Individually, you Dragons will frequently walk along the shoreline, following prescribed paths, talking either to yourself or to what we thought were your gods. And we listened to these discussions for generations upon generations and learned your language.
This is how we know that some of you like to visit us just to hear us chattering.
We can speak to each other silently, using only gestures and flashes of pattern and color, but that communication is nearly subliminal to us and limited. It is excellent for quick reactions and simple decisions, but spoken words bring our thoughts to consciousness. Even one word amidst a flurry of movement and color is enough to complete a thought for us, though. So, to you, our communication must have sounded nonsensical for so, so long.
Thank you for words! Using only words to write this book is challenging to us. We find that we need to use far more of them to communicate the nuance we are used to in our usual speaking. But we are taking the time to do so.
We didn’t use words in that first marsh near where we encountered Shaw, for fear of being overheard by the black cloud. But when our thoughts of Shaw reached the shoreline, we did not hold back. Some of you may have stories of that evening.
We had been planning for this event since the world was made, which meant that we must include all of the Collectives, including those of our cousins, whom you call the cuttlesquid. This meant that by nightfall the entire shoreline of the world was full of our chattering.
The cuttlesquid can only communicate through flashing, so we had chains of emissaries to convey thoughts from the shore to the depths and back. These connections could not happen in most places along the shoreline, where waves crash upon the sand and rocks. But in the quiet bays and estuaries the cuttlesquid collected and we spoke with them there, and the water glowed and flashed with their lights.
Here is what we chattered about:
The Event is now! We must proceed!
It is OK if the Dragons hear us talking all at once. This is part of the plan. We all know this.
The one we spoke with is named Shaw. Shaw understood us. We think we understood Shaw. If we can find Shaw again, in favorable circumstance, we must try to speak to zem some more.
We must search for Shaw.
We must be wary of the black smoke!
We must consider talking to another.
To do any of these things, we risk the lives of those of us who venture forth.
What are the risks?
That the black smoke is not favorable to us. That other Dragons are not favorable to us. That there are predators inland that we are not prepared to meet. That accident may befall us inland, as we do not know its dangers. That Shaw is not favorable to us, and has hidden motives. That we are somehow unable to track or find Shaw and that we get lost inland.
What have we learned from the encounter with Shaw?
Some Dragons are different from the others. They are all different, but some are more different. The ones that call themselves Monsters may have more freedom or more will to talk to us. But maybe the black smoke doesn’t like that.
Shaw seemed nervous to begin with. Shaw seemed determined to keep talking as long as zey could. Shaw seemed surprised we could talk.
What can we do to mitigate the risks of seeking out Shaw or other Monsters?
Send multiple search parties. Send them in groups that are large enough to mitigate our cornered instincts, but small enough to split apart to take advantage of them. Four per party should be good. The one that met Shaw should follow Shaw’s trail, with three others. Keep an eye out for smoke. Stay low. Stay hidden. Only reveal ourselves to individual Dragons, never to pairs or more. Make as many contacts as we can as quickly as we can to find allies. Learn quickly. Follow the sun to come home. Hope for the best.
After this Great Chattering, some may come to us.
That is part of the plan.
Are we afraid of the Dragons?
They have always taken care of us and avoided us. Our goal now is to get their attention.
What if they become afraid of us?
We are small.
But we are many.
If they fear us and come for us, we can retreat to the sea.
There are Dragons that swim, that live in the sea.
We can hide.
This is silly and instinct. Observation says they are all allies, and keep each other from hurting us. Or make repairs when they do. Now that we know we can, it is time to talk to them.
We will run scenarios meanwhile anyway.
Each Collective can be free to run their own scenarios and develop different plans. Diversity is survival.
Then let us find the Monsters!
And at that, the whole shoreline fell silent and dark.
It was night, and this one, your writer and the emissary to Shaw, had spent the Chattering speaking with the cuttlesquid. As this one crawled from the gentle waves of the bay up onto the moonlit shore, we saw from their eyes the shadowy reflections of ourselves standing on the wet sand, and looked up to see what all our eyestalks were stretching for.
We had stopped talking because there was nothing more to talk about. But now we were fully aware of the world around us, and the march of the moon toward us, from across the mountains, toward the place in the sky above the sea where it would die. It was passing in front of some Dragon lights from the other side of the world, and its ghostly globe was not substantial enough to drown them out with its own light. A newly waxing moon, with Dragon lights shining through it. Still light enough to illuminate our world.
We considered it a good sign, as it would light our nights well for a month while we searched for Shaw.
But many of us also knew that we were waiting to see if our cacophony had drawn any attention.
And behind the sounds of the soft waves, the wind, and the night birds, we heard nothing else for quite some time. Perhaps other Collectives had made contact already, but we would not hear from them for many more breaths, perhaps several conversations yet, or a whole tide. Communication during the Great Chattering only traveled just slower than the speed of sound, since words had been needed for the more complex thoughts, but without a network of everyone continually talking it would be even slower from one side of the world to the other now.
This one just happened to be in the right place to see it clearly, as we had wandered further up the shore while the others remained still.
The black smoke, or dust, or whatever it was, had returned and just happened to rise up between this one and the moon, becoming visible from that angle. It was even less substantial than the moon, but not homogeneous, and its swirling mass created waves of darkness across the lamp of the night. It also sparkled ever so faintly in that light.
It hung there silently for many breaths. Long enough for this one to relax from a sudden rocky brown camouflage back to default smooth shell white. We then flashed our thoughts in color only, which rippled across the shore through our Collective. Resolve. Communicate. Experiment.
“Hello!” we said with many vocal sacks.
The black smoke collapsed to the ground and disappeared into the dirt. And when we investigated, we could find no trace of it.