Renaissance of Dragons: Rivals of the Ancient Order
There weren’t always dragons in the Valley.
The first time I saw the dragon Veldraek, in person, I peed a little. Once you see a dragon, grunting weights with a Nike sweat headband, you are “flame struck” as the dragons say, forsaking anything you thought you knew about dragonkind—thanks to the outfitters and their brand deal with Veldraek a few years after the dragons had arrived. They’d already been in the Valley two years before my mom let me go and see them. Veldraek, massive, bridling his tonnage and conducting a concert of wings, limbs, talons, and a tail; he ascended to the sky with the poise of a black stallion mounting higher ground. He heaved himself upward with vectored wings, lifting himself higher as if hoisted by the gods. He seemed lazy in the sky, hanging in the air with careless effort, swiveling his head like a chameleon, and taking in a survey of the land. My mouth was agape, eyes so wide they watered, and nostrils flared with naked adoration. When he descended like a giant spear, undaunted by velocity rivaling the comets, then stuck a landing like a gold medal, Olympic gymnast in a boom of thunderous, seismic bombast; that’s when I peed a little.
I stood there, five and a half years old, glancing at the dragons in the Arizonian Monument Valley. It’s been nine years since they arrived, so now we just call it the Valley, mostly because it’s the only valley with dragons—a sight unto itself. And I thought then, that I’d seen it all. Seeing was just one half of the cosmic tiramisu, the other half was their voices. The first dragon I heard speak was Exevalia, she was talking to Requeniox, who was one of the swiftest dragons. Exevalia was a feathered dragon, adorned with crests and tufts akin to the avian kind. Her splashes of earthen color were all the rage. She was so beautiful she could have been betrothed by the stars, graceful and esteemed with knowledge spanning untold lifetimes. The sound of her voice was striking and lyric, colored by the languages of ancient civilizations, with notes of tribal flourish. Hearing her voice was a parade of mystery arriving at the gates of enlightenment; it was a once-in-a-lifetime equinox of emotion, resonance, timbre, sound, language, and feeling, all of them remedying near-genetic levels of dissonance, previously hidden, and ignored, lost.
It’s been nine years since the dragons appeared in the Valley, and a whole generation of kids have grown up with the handsome leviathans, including me. Forget sliced bread, the dragons’ arrival was the greatest advent of the millennium. After the Army and Air National Guard assessed imminent threat was low, numerous think tanks and analysts attempted to assess their intentions—a puzzling endeavor. Confounded at the unlikely behavior of the dragons, they just set up a perimeter with only a handful of controlled entry points. The Valley and the dragons were the centers of gravity for billions of dollars, leveraging government and enterprise-class funding amongst technologists, theorists, philanthropists, engineers, investors, marketing, commerce, and even the Department of Energy. It was the dinner bell of biologists, geologists, archeologists, animal behaviorists, anthropologists, astrophysicists, meteorologists, boys scouts, girl scouts, and bird watchers alike. The government passed a bill that appropriated 1.2 trillion dollars over the next twelve years to investigate and research, as well as revitalize several NASA programs, launch new satellites, engineer new assets, fabricate improved arrays for the SETI program, and leverage a deluge of three-letter state and federal agencies. The FBI started monitoring Caretakers—dragon-worshippers—they tried to storm the perimeter, and it got a little testy. The Department of Homeland Security and Defense Intelligence Agency coordinated 24/7 satellite and aerial drone coverage of 1,200 square miles in the area of concern. The CIA and NSA launched a years-long investigation, working with some of the most exceptional scientists, ancient texts experts, human intelligence sources, and cryptologic linguists, to discover what empirical data or unidentified causation had led up to or served as a catalyst for their arrival.
The biggest clue was the mist and mysterious aurora borealis phenomena that congregated within Monument Valley several years before the dragons’ arrival. It became a colossal tourist attraction as well as a popular summit for scientists and observers the world over. The natural landscape adjacent to the Valley became a tourist haven, sprouting commerce and recreation on the outskirts, with a construction speed second only to Dubai and Hangzhou. The mist and aurora borealis phenomena, beautiful and mystifying, lasted for nearly four years. Spectral colors danced across a sea of low mist, curtains of light shimmered in the sky above, and a tapestry of light flicked about the Valley; it was as if the strings of a harp made with celestial light were plucked by an otherworldly tinkerer. Then it simply vanished as if it had never been. That’s when the Valley dimmed ordinary, boring, natural. Eventually, tourism dried up, and the industry collapsed with it, leaving behind an ecological cluster—a husk of capitalism’s gusto. Abandoned housing, hotels, rusted cars, scores of concrete barriers, landscaping stonework, broken ground left undeveloped, and a myriad of other faux pas—not a shining moment.
