“A house. Cows. Sheep. Another house.”
James, a well-dressed six-year old boy sat with his parents in the third-class passenger carriage of a train. To pass the time, he named what he could see out of the window. With the train slowing as it reached the next station, his parents continued to ignore him, but he found it easier to see things in more detail. He enjoyed seeing the stone walls separating the farmers’ fields, and the thatched cottages off in the distance, barely visible over low rolling hills.
The train slowed further, and as James looked at a field just to the south, he saw something he had never seen before.
“Father?” he asked, not looking away from the window, but reaching with his left hand in the hope he could pull his father to see this also. “There’s something glowing in that field. Like a light, but many colours. That wasn’t there a moment ago.” His father shook his newspaper as a reminder to James that he was too busy to look at glowing things in fields. “Father?” James continued. “That horse in that field… that horse wasn’t there before.”
That horse took a moment to breathe. The air was calm and peaceful. He listened, and heard bird sounds he had never heard before. He looked up and saw small birds diving and swooping through the clear blue skies above. Swifts. He didn’t even know how he knew they were swifts, but he did. And he knew their full migratory patterns, how they flew from South Africa to this area in Southern England – oh yes, he was in England now – every year in late Spring, and rarely ever landed, preferring to spend all their time performing aerial tricks and eating insects in the skies.
He sniffed. From the air particles, he could tell he was in an earlier time. June 7, 1874, to be precise. That should throw the dragons off his back for a little while.
His time on the dragons’ home world had been brief. While he was on The Great G’n-zalo’s head the dragons tried everything they could to rid themselves of him – changing size, jumping through time, taking him to different realities… One reality he had particularly enjoyed was a world made up of pieces of different planets, where the dominant creatures walked like humans but had horse-heads and powers of their own. This seemed to worry the dragons more than Ringo himself did, though, so they quickly jumped to another reality made up of giant translucent globby creatures with six eyes and enormous mouths which tried to eat them all. The dragons seemed to enjoy this challenge immensely, and The Great G’n-zalo worked hard to position himself so Ringo would get eaten from his head, but the giant translucent globby creature closest to them instead munched down on The Great G’n-zalo’s whole head, horse and all. At this point the dragons thought it best to jump once more. This time they found themselves in an enormous aircraft-hangar kind of room that stretched as far as they were able to see in every direction, full of creatures of every shape, size and variety, all lounging on comfortable seats and eating food (in some cases, other creatures) while seemingly just killing time while waiting for something. The globby thing, which had come with them through the inter-dimensional jump, seemed intrigued, and released The Great G’n-zalo and Ringo from his mouth. The dragons then jumped back to their home world, with Ringo still in tow.
The problem the dragons had found is that no matter what they tried, the horse seemed impervious. In fact, it was worse than that, although they didn’t quite realize it at the time. He wasn’t just impervious, he was absorbing any power they used on him, draining their own power and leaving them weaker with each attempt. Not through any effort on his end, though. It was like the magic was just called to him, as if it wanted to be with him. He could feel it as it was happening; he was changing. Right from when the orange dragon had first teleported him around the world, he knew he could now jump to any point in the universe. And when the great blue dragon took him to different realities, he knew he could do just the same. He showed them his new abilities when the white dragon transformed him into a horse made entirely of water. He was still fully attached to the blue dragon’s head, but he didn’t like the feeling of all his insides (and outsides) sloshing around, so he quickly turned himself back to his regular horse form. At this, the dragons gasped in shock. The yellow dragon decided it was time to just shrink the horse down to a subatomic size, but the horse simply enlarged himself again. “Impossible,” a few of the dragons uttered in dismay. And at this point, Ringo decided it was time to leave them.
He unstuck himself from The Great G’n-zalo’s head, pirouetting as he gently floated to the ground. The dragons stood in shock at the site of this creature, and unsure of their next course of action.
“I don’t know why this is happening, and I don’t mean you any harm” the horse said. “But this is fun.”
“It speaks!” the red dragon shouted. “How can it speak to us? How can we understand each other?”
“Shouldn’t creatures be able to communicate with each other?” the horse asked. “Seems that would make life a little bit nicer for us all, so I think I’ll make it that way; at least for any creatures I’m going to meet. Anyway, thank you all for sharing your powers with me, dragons. Will you now please stop trying to get rid of me? I sense that with each attack, more of your power is transferring to me. You are losing your abilities, and dare I say it, you’re exhausting yourself.”
The purple dragon roared angrily, aware that everything the horse was saying was true. It decided to attack the old-fashioned way, and launched itself at the horse with fire shooting from its mouth and claws bared. “Wait!” The Great G’n-zalo shouted, but it was too late. The horse disappeared in a red glow.
