For the dragon known as Stawk, it began with the dreams.
He normally slept well, soundly even, but he’d been having issues of late. It wasn’t that he couldn’t get to sleep, but that he was trying to escape it.
Slumber usually came easy; it generally always had. He was used to having a long day out maintaining his crops, plowing and tilling before ending things with a well-deserved meal and falling into his bed as if he’d been pushed. He enjoyed that kind of night’s rest, where he was so exhausted that he dropped into dreamland like a rock plummeting from a mountain, bringing forth a calm and general reset. The following day, he’d wake and find even the mundane tasks ahead of him refreshing and newly worth the effort. It was one of the distinct pleasures he had in life, and though he was young, a good night’s rest always made him feel older and wiser.
Stawk was the quiet sort, though at least part of his solitude was his own doing. He felt uncomfortable in crowds, which to him often meant gatherings that included anyone besides himself. He wasn’t good at creating bonds with others, or perhaps just lacked the motivation and confidence. After all, he’d never been asked to be involved in social events or even talked to unless his services were needed, and didn’t see the benefit in being proactively outgoing. He sometimes watched while those around him hooted and tarried about, neglecting responsibilities as if free from all concern, and wondered how they accomplished such things. Who did they depend on? He'd come into the world just like them- alone, frightened, confused, and everything was a mystery. He’d had to eat and found a way. He required shelter, and again endured by depending on himself, but it never came easy. He embraced the land and it embraced him back, but he encountered many whose lives seemed devoid of struggle. Not only that, but several dragons he knew had started developing different traits that had yet to manifest in him- characteristics almost unnatural. His focus had been on survival, so how was it that some, apparently unburdened by such facets of reality, had gained abilities he had not? He’d witnessed a dragon his age actually breathe fire, blowing onto a weed and dousing it in heated orange spittle. He couldn’t do that. Another, they could fade into the background, mirroring the colors around them- what was that all about? His closest neighbor could summon creatures from the sea, and another was able to manifest globules from the spots on their scales that would rise and burst, creating enough light to mimic the stars and moon above. It seemed incredibly unfair.
What he did know was how to till the land and harvest crops, and others came to him for his expertise on such subjects. They seemed to appreciate those talents nearly as much as he envied theirs, though it didn’t make him feel better. They visited when things were needed but didn’t invite him to join and meet their friends afterward, cooking together, laughing, and carrying on. Despite telling himself such prospects didn’t interest him anyway, he wasn’t entirely sure it was the whole truth. He tried holding firm to the notion that everything would be okay, that he had only to wait, and took solace in that idea. His time would come.
Things took a turn when even the respite slumber gave him became a disconcerting event.
While they started out rather spectacular, the dreams became as equally frightening as they were incredible. He was floating just outside a tremendous, swirling cloud, and could move only slightly in any given direction. Every time he tried to get closer to the ball of mist itself, it remained just out of reach, though oddly enough, it felt as if he were also within it at the same time, looking out. He wasn’t sure if he was trying to escape or remain inside, get to it, or avoid it, but it made up everything around him and seemed of a different space and time entirely. It made absolutely no sense, though was perfectly logical in its illogical nature as he slept.
It was pleasant at first, hovering about, marveling at the depth and majesty that surrounded him. After a few nights of the reoccurring imagery, Stawk began to see other movements in the cloud that didn’t seem as fluid, as if there were other creatures inside the walls of the fog. Distinct shapes emerged as he peered closer, swimming and drifting in a manner similar to his, as if they too were trying to enter and get out simultaneously. The further he concentrated, a noticeable sound could be heard echoing throughout, one that grew into a discernable tempo as it increased in volume over time. It resembled not so much a chaotic chattering as it did a melodic tune, emitted from the other individuals the cloud contained. The noise wasn’t vocal, seeming to come from their physical movements, as if all were participating in some type of organic, audible cadence. Whether purposeful or not, the result was a slow rhythm that sounded almost coordinated.
The visions became more intense as time passed, and Stawk wasn’t sure what to make of them. During the day, they beckoned in his head, calling him to return to bed. As he worked the land, he became tired quicker, and a general weariness settled upon him that was unnatural. That thing and the dream ballad it contained wanted him back. Each evening, the song grew in intensity and the cloud swirled faster, demanding he remain a part, and he felt as if the other members it contained were in similar scenarios. It wanted something but he wasn’t sure what, and didn’t know if it was a positive or negative wish.
After several weeks, Stawk began to do everything he could to stay awake. The dream’s constant need for his attention was overwhelming, and despite near exhaustion, he continued to work as much as possible. His makeshift farm required his concentration daily, as always, but he’d spend the nights staring out at the glow from the nearby land of Eldur to avoid closing his eyes. Lava flowed through the entire area like a nightlight, and while he’d often used its radiance to lull him into slumber, he tried focusing on it. He squinted to follow how the tides of magma gushed forward, even though he was some distance away, studying how it pulsed against the mountains around it. He concentrated on its orange hue like a heartbeat, counting and measuring the discrepancies. All the while, the ballad in his head continued to call, drawing him to something he knew could be amazing, but then also may be his downfall.
Eventually, the dream waited no longer and decided to come to him instead.
It manifested itself in the form of a storm. A great, purple set of tumbling clouds crept over the mountains with more intention than he had ever witnessed in previous weather patterns. It was alive with raging, violet lightning, and Stawk knew it was coming for him. He’d somehow felt it forming and recognized there would be no escaping it; that mighty thing had been neglected and was choosing a more aggressive approach. A rampaging idea in the shape of a hurricane had its sights set on him, singing as it crept over the hills in his direction. As he watched the swirling behemoth slink like a moving blanket towards his little farm, he heard the song within it and a voice in his head speaking to him alone.
Get along, little doggie, it said, though Stawk knew not what that meant. Get along.