Part 1: Chapter 1
The Nowhere Islands.
It wasn't exactly the most enamouring title for a location, but it certainly fit the description. Lost in a vast ocean spreading for hundreds of miles in all directions, no sailor could make it past the horizon without becoming hopelessly lost without a compass. A solitary spec on a world its residents could only dream about.
The island wasn't without its charms, of course. Looming mountains, lush forests, sprawling valleys and desolate deserts made for an adventurers delight. It was a self-supplying land, and its peoples found wants for nothing at all. Lumber for houses, plenty of farmland and farm-animals to sustain themselves, and fresh water were all abound.
In the northern reaches of the Nowhere Islands - where the forest turns to deserts before turning to forest again on top of grand Mount Oriander - lived an old man. A hermit of sorts, choosing specifically to live a good distance away from the only settlement on the island, but he was no less a loving and supporting father and grandfather to his family.
Just the other day, his daughter and her two sons had made the trek north to his home, to visit him for the weekend. Her husband and their father couldn't make the trip himself - he was busy with some handiwork projects around the village, and someone needed to stay and tend to the sheep, but his thoughts and wishes were with them always.
The early morning sun shone through the two-story house's windows, bathing its interior in its warm light. The family was awake with the crows, each of them ready to start their day. They all had lots of plans for their weekend, and they were all excited to get out there and have some fun as a family.
All except for…
"Get up so we can play!" a boy's voice hollered up the stairs, impatient with his brother's laziness.
Lucas, Claus, and their mother Hinawa had all walked the trip up the northern desert to reach Grandpa Alec's house on the fringes, and Lucas was still feeling it. Alec and Hinawa were naturally early risers, and Claus was always full of pep and energy, ready to charge headlong into whatever adventure waits before him. They only got to see Alec twice a year, and he always had the neatest things around his ranch to play with.
Lucas, by contrast, was a very shy and introverted child; he was very soft-spoken and rarely opened to anyone besides his own mother. He was a little on the timid side: where Claus was ready to get down and dirty whenever he felt like, Lucas was the type to test the waters thoroughly before making any decisions. The two boys shared the same parents, the same village, and even the same room, but they couldn't be more different.
"Get up already!" he yelled again, thumping up a few stairs to carry his voice, "the Dragos brought their babies over! You should see them, Lucas, they're really cute! Hurry up!" And with that, fed-up with having to wait for his brother, Claus was out the door.
Lucas was half-tempted to stay in bed - he was exhausted from all the play yesterday and wanted to sleep for at least another half hour. But when he heard that the Dragos were here - and that they had brought their babies, no less - he just couldn't leave them hanging.
Quickly rubbing the blur out of his visions, he wasted no time, excitedly wobbling his sleepy legs towards the steps, pumping his legs as quickly as he could towards the door and outside, to meet his friends the Dragos. He didn't even notice his mother sitting at the table in the kitchen in his haste.
"Scoot upstairs and change your clothes," she said sternly. Claus would have been one to argue: he would have made some excuse that the Dragos wouldn't be around for long and that they only visit once a year, and that changing his pajamas would only waste valuable minutes. But timid Lucas didn't bother: less because he wasn't the type, but because he knew arguing would take even longer.
Dashing back up the stairs, he opened his dresser and rifled through its drawers for his favourite set of clothes: a simple red-and-yellow stripped shirt and a pair of comfy tried-and-true pair of blue shorts. A quick comb through his bed-head later and with a pair of socks and his only running shoes, he was presentable - or, at least, enough to satisfy his mother before getting ready to tumble through the dirt and the grass with the Dragos.
With his mother's blessing, he made his way out the front door and onto Grandpa Alec's front porch.
It wasn't an unfamiliar sight - the cows (or, well, just one) mooing happily as they grazed the fields.
The pigs gorging themselves on the gruel left in their troughs just to the side.
The chickens and crows just a stone's throw from the front door, pecking at some errant seeds Alec had thrown to them, crowing and clucking at Lucas as if they were berating him for staying in bed for so long.
And Grandpa Alec himself, leaning against the sturdy porch he and his son-in-law had built themselves.