I remember the reports of the first public eyewitness accounts of their arrival. People said they appeared in the Valley and just started cleaning up trash. Yeah, a real head-scratcher. They were pushing old abandoned vehicles, pulling rusted-out tractor-trailers, flipping those 63-foot Titan Tires down the way, lifting excavated boulders, and heaving giant concrete prefabs. They fell in love with the exercise, and eventually, they weren’t clearing anything. They were just moving junk around, flipping Titan Tires over for the thousandth time, and moving heavy equipment, tractors, and trailers. Thereafter, they became part of our world, quite possibly the most exciting part. They were so casual, surprisingly attentive, and dare I say, some of them had a bit of a god complex—not Veldraek.
People soon noticed that the dragons, especially the males, were rather ostentatious, sly, and bored. A woman named Dr. Veronica Williamson, a behavioral and linguistic scientist developed a translation codex that was fed into a super neural network engineered by Google. Using Dr. Williamson’s studies of the dragons’ syntax, semantics, phonology, pragmatics, and morphology; they used machine learning to create a near real-time language and animal behavior translator. Boston Dynamics, utilizing state-of-the-art robotics, sixth-generation computing, and artificial intelligence modeling, developed a humanoid avatar named Edith. The avatar, evoking body language and synthesizing a convincing range of emotions, was the first bridge in conversing with the dragons—also the title of a National Geographic documentary released in IMAX theaters across the country.
Once they knew what we were saying, and we knew what they were saying… the world turned on its head.
Hello, world. Bands, from country to hip hop, reggae to K-pop; musicians composed and wrote songs, performing on stage while a crowd of thousands watched the dragons listen, sway and bob their heads. Music was the first emotional brushstroke upon a canvas of understanding wherein the dragons not only saw us, they felt us. Bruno Mars to Lenny Kravitz, Taylor Swift to Hans Zimmer, the audio of concerts drenched the sky. Stargazers found Elysium, pitched under the starry night observing the once-again limitless and mystifying heavens, with the dragons nearby. And it became endearingly connecting when the dragons cried with the star-struck masses at Ed Sheeran’s performance of “Dragon Heart.” I think that’s when the dragons and the masses, fell in love.
Things changed following this cultural shift. There was a groundswell of wellbeing, thoughtfulness, and introspection. The nation—the world had dealt with many frustrating years of encumbered politics, invisible grievances, financial fear, and socioeconomic trepidation. One of the most unexpected gifts the dragons gave, was a deeper understanding and enlightening matrix of our history, and ourselves through that history. Through the study of their language, we found fragments of ours; etymologists, linguists, historians, professors, scholars, and academic institutions, including the Library of Congress, were able to decode and reassemble gaps in human histories. Anomalous incongruities, disparate empirical evidence, legendary mythos, and alternative narratives espoused by buried ancient civilizations and tribal contributions; the dragons’ language elevated a shared commonality. We learned of ancient histories before ancient histories, before even those ancient histories. Scientists and experts were able to reconstitute remnants of remnants and give voice to echoes of echoes. The sea had swallowed millennia of humanity’s story, concealing critical histories which could serve to reconcile errant misconceptions. There was a tremendous disruption, a great debate, and some sour realities, but it was the medicine that brought the healing humankind deserved. The long shadows of squandered time, stolen resources, terrible wars, and divisive prejudice finally faced an ameliorating truth big enough to dethrone its glutinous, de facto dominance. Through the texture of language and history, the dragons not only found us but also helped us find greater humanity.
Last summer, the Air Force Thunderbirds announced they had been planning a special joint aerial show. Their demonstration team had been working with the Air Force Public Affairs Agency, White House staff and local government to coordinate a special aerial demonstration permitting the dragons to use air space over the Valley, in cooperation with F-16 fighter pilots. Years in the making, special approval was granted by the Commander in Chief, given with special consideration because the original request hadn’t come from the United States Air Force, it came from Veldraek and the other dragons. They simply wanted to fly with mankind. In all the millennia past, Earth’s skies were the domain of the animals and dragonkind. Now mankind was in an age of possibility and the miracle of the flight opened the skies to humans. The dragons wished to experience flight with humankind and understand the heart of their sky dance—a right of passage amongst the dragons. They expressed that you can truly know a creature by the way it flies. I suppose that makes sense, but it must be a dragon thing. With the greenlight the special assignment was good to go and an absurd amount of planning proceeded. The logistical interoperability required to ensure communication with the dragons at all times, a complete understanding of the scope and timing of each coordinated maneuver, and the implications of military cooperation were absolutely terrifying and equally mesmerizing. Then the warm summer morning came, the very day when Veldraek, rocking his lucky Nike head sweatband, posted up at his mark in a formation with five other dragons, Requeniox, one of the swiftest dragons, was among them. The Air Force Thunderbirds and dragons performed an elegant sky dance, a humbling and powerful spectacle that brought generations of proud military heritage, the ageless nobility of the dragon order, and the pops and booms of Mach 2 all to bear, front and center.
