#2 Co-Writing with NovelAI: Amuin and the Dragon Kingdoms

#2 Co-Writing with NovelAI: Amuin and the Dragon Kingdoms
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Okay, so I think I might actually really like NovelAI?

They pump their wings, gaining height, and suddenly they hit an updraft of warm air. They stretch their wings wide and glide over and beyond the lake, farther than they’ve ever been. They shudder with the thrill of it. And then they are falling. The air rushes past them, and Amuin tries to flap their wings but they can’t seem to gain any lift at all.

The ground is rushing up to meet them; a copse of trees and thick brambles. If they strike any of it, their feathers will be shredded, or worse. Screeching from the effort of it, they continue to pump their wings, trying to keep calm. Their body is heavier than it has ever felt before. Then, all at once, the air catches and lifts; their fall becomes an arc upwards, their wingbeats smooth and effortless. They fly off into distance.

Before long, the landscape changes again: rocky hillsides and dry brown valleys with clumps of greenery that might become fields later in the year. Amuin feels more confident now; they know what to do. Even though their gizzard is still full of sunlight, they feel ready for anything now.

“That was good,” Amuin tells themselves, and then it is time to find the next adventure. They will fly on, far away from everything they know, until there are no other stories left. That’s when they’ll come home.

Amuin flies on, beyond the brown valleys and past glittering lakes that lie between. The sun begins to sink, and Amuin is all too aware that the sunlight stored in their gizzard will soon have to last them the whole night. Their parents had warned them of the dangers of flying through the night.

They see lights in the distance; twinkling like stars and vari-coloured. They land on a hill and get a closer look. In the plains below is some kind of village with many fires lit, torches stuck into wooden posts, fox people running back and forth from one fire to another. The fires are clearly the source of the light; as Amuin watches, people do something to each fire and they blaze a new colour: blue, pink, gold. Their ears twitch at the distant sounds of singing and cheering.

It looks exciting, so Amuin takes off one last time, gliding down to land just outside the village. They trot inside; they quickly realise they are much larger than the people here, who would barely come up to their shoulder, though many of them seem to be adults. People stop in their tracks to stare up at Amuin; it makes them nervous but they can’t help looking around curiously.

The word ‘dragon’ passes around the crowd. It is not in the language Amuin was raised on, but they instinctually understand it. Fox people press in around them, some touching Amuin’s wings or tail. Amuin twitches away from their touch, suddenly shy.

A person with pale fur and a large crown of brambles and flowers approaches them. “Hello,” he says in the language that Amuin understands. He bows to Amuin, and the crowd pressing in around Amuin suddenly steps back to give them space.

“Hi.” Amuin replies tentatively.

“What brings you to our village?” the man asks.

Amuin shifts nervously. “I’ve never seen a village before,” they say. They are self-conscious that while the fox man’s voice is a pleasant tenor, their voice is shrill and bird-like. It had never seemed out-of-place among their family, but here they worried it was abrasive. “I came to see the coloured lights.”

“Our festival!” the man says excitedly. “You are most welcome, dragon friend.”

The people in front of Amuin part to make way for a man with bright orange fur. He holds up one hand with an ornate metal ring on it, then points to Amuin.

The crowd around them begins to cheer and clap. The orange fox man waves his hands above his head, then touches his face. His eyes glisten. He looks at Amuin.

“We have heard stories about dragons,” the orange fox man says in a deep voice.

Something about the man’s intensity makes Amuin uneasy, but they are eager to make friends here. “My name is actually Story,” they say. “Amuin means story in our tongue.”

The man touches his face again. “An omen,” he whispers.

Amuin turns to the other, less intense man. “Would it be all right if I stayed here for the festival today? I would love to learn more about it.”