Alec ran his hand through Lucas's hair playfully, mussing up his thrown-together morning hairdo, as if Alec knew it was just thrown together. "Today's the day you three head back home," he said, looking into Lucas's eyes. "I'm gonna miss you guys. Life's just more lively, having to keep you kids out of Hinawa's hair. Make sure your dad comes with you next time, eh, Lucas? I could use a sturdy back, even if for the weekend."
Lucas glanced around Alec's farm, trying to find Claus and the supposed Dragos that were visiting. He began to quietly whimper up a question to Grandpa Alec, trying to find the words to ask where his brother had gone, but even to his own grandfather, he couldn't muster up the strength to say much to anyone except his mother. "Claus ran thataway," Alec said, reading Lucas like a book. He pointed to the east, past a small canyon leading towards some of Alec's unused plot. "Says he's got some Drago company with him. I'm sure they'd love to have you with them, Lucas."
With a nod of thanks, Lucas dashed towards the canyon.
Just as he cleared the rocky walls and into the open, untamed plains, he heard a furious battle cry erupt from his brother, followed shortly by the sound of a pained yelp from an enormous creature and a resounding thump as something large hit the ground. Lucas knew the creature that made the sound, but couldn't tell if his brother was seriously in any danger. He nearly stopped in his tracks when, just over the bend, a dinosaur the size of Grandpa Alec's house rose up over the hills.
Despite their menacing appearance, Dragos were surprisingly tame and soft creatures - towards humans, at least. They were impossible to domesticate, but in the wild, they were very gentle and were always aware of everybody around them, so that they could be careful with where they step. They understood family values just as well as humans: they mated for life, and their young didn't leave until adolescence. They had good memories, too.
Claus was huffing and puffing as he recovered from his last attack onto the adult male Drago standing taller than a house in front of him. All three Dragos looked amused by the efforts of the little boy; their ideas of 'fun' were a little different, but if the child enjoyed acting out his power fantasies by pretending he had the strength to knock over an adult Drago by himself, well, they were friendly enough to oblige.
Lucas was afraid of a lot of things - bugs, strangers, the dark - but he wasn't afraid of the Dragos. He had known them since he was just a little baby, and he knew their sensitivity towards humans. It was one of the few things that lived in the wild that he could approach with total confidence.
"I've been play-fighting with the Dragos all morning," he explained, grinning to his brother. "I'm winning." He turned back to the Drago he'd been tackling. It looked down to the child almost endearingly, like Claus was its own kid, and though its legs looked a little stiff from falling down a lot, it looked like it was having fun too. "You should play too, Lucas," he said, stepping aside for his brother.
"And be sure to yell real loud, too! That way you'll scare away all the other bad guys when we beat up this Drago!"
Alec was sent on his way to fetch the two children for Hinawa, who had just made their favourite for lunch. Just as he rounded the bend towards the two children and the Dragos, though, he saw that Lucas had reared himself up and was ready to tackle the beast himself. He decided to hang back and watch: it was certainly a sight to see Lucas get any kind of aggressive, even if it was just pretend.
Lucas thought this game was a little familiar - all of Claus's games revolved around the two of them beating up something bigger in some fashion. They normally associated rocks or trees with their imaginary opponents, but having a real-life Drago to play with boosted the experience a hundred times.
Nevertheless, Lucas could never belt out as great a battle-cry as his brother and always squeaked out something a bit less intimidating. The Drago played along, at least.
"The harder you ram into them, the more the Dragos like it," Claus explained. To Lucas it didn't really look like it mattered to them - it looked more like the Dragos could hardly feel it. But it was exhilarating for him, and he was just about to rear back and try again, when they heard the most peculiar voice.
And just as soon as they heard the voice, a small insect - a cricket, as promised - came scurrying up to them all, pausing menacingly in front of the tallest Drago. It seemed to startle the baby Drago, as it quickly took a safer spot next to its parent, but the kids seemed interested in what the talkative cricket wanted, and the adult Drago just seemed amused.
"I'm gonna wipe the floor with all of you!" it threatened, apparently strongly offended by the kids frolicking and the adult Drago's cooperation. "Get in my way and you're in for a world of pain!"
Lucas thought it was just trying to play along, acting tough in front of them in an attempt to try and join their make-believe game of heroes fighting against vastly superior enemies. But when the mole cricket jumped onto Claus and tried to bite it through his shirt, suddenly this game wasn't so fun anymore.
