too. The siege and the futile charge, the fight between ogre and lizard, etc. There isn’t much humour to be found, but it certainly isn’t a grim tale only. When the other Americans arrive in their APC and the story’s perspective changes from Springbuck to Sergeant Gill MacDonald, we get to see the young prince for all his youthful exuberance and regal speech. The idea of a burly US soldier wearing a white gown and veils to lure a dragon in before lobbing phosphorous grenades at it has a humour all of its own too.

This story does remind me of the fantasy books by authors like David Gemmell and Stephen Lawhead and others. High fantasy, swords and sorcery, not afraid to describe actions or scenes in full so you can watch the world move along before you with liquid fluidity. Noble heroes, shady wizards, rough fighters, strong willed women – it’s all here. You can really feel it was written a while back, when you didn’t dumb the writing down (weapons of medieval times and the Vietnam War are described with military knowledge) and a fight scene was littered with thrusts and ripostes.

So far, so great.

I would recommend both books. Yes, Earth Invaded isn’t heavy on science and pretty straight forward, but it works and works well. Younger minds may absorb it more readily than aged readers. The Doomfarers is more solid high fantasy, with a journey into Hell thrown in for good measure, so if that’s your thing, get it.

Don’t let good books die off. These are certainly good books. I’m very happy I was able to buy them this time.

All thanks to my local library for containing these books back then, too. Where would my imagination be without all those stories I was able to grab, read and remember?
I shudder to think.