We found a hoard of your books not long ago, and we will tell you of that story. And this is why we have written this book.
We believe you will read it and learn who we are, those of you who don’t already know.
To be clear and thorough, in case some of you don’t know, we are what you call the cuttlecrabs. We simply call ourselves the Collective. For ages, you have probably thought of us as no more than clever animals, but we have been studying you and learning.
We have also just learned that your ancestors created our world, and this teaches us much about our place within it. We believe that it is time for us to walk amongst you, unafraid, if you will let us. Know that you tower over us, and we are afraid of you, but we have learned from you and are eager to learn more.
Let us tell our story so that you understand.
It truly begins before this world was made, but our stories of that time are confused and apparently incorrect. It is probably better to begin with when we first spoke with one of you.
You may have been aware of us lurking on the shorelines and in the marshes there, watching you and learning your words. How can you not? We have spent many of our generations doing so. And we have stories about how some of you have protected us from others of your kind. You seem to have an approach to the world where you do not interfere with the lives of other creatures. But some of you are as curious as our children. We have seen that.
It took us so long to realize that you were a people, though! Each one of you is so different from all the others. And this is why we call you Dragons. For each one of you towers over us with unique and bizarre appendages and gaping maws that are quick to bellow out strange and thunderous sounds.
It is the honor of this one, the one that writes this book, to have met one of the smaller of your kind face to face one afternoon. It was between a tree and a bush, hidden from view of others of our kind and of yours. And through this one, we spoke to zem.
Even though one of us may be cut off visually from the others, that one still carries within them the will of our people, though they must then act with special initiative. It is simultaneously a scary thing for us, and a moment of opportunity. We do have instincts to seize upon it. It is how we survive many crises. Through such a cornered individual, we will act more boldly and rashly, but almost always in a way that the rest of us would understand. And this one still trembles from the memory of it.
Perhaps you can see traces of emotion in our marks on this page. To paint letters with ink using one of our feeding arms seems a sacred thing, we hope we do it well.
But let us finally begin our story!
The sun was three quarters of the way across the sky when the one you call Shaw knelt before this one beneath the tree and behind the bush, and stared right into our eyes. We froze so thoroughly, we could feel the world spinning.
Shaw has a long tail with a large, flowing black tuft on the end of it. Zey has a long fur covered body, stick-like limbs, a lengthy neck, with a rounded head with a tuft of black hair upon that, large pointed ears, a snout with a black nose, and two enormous eyes with vertical pupils that can expand from pin pricks to the size of a sandmoon. And even though zey is a smaller one of you, zey still looked down upon us from a dizzying height.
Tentatively, we shifted this one to the right, clutching our feeding arms beneath our body, tentacles ready to gesture with. And we reflexively flashed our surface thoughts across our shell, but Shaw couldn’t read them yet.
“Hi!” the tiny giant said, settling back on zeir haunches, tail settling on the ground.
An opportunity! We took it, using another word of greeting to show our knowledge, saying, “Hello,” with this one’s vocal sack. We also adjusted this one’s aural canals to focus on Shaw.
Shaw’s pupils widened a little and zeir jaw slackened as zey raised a digit.
What you have to understand about this moment is that we have come so close to it before. Time and time again with different Dragons. And each time, we have evaluated the outcomes and debated the best procedures should we get the chance to continue. We were prepared. Shaw was not. And the question was, would zey be given the chance to continue?
We had already gotten further than ever before. Something was different about Shaw, which you may know. But we didn’t know what was different, so we did not waste time.
“Talk with us,” we said through this one.
Shaw’s eyes dilated fully and zey yawned in surprise, ears perking up, and pulled zeir head back. Closing zeir mouth to swallow, zey leaned forward again and said carefully, “OK?” Zey then looked all around, as if afraid zey was being watched, and turned back to this one and said, “you… you don’t just mimic? You talk?”
We flashed affirmative, turning our tentacles over, and then remembered Dragons speak only through voice, “Yes. We speak. We are the Collective. Speaking is what we do.”
Shaw bent down and whispered, “Everyone thinks you just mimic us. Am I the first you’ve talked to?”
“None of your kind would speak to us before,” we replied, shifting our weight expressively.
“Oh,” Shaw looked behind zemself again, then back. “Um. I’m Shaw. Um. I guess my pronouns… you know what pronouns are? My pronouns are zey/zem/zeirs.”
“We know this ritual,” we replied. “You Dragons speak it to each other when you meet near the shore. Our pronouns are they/them.”
“Dragons?” Shaw asked.
“We call you Dragons, for you are individuals and you are so unique and so enormous.” We actually used a different word of our own making here. However, upon studying your books, we have learned that your word “Dragon” is a fine translation, more readily understood. What Shaw heard from us was not a word zey recognized. It is irrelevant now, we have replaced it with “Dragon”.
“Well,” said Shaw, “I am called a Monster. Not all of us are Monsters, but I am. It means that I have chosen to be separate from the others and to disconnect from the Network. Do you know what the Network is?”
We flashed a negative, and withdrew our tentacles, “We know the word, but we do not understand what it means.”
But before zey could answer that, Shaw’s ears swiveled and zey hunched zeir shoulders and looked in a direction, pupils dilating again, and zey hissed, “I have to go!” And zey bounded away, leaving us to scuttle under the bush.
We had to think about this. We’d made astounding progress on contact with you, but not enough, and we needed to discuss how to provoke further dialogue. But we could not do that without withdrawing this one back to others of the Collective, and there may yet have been something more to see. So we waited under the bush.
The time that passed seemed like it should have eaten the rest of the day, but when something did happen the sun had not moved very much at all. Anticipation and fear had turned the tide to sand.
But then a dark cloud, as if like gnats but thicker and of smaller things, swirled into the spot where Shaw had been. It floated from around the back of the tree, and was met in the spot with more black dust that rose from the ground. It whorled and boiled in the air, like ink in water, for several of our breaths before wafting off in the direction that Shaw had run.
And the sudden sight of it doing this had turned this one brown and rocky with terror.
We had never seen anything like this before! We knew not what to make of it! So our reactions were those of instinct, for when a predator is near.
And when countless more breaths had passed, and the sun had moved and lengthened the shadows, only then did this one return to the marsh behind them to rejoin the rest of us. And that arm of the Collective began to chatter silently, flashing thoughts as quickly as bird wings in a frenzied susurration. Then we withdrew to the shore, and spread the thoughts amongst the rest of ourselves. We needed all of our thoughts. Other Collectives would also need to know.