Lucas's first instinct was to run away. He wasn't nearly as out-going as his brother, and the moment he realized there was any actual danger, he wanted none of it. Play-fighting was one thing, even against Dragos, but he had trouble stomaching any actual violence, no matter how small.
Claus had a very different idea, though. Already pumped from his earlier pretend adventures, he was raring to go and confident in his skills to handle an insect that would fit cleanly under his shoes. After swatting it off his shirt, the mole cricket quickly scuttled across the ground, ready to make a second attempt at the boy. It was met swiftly with a stomp to its whole being.
Lucas was beginning to look really distraught with the whole scenario, so Alec decided it might be best to step in and help the boy out before he panics. But before he could even lift a finger, Claus had the situation entirely under control.
"If you'd like, I could train you personally sometime," it offered, its earlier bravado totally gone. "The next time we meet, it'll be at the big Mole Cricket Hole Stadium! And I'm gonna sweep the competition this year!" It was obvious the cricket was trying to hide its embarrassment by thinking it could fight kids hundreds of times taller than it was, not thinking about the obvious result. It scurried away as quickly as it could, shouting "I'll see you there!" as it went.
Its eyes were kept on the kids, making sure it wasn't being followed, instead of straight ahead, as it should have.
"Lunch is ready, everyone," she said, her warm smile practically glowing as she looked over her kids. "I made your favourite. Omelettes!
Claus perked up immediately when he heard that his mother had made their favourite for lunch. "Lunch, lunch!" he yelled repeatedly, excited to get some food in his belly. "Omelettes! Come on, Lucas!" And with that, they were both racing each other towards Alec's house, competing for first pick. Hinawa and her father Alec strolled leisurely behind.
Hinawa's omelettes were just as delicious as ever for the boys. A hearty lunch later, and the two were stuffed to the point of bursting - their mom had made them omelettes to spare and the munched them all down. Just as Alec stood from the table to prepare washing the dishes, Claus asked Hinawa a question neither of the boys had thought to ask.
"Is it omelettes? I bet it's omelettes. Why else would you make them so much, right?"
Hinawa considered answering honestly, but she instead just smiled to her child and nodded. "You're right, Claus," she said sweetly. "Omelettes are my favourite food in the whole wide world. I can't get enough of them! Can you?"
"No way!" he replied earnestly, his eyes turning to crescents as he smiled. "Can you, Lucas? Are there enough omelettes in the world for you?" Lucas tried to speak, but all that came out as his reply was a massive belch. Embarrassed, he shook his head while he reached for a napkin across the table. "We all make a good match!" Claus declared.
They sat silently for a moment, before Hinawa changed the topic.
"We have to go through the forest to get back, so we have to leave early," she said. Neither of the boys argued - they knew how long it was going to take and how risky it was to go through the forest, but they both couldn't deny that they wanted to stay for a bit longer.
"The boys could probably make it back on their own, it's that safe. Claus has got more spunk in him to beat off the most woolly of mole crickets." Alec turned from the stove to face Lucas. "I bet even you could handle it, Lucas!" Lucas blushed sheepishly as he heard his grandfather guffaw over his own harsh words.
Without a word, Hinawa excused herself from the table and showed herself to the front porch. Before they could leave, there was just one thing she needed to do.
She had written a letter to her husband Flint, and she needed to send it before they could send off for Tazmily. Flint couldn't make it with them to Alec's house way out in the fringes - he had all sorts of obligations to hold and his weekend was going to be back-breaking, and the sheep weren't going to feed themselves. She understood completely, and he never left her thoughts during their entire stay. But just to ease his mind, she had intended to send the letter to him via carrier pigeon, so that he would get word of their arrival long before they had even left.
My father seems sad to say goodbye to his grandchildren after seeing them for the first time in so long, but we should be home by this evening.
I had forgotten how nice and refreshing the mountain air is. You always smell like sheep back in Tazmily Village, so I really wish you could have been here to take in this air. The next time we visit, let's ask one of the neighbors to take care of the sheep so we can all come up here as a family.
Claus, Lucas and I were always thinking about you. When we get home this evening, I'll start cooking some of your favorite omelets right away.
With love, your dearest Hinawa
With that done, she turned around to head back into the house…when she began to hear the strangest tune, and a peculiar shadow crawl across the ground.