By Michael Dolan
Throughout the entirety of Dave’s quest, he’d seen the signs and heard the whispers that magic was dying. And just when he reached the island at the edge of the world, it had the nerve to do just that.
Four dragons watched him upend his backpack beside the small tree on the cliff top. He rifled through spilled food, potions, enchanted weapons, and cursed artifacts collected on his quest to find and place seven mana gems on the tree’s outstretched boughs.
As he placed the last gem, a thunderous crack split the air. They flared bright for a second before quickly corroding and winking out.
“Missed it by that much,” intoned the viridian dragon.
Dave looked up at the four beasts gathered around. “What does that mean?”
“Magic has died, brave champion,” answered the crimson dragon. “Though noble, your quest has failed.”
“Fat lot of help you were,” muttered Dave.
The cerulean dragon turned toward him. “What was that?”
“Um, just ‘That’s not a healthy picture.’”
“Indeed not,” said the golden dragon. “Magic is already receding across the realm. But even in its death, the promise of new life remains.”
“Come again?” said Dave.
“Though you failed to reunite the mana tree with its lost fruit before it perished, you still have a part to play in shaping the future of magic. When the tree and the magic within pass away, you will help craft its very foundation in the coming age.” The golden dragon breathed a jet of fire at the small tree. The blaze caught, enveloped the tree in a pillar of flame, and reduced it to ash.
The three other dragons looked at one another. “Was that … necessary?” asked the viridian dragon.
“Did you want to wait around for who knows how long for it to wither by itself?” The golden dragon released a snort of smoke. “I have better things to do than literally watch a plant slowly die, no matter how magical.”
“My vote’s with him,” interjected Dave.
The cerulean dragon rolled its eyes and reached into the ashes. It lifted out a heavy tome and passed it to Dave. “As magic is reborn, let its laws be rewritten.”
The champion accepted the volume. The cover was undecorated, so he turned it over to see if there was anything on the back. Finding nothing, he rotated it to look at the spine. Empty again. He inspected the edges of the pages before slowly leafing through, though they seemed just as blank. He closed the book and studied the cover again. A dragon coughed, politely.
Dave looked up. Four intense, draconic faces stared back. He blanched with embarrassment. “What’s this for again?”
The crimson dragon shifted its wings. “As champion of the last age, it is your right and responsibility to dictate the laws of magic upon its rebirth.”
Dave squinted and glanced from dragon to dragon.
“A magic system,” the dragon clarified. “You’re supposed to come up with a magic system.”
“Ohhh.” Dave nodded slowly. He glanced down at the book. “You know, rules aren’t really my strength. How about we just let magic do its own thing this time, figure it’ll sort itself out eventually?”
The dragons laughed a deep, collective rumble that lingered in the air. The golden one spoke. “That may have worked in the past, when magic wasn’t as deeply studied as it is today. But we live in a more civilized age. People expect it to follow rules, to have defined sources, effects, and costs. Magic must be balanced and predictable. If not, it just becomes too overpowered.”
“Makes sense,” said Dave. “After all, we can’t have magic getting too—what’s the word?—magical, right?”
The cerulean dragon narrowed its eyes and raised a scaly eyebrow. “We’re going to forget you said that. Look, it’s not that hard. You can make this system as simple as you want. Just base it off symbols, or the elements, or physics or something.”
“Or flavors,” said the viridian dragon.
“Would you stop suggesting that every time we do this?” said the cerulean dragon. “It’s a horrible idea for a magic system.”
“You’re just jealous of my refined palate.”
“Or you could choose song,” said the golden dragon, obviously trying to cut short an argument it’d heard far too many times.
Dave laughed. “Enchanted karaoke? Not on my watch.”
“How about incantations?”
Dave shook his head. “Not unless it’s igpay atinlay.”
“I’d say your flavors idea was better.”
“Well you have to pick something,” said the golden dragon. “And you must choose soon.”
“Why? Magic is dead. It’s not exactly going anywhere.”
“True, but its ability to regenerate is waning. If you don’t write something down soon, the only things magic will be good for is tying your shoes and making enemies itch in places they can’t quite reach.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll come up with something.” Dave opened the book. “How am I supposed to write in this anyway?”
“The laws of magic must be inscribed with the champion’s blood,” recited the crimson dragon.
Said blood drained from Dave’s face.
“Haha, just kidding. Use the ash from the burnt tree.”
Dave walked to the pile of ash, sat down, and opened the tome. “This is so unsanitary.” He dipped his finger into the residue and began writing.
Time passed. Leaving Dave to write in peace, the dragons entertained themselves with games of tic tac toe and dots and boxes. When at last the champion closed the book, the golden dragon looked up. “Have you finished?”
“Noo.” Dave rolled his eyes. “I just like the sound of books closing.” He disappeared into thin air.
The confused dragons looked at one another, then walked over to where Dave had been sitting. The tome’s cover lay open, revealing its handwritten title page: The Magical Laws of Snark and Sarcasm.
The dragons looked at one another with wide eyes. “Huh,” the viridian one said as they sat back on their haunches. “This’ll be interesting.”