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

#3 Co-Writing with NovelAI: Amuin and the Dragon Kingdoms
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Amuin leans down and sniffs the young fox child, ruffling his hair. He giggles, all formality gone, and hugs Amuin’s muzzle.

“You came from the sky,” the boy says excitedly, as if he understands everything perfectly.

“Yes,” Amuin tells him. “I did.”

The boy puts one hand in the middle of Amuin’s wing and pulls gently. “Can I see your scales?”

Amuin frowns, but doesn’t pull their wing away. “I don’t have scales,” they say. “Dragons have feathers.” Though now that they think of it, the only dragons they know are their family. Perhaps there are other dragons that have scales.

But the fox child stares at them so solemnly and expectantly that they can hardly argue with him. They lean in close and whisper, “My scales are secret,” they say. “They’re hidden under my feathers. You were very clever to work it out.”

The little boy beams, delighted, and runs off. Amuin sighs, feeling guilty for lying to him.

As the sun sets, the crowd breaks up into couples or groups. Some begin dancing again; others stand around chatting quietly together.

Amuin watches the dancers until it gets too dark to see any more, then walks back through the village. It has a peaceful, quiet air that is so different from the excitement of earlier. Amuin wonders what dragon stories will be told tonight, and who else might come by.

Elias finds them. “Have you somewhere to sleep for the night?” He asks. “Or perhaps you would like something to eat? It would be our honour to help.”

“Oh, both!” Amuin says, delighted. They had imagined they would be spending the night on a cliffside or hill somewhere, but they are excited to learn more about how the fox people live. And they are quite hungry after a day of flying and dancing. “Thank you. I’d love to stay, and I’ll gladly eat.”

“Good,” Elias says.

The fox man takes them down a flight of wood plank stairs between two buildings, and though they find themselves in what looks like the oldest part of the village, the streets here are well-lit with torches. At the end of one street stands an old, rambling house that could have been built centuries ago.

The doors look big enough to admit Amuin. Maybe even a dragon twice Amuin’s size, and their tail gives a little flick of excitement. They look around, expecting the other fox people to have followed them, but down here the street is oddly quiet. They are alone.

“Is that where you live?” Amuin asks.

“Sometimes,” Elias replies. “Usually, I curl up under the trees and watch the fires at night. But when it is very cold, this is where I sleep.”

He opens the door for them and gestures inside.

Amuin walks in, their claws clicking on a stone tile floor. It is not as furnished as Amuin had expected; the fox people wear clothes and many bright colours and decorations, and had expected their houses to look much the same. It’s also a much tighter space than it had looked from the outside. They fit well enough, but it might be awkward to turn around without hitting their tail on a wall, and there’s no room at all to stretch their wings.

“Elias,” they say. “I think maybe I’d prefer to sleep outside after all.”

There is no response. They glance to their side, where Elias had been, but Elias seems to have slipped away. “Elias?”

Behind them, the doors slam shut. Amuin whirls around, wondering if he has gone back out into the street. They hear the snap of a lock. The front door swings open, revealing another fox man. It is the orange-furred fox man from before. The one who was very intense, and said Amuin’s name being “Story” was an omen.

Without quite meaning to, Amuin takes a step back, their feathers puffing up. They don’t feel comfortable backed into this small space by this man.

He smiles. “Don’t be afraid,” he says. He sounds kinder than he did before. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

Something about his tone doesn’t ring true. Amuin puffs up their feathers further. “Step aside, please,” they say, not quite keeping a growl out of their voice. “I’m going back outside.”

The orange-furred fox man doesn’t move, continuing to smile with forced kindness. His nose twitches and something on the other side of him shifts slightly. A second later there is a flash of movement.

Amuin doesn’t stop to think. With the walls pressing in on them and the strange tension from the orange-furred man, at the first sign of danger they bolt. They knock over the orange-furred man and whatever was hiding behind him and bound into the street. In two quick leaps and with a sweep of their wings, they alight atop one of the houses, thatch crunching under their paws. Breathing hard, they take in the scene; the orange-furred man is flat on his back and cursing, and beside him is a green-clad fox woman holding a small club, its tip glowing a faint red.