“Of course you may stay,” says the man with the bramble crown. “And as my friend says, we will tell tales of your kind tonight. I am Elias. It is a pleasure to meet you, Amuin. If it moves you to participate in any way, we would be honoured.” He claps his hands and motions for everyone to scatter, and some do. The singing picks up again in earnest, and people begin to run between the various fires again, throwing dust into them that changes their colours.

A clump of children keeps close to Amuin, however, whispering and giggling. A little girl reaches for Amuin’s tail.

“I’m going to touch them!” the girl says, and pulls hard. “Ha! Gotcha!”

Amuin yelps, a sound that is high and piercing, and flinches toward the girl without meaning to. Everyone around them startles and holds still.

The girl, still holding a clump of feathers in her hands, stares at Amuin with a wide, terrified stare.

Amuin says, as gently as they can, ‘You shouldn’t pull people’s tails. Didn’t your parents tell you that?’ They lean forward and snuffle at the little girl’s head affectionately, making her ears twitch.

She giggles and lets go. Amuin wonders if they imagine that the whole village lets out a sigh of relief. Where there had been frozen stares, now they see only smiles.

It has never occurred to Amuin before how very different the world could be from their cave back home. The fox people lived in such a large group, and each with their own house. They danced and sang and seemed so full of joy, where Amuin’s family were quiet and quick to leave the nest.

They want to be part of this new world, for as long as they are here. They walk up to a large fire in the centre of the village. People are dancing around it, paws stamping and arms waving. Many of them bow and step back at Amuin’s approach, almost expectant.

“I’ve come to join you,” Amuin says, and bows back to them. After a moment, the fox people continue dancing. Amuin watches interestedly as they leap and twist in mid-air. Their singing and stamping has a real rhythm to it, and Amuin finds themself bouncing on the spot along with the beat. They long to try to dance and leap like the fox people, but they are neither as small nor as agile as they are, and they don’t want to crush anyone. So they find an area by the edge of the fire and sit down.

The villagers notice Amuin sitting and stop, clapping and laughing. Some of them gesture for Amuin to join them.

Self-consciously, Amuin stands up and paces over to the dancers. They widen their circle to allow Amuin in, though several dancers could easily have fit in the same space. A fox woman to one side nudges Amuin’s shoulder; a child on the other takes a big leap and twirls in the air, then gestures for Amuin to do the same.

Amuin has no idea what to do. What did dragons usually do? But they can’t remember their parents ever dancing, or teaching them anything about it.

So they start to sway from side to side, pawing at the ground in time to the music. The other dancers cheer; the circle starts to spin, and Amuin moves with it, trying desperately to keep time and prevent anyone from tripping over their tail.  At first, it’s awkward and maybe even a little stressful. It takes all their concentration to keep time. But as the dance continues, they ease into the movements, and the fox people seem to become more comfortable with them as well. Amuin no longer needs to watch the swishing of their tail; the dancers easily leap or duck under it, as smoothly as if through years of practice. The singing raises in volume and energy, growing more frantic and joyous. Amuin finds themself joining in with a wordless, lyrical trumpet of their own. Their breath is ragged, but they are starting to feel more and more like a part of the dancing group.

The fox people reach the end of the song, and clap and stomp. Amuin feels giddy and exhilarated; when the dancers bow to them, they bow in return, their wings half-unfurling and their head sweeping low.

“Thank you,” Amuin says. “That was a beautiful dance.”

They see another fire, lit up high on a hill. They address the nearest dancer; a grey fox woman in a green dress. “What’s that for?” they ask. “Another festival?”

She laughs. “It’s the same festival. These fires are to honour the first beings; the dragons, phoenixes, firebirds, and fireflies. The fire on the hill is a beacon to honour our ancestors who gave us the knowledge to build fires.”

Amuin looks at the dancers who have gathered around them. “Why do you honour dragons? We don’t have festivals to honour you.” Though now that they thought of it, that seemed amiss. They wish their parents had told them more about the fox people. And then suddenly they’re very tired.

A young boy, no older than six, approaches them shyly and bows.

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