Many of the greatest skeptics, cynical of the dragons’ presence, changed their opinion. Reversing their negative rhetoric, they now espoused the dragons were not a malevolent force, but a cooperative force and a noble, beneficial presence—that these weren’t the same dragons our ancient ancestors depicted. People witnessed that Veldraek was capable of sustaining speeds rivaling the max airspeed of the F-16s—speeds over Mach 2 or greater than 1,500 miles per hour—sweatband disintegrated. The dragons, generating extraordinary visible phenomena at those speeds, created sonic booms greater than the much smaller and lighter F-16 fighter jets. Popular physicists and other star scientists littered the field, social media had a meltdown, and every news outlet was occupied with what the event meant for the nation, the world, and humanity. The world learned what I already knew—Veldraek was a total show-off.
The dragons, wishing to glance at the truer heart of our kind, danced with some of the nation’s greatest men and women. They learned something about us; we made a big mess in the Valley, we’ve made big messes outside the Valley, but we were more than capable of cleaning it up, making it right, and celebrating life and our achievements. I’ve never had so much fun watching, hearing, and feeling the dragons fly. The Thunderbirds team was honored, humbled, but also ecstatic and never had so much liberating fun, flying with cooperators, not wolves in sheep’s clothing. They confessed it was a terrifying, rewarding, and ultimately humbling experience. They became rock stars for a whole new generation, and me too. It was the first time I’d ever heard a dragon make a sound evocative of a belly laugh with the authentic dismissal of self-awareness akin to a happy kid on their birthday. The dragons hadn’t laughed for lifetimes, but we made them guffaw with glee, no trifling matter, and an unexpected game-changer at that.
The dragons’ demeanor towards us changed, then everything changed.
The dragons deliberated amongst themselves one night, in an exhibition of guttural drones, resonant utterances, lyrical whistles akin to the orcas, and bodily percussive stomps, clicks, and tail-driven whooshes and flicks. It was a marked occurrence that concluded at the next morning’s majestic sunrise. Veldraek was very peculiar that day, and by noon a request flagged with eighteen different national security triggers came from Google’s Dragon Avatar, Edith. Veldraek and the dragons requested a summit with some of the world’s most esteemed diplomats, politicians, and officials. The President, members of Congress, members of the judicial branch, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, state governors, presidents of NATO countries, presidents of ASEAN countries, the National Congress of American Indians, principal leaders of foreign and domestic tribal communities, foreign dignitaries, local, state, and federal officials; they were corresponded with to assemble and meet with the dragons in the Valley, holding a classified conference—Google’s Edith had her hands full. The White House Press Secretary later revealed a primer, ahead of the US President, highlighting key portions of the summit which had been sanitized for the general public.
The Order of the Dragons, reigning across the celestial bodies in realms and systems yet to be discovered, was coming to an end. With it, the Reordering of the Stars, the Reappropriation of the Galaxies, the Reclamation of ancient-Earth Agreements, and the Refactoring of the Elements; the very stardust, energies, and molecular structures were to be refactored, reassigned, and redistributed. Our land, our cosmic backyard was to be seized and appropriated by higher, unknown powers. Due to the very nature of this event, it would also conclude the chapters of mankind and for all intents and purposes, the destruction of humankind. Dragonkind, bound to mankind and the story of humanity, would be subjected to this reordering as well.
Is that what the White House Press Secretary or US President told the public, following the historical summit?
That’s something my friends and I learned when I data-mined a Congressman’s Yahoo emails, looking for the latest scoop on Veldraek’s sports nutrition deal. I checked the calendar to see if it was April Fools—it wasn’t. The deeper we dug, the dirtier it got. And we needed to know more—a lot more. We pooled our resources, literally. We moved all our computers into the tree fort, Edoras. We organized a data hunt to find out just how far down this rabbit hole goes and it goes nauseatingly far down, way down. We had to know if the powers that be, were ignoring or covering up anything else regarding this reordering of the galaxies and especially if they had a plan to do anything about it. The government had preliminary classified briefings on the veracity of this reordering, but it became apparent, that most decision-makers determined this profound news to be uncredible. They stacked the room with status quo experts, parroting the dismissive language used by a shallow few. The policymakers were being misled with partial truths and whole lies because the well-oiled status quo was a gravy train decades in the making and too big to let go.
We needed to get to Veldraek, alone. If I know him, he’s not predisposed to wanton lying, despite the fact he’s a bit of a Chad in the dragon world—exotic handsomeness enough to make a Bengal tigress blush, notwithstanding. The other dragons, like Oldregar, and Exevalia—have endorsed the human swag but ultimately are noble creatures. I have an intuition, that what they’re revealing has merit, truth, and purpose. Maybe they’ve seen something in us that encourages hopefulness that we are worth saving and fighting for, and we have a future in the universe. Veldraek is not a lying consciousness, he’s a patrimonial consciousness with the heart of a sentinel. He wouldn’t lie about something like this. I hope the summit wasn’t a test, but if it was, somebody failed big. My friends and I will have to find a way to hear this directly from the dragons. This is all too big to settle through emails alone.
That means getting extended personal time with Veldraek and the dragons.