“Stay back!” she snaps at Elias, who has emerged from the house, looking sheepish.

Amuin frowns, but the longer they take in the situation, the angrier they feel. “What magic is that?” They ask, and gesture at the glowing club. “Why did you try to trap me? I thought you are friends to dragons!”

The thought of all the kind dancers, the giggling children, being part of a plan to trap them makes their stomach twist painfully.  They hope this isn’t true; they hope that this is just some scheme of Elias and the orange-furred man. But…

The green-clothed fox looks very scared. “There’s no harm meant,” she says. “We only wanted to help.”

Amuin doesn’t know what to make of this. Her fear instantly makes Amuin want to set her at ease and reassure her they mean no harm, but this entire situation is very suspicious.

“Your blood,” says the orange-furred fox man. “It’s precious. The blood of the First People, like dragons, would bring prosperity and good crops to our village. Nora would have taken it with magic; painless and harmless.”

Amuin looks to Elias. They feel anger building inside them at the betrayal. “Is this true?” Amuin says. “Did you only invite me in to your village so you could steal my blood? Why didn’t you just ask?”

Elias lowers his gaze, looking ashamed. He shrugs. “I’m sorry,” he mutters. “This was not how things were supposed to go.”

Because they had intended to steal blood from Amuin without them ever knowing. The idea makes Amuin angrier still. Elias is not sorry that they tried to trick Amuin; he is sorry that they didn’t succeed.

Amuin looks up at the darkening sky. The sun has set in truth, and stars twinkle above. They had hoped to rest here for the night; it was dangerous to fly without the sun to recharge them. But they don’t see any choice.

Amuin says, “Every dragon I meet, I’ll tell them what you did. You won’t be visited again, if I can help it.” It is the strongest retribution they can think of. Their mother sometimes told stories of punishing evil-doers with fiery vengeance, but Amuin doesn’t have the heart for it.

Nonetheless, the fox people before them look stricken by their words.

Then, conscious of the dwindling sunlight stored in their gizzard, Amuin take off into the sky, and flies until the village is only glittering lights behind them.

 

They spend the night in a small copse of trees, their head tucked under their wing. It is much colder than their family cave, and there is very little to eat, though they did strip a berry bush before settling down. When they wake, the instantly feel the lack of sun in their gizzard; they used up all their energy flying through the night, and now they feel heavy and empty. So they spend the morning on their back, wings spread, sunning themself until they have the energy to fly again.

After resting, Amuin begins planning today’s flight. They are still tired, but they would like to explore the world more thoroughly. Maybe there are other fox people villages; kinder ones than the one they had left. Maybe they will find a dragon with scales, like the fox child had mentioned. The idea of meeting other dragons lifts Amuin’s spirit a little. At least other dragons would have no use for Amuin’s blood.

While they think about this, they wander over a hill and spy a new village below. The houses aren’t as large or as old as the village where Elias lives, but Amuin thinks it bears some resemblance to that village all the same.

They fly up and absorb more sunlight into their gizzard — they hope enough for another full day of flight, if needed — and fly over the village. They keep high so as not to alarm the villagers, but try to get a look. To their surprise, the people of this village are not fox people as before. Instead, they have feathers instead of fur, and they wear clothing made from colorful fabrics.

A few of them walk around outside the village walls, carrying spears, while others gather at a central fire pit. They have long beaks and their feathers are mostly shades of black or grey; like crow people, perhaps, though they don’t have wings. They seem grim and warlike, and Amuin decides to pass by.

It is only when they are nearly on top of the village that Amuin realizes something else about the people. They have a familiar scent. Dragonkin. One of them stops to watch Amuin fly overhead, but the rest of the people rush away.

“Oh!” Amuin says. They hadn’t realised dragonkin could look so birdlike; they’d always assumed they would look more like dragons. They immediately change their mind and decide to descend; surely they have nothing to fear from dragonkin.

When they are close enough, Amuin alights and stretches out their wings. Their tail flutters with excitement.

The dragonkin people stand back, holding their spears and looking afraid.

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