Ringo’s first stop was a few years in the future. Still in the dragon’s home world, he wanted some time to relax and explore his new powers in peace without being attacked or disturbing any other creatures. In the first few hours he accidentally gave some plants the ability to walk around and communicate with each other through a simple language of squeaks. At first he thought he should undo it, but then it seemed cruel to take away their new abilities when they seemed so excited about them. The only other creature he met was a kind of creature he used to see in Colorado – a dog. Since they could now speak to each other, Ringo learned that the dog was there looking for an old friend. Ringo liked this dog, and without meaning to, he shared a small portion of his powers with him. He only noticed it when his new friend turned to a walking dog-shaped pile of red rock dust just like the kind Ringo loved back in Colorado – which now felt like a lifetime ago. As soon as Ringo noticed, he decided he should undo the changes, but then, in a red glow, the dragons appeared in front of them.
“Unpredictable Horse,” The Great G’n-zalo announced in a deep voice. The dragons all looked tired and weaker, but they were still formidable beings, and Ringo’s new dog friend ran away in panic, as did some of the nearby plants. The huge blue dragon continued, “It has taken us some time and effort to find you. You must give us back what is rightfully ours.”
“Must I?” he replied doubtfully. “Well, the magic seems to like me, so… nope!”
He disappeared again in a rainbow glow. He jumped a handful of times through time, space, realities, and microscopic worlds before stopping. But now, here he was, in a field on the edge of the town of Didcot, on June 7, 1874.
This was the quietest and most peaceful place he had ever been. He was confident he had some time here before the dragons would find him again, so he spent some time walking through the fields, listening to church bells from the nearby village of Harwell, and, now transformed as a bird, swooping through the skies with the swifts. He listened with wonder and excitement as they told him about their travels, and he offered them encouragement. They were his new favorite creatures.
From the air, he heard the noise of a steam train blowing its whistle, and he looked over to the train tracks from where it came. He glided over on an air stream, and as he landed close to the station where the train was arriving, he turned back into his natural horse form.
“Father!” said a boy’s voice from the platform nearby. “That horse! That’s the one I saw before! And it was just a bird! It flew down and now it’s a horse!”
“Yes, yes, very good, James,” said his father, a neatly-dressed man with a tight-fitting suit, thin-rimmed glasses, slicked-back dark hair and a pencil-thin mustache that, 140 years later, would have resulted in him being given him the label of “hipster”.
“Mother? Mother, did you see it, Mother?”
His mother liked James’s flights of fancy, but also wanted to respect her husband’s more serious nature, so she was quite relieved when the station master blew his whistle and made the announcement, “Thirteen-twenty Great Western Railway service to London Paddington now arriving at platform two. Thirteen-twenty Great Western Railway service to London Paddington.”
Usually James would have been enthralled by the grand green locomotive pulling into the platform just in front of him, but he kept a close eye on the horse as the engine passed him and slowed to a stop, with his father eagerly moving towards a passenger carriage door. James turned to look at the horse standing in grass at the end of the platform. His mother pulled his arm just as he was certain he saw a dim glow of light appear behind the horse. For a split second he was sure he saw a group of enormous dragons, but his mind must have been playing tricks, as the next moment he thought he saw the horse with a group of men who looked just like James’s father. He started to feel woozy and thought the early summer heat must be making him slightly mad.
James’ family stepped onto the train, and walked down a tight corridor to find a compartment. The train was busy, with a whole swath of people that James’s father instantly disliked. He announced that they would find another carriage, but James – now realizing this would be his last chance to see whatever was going on – ran into the closest compartment and stood by the window, much to his parents’ consternation.
“Mother, father. Something’s happening. I don’t want to miss this,” James said.
Outside, the group of men who looked like James’s father were circling the horse.
“Unpredictable Horse,” one of the men said, “you must not do this. Magic…”
“Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” the horse snapped. “All my life I’ve been told what I can’t do. Horses can’t climb trees. Horses can’t go on the rocks. Horses can’t fly. Well you know what? I’m the only one who decides what I can do!”
“Then you leave us no choice,” one of the men said, and turned into its true form, the enormous blue dragon. The others, who had been keen to blend in with their surroundings, looked wary but followed their leader, and suddenly, the horse was surrounded by six dragons who dwarfed the train and everything else around them.
James, now with his head out of the window and stretched around, couldn’t believe his eyes. He realized that with the angle of the train, no-one other than he and the station master could see what was happening, and the station master let out a huge scream as he ran down the staircase to the station house.
As if the dragons weren’t unbelievable enough, though, the horse itself dramatically increased in size – ten times, twenty times its original size. Now the horse dwarfed the dragons, and James thought surely everyone in the world could see this now.
The dragons attacked the enormous horse with all they could muster, flying around him and shooting flame, which seemed to be getting weaker with each effort.
The red and the white dragons collided in their weakened state, and fell through the air toward the thirteen-twenty Great Western Railway service on platform two. Inside the train, James let out a scream, but Ringo was already on the case. Leaning down, he quickly knocked the dragons to the side. Opening his mouth, he picked the whole train off the tracks, engine and all, and lifted it up a hundred and fifty feet into the air.
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep you safe,” he mumbled as he heard multiple screams from inside the train’s carriages.
“I don’t feel safe,” James shouted up, with his head still out the window of the carriage which was dangling down to one side of the horse’s mouth.
The dragons launched a final united effort, all flying up to Ringo’s upper body, with some going for his head, and some for his neck. Ringo realized that the only way to keep the people safe was to get them away from there.
With a rainbow glow, Ringo the Unpredictable Horse disappeared, complete with a train dangling from his mouth.
The dragons hung their heads and sighed as they looked at each other. The orange dragon was the one to voice what they were all thinking. “How are we going to fix this mess?”
Meanwhile, fifty-seven years, three months and two days earlier, three thousand miles away on the grassy field of Cambridge Common in the town of Cambridge, Massachusetts, a 150-foot horse appeared out of nowhere, holding a train and carriages in its mouth.
He was exhausted, but seeing the world around him, he realized how out-of-scale he was, and shrunk down to his regular size. He put the train down on the ground, and said, panting, “you’re safe now.”
James, with his head still sticking out the window, said, “we might be safe, but look at us! We’re barely taller than this grass.”
“Oh my goodness, I’m sorry,” the horse replied between deep breaths. “Just… give me a minute… I’ll fix it.”
“Unpredictable Horse,” came a voice from behind him. He turned, and saw The Great G’n-zalo, looking just as exhausted as he was. Ringo looked for the other dragons, but they were nowhere to be seen. “It’s just me this time,” the blue dragon said. “Please. I mean you no harm. I need to show you something.”
Ringo continued panting, trying to recover.
“Can it… wait?” he asked finally. “I’m… kind of tired. And I said I’d… help these guys.”
“I’m sorry,” the blue dragon replied. “I’m afraid it can’t.”
With a blue glow he transported the two of them away. It took a minute for the dragon to recover afterwards, and it took the same amount of time for Ringo to realize where they were – they were on the dragons’ home world. But this time it looked so different. Now that he had the dragons’ powers, he could see tears in space and time all around them – portals into other worlds that he had not seen before.
“You see,” The Great G’n-zalo said, “Magic is broken. We’re the last ones of our kind, chosen protectors of the magic that holds life together. But with you holding our magic, these portals are opening, and they’ll get discovered. Wars will start as creatures lay claim to worlds that don’t belong to them, worlds will get torn apart, and your own world, Earth 138J, is in danger.”
“But aren’t we in the past? 1817, I think. I didn’t even get the magic until 1998. How is magic broken here?”
“It follows you,” The Great G’n-zalo replied. “You’re outside of space and time, and so is this.”
Ringo looked around him at the multitude of portals – openings to other worlds. One in particular caught his eye. As he gazed into it, he saw what looked like an empty jail cell with bars and chains. The door was open.
Ringo started to speak. “I…”
“I’m sorry, Unpredictable Horse,” The Great G’n-zalo said, pushing Ringo through the portal and into the cell with him. The other dragons stood outside the cell walls, pushing the door closed quickly on the two of them. All together, the dragons directed their remaining powers on the horse in an attempt to pull the magic back out of him. But then the dragons heard a voice from the other side of the portal.
“I was about to say…” it began, “that I would give the magic back to you. But then it turned out you were going to lock me up.”
The dragons all turned, and saw that Unpredictable Horse was still in their home world, and The Great G’n-zalo was alone in the jail cell.
“You call me Unpredictable Horse. You might as well call yourselves Predictable Dragons.”
The dragons quickly tried to open the cell to let The Great G’n-zalo out, but struggled with the door.
“Oh no no,” Unpredictable Horse’s voice said from their home world. “That door will only open when the time is right. When you’re ready.”
“Let The Great G’n-zalo out!” the red dragon shouted.
“It’s not up to me,” Unpredictable Horse replied. “This is magic. Magic chose me, and magic will release The Great G’n-zalo. But something tells me that’s not gonna be for a long time.”
“The moose,” The Great G’n-zalo said quietly.
“Ah yes, your prophecy,” Unpredictable Horse said, and then chuckled. “Okay, time to say goodbye to each other,” he instructed.
“What?” the orange dragon replied.
“Oh, yes, apparently magic doesn’t want you all in there together, so you’re going to have to go your own way for a while. And the rest of you are not going to remember where The Great G’n-zalo is – sorry! Like I said, not my choice, magic‘s…”
The other dragons looked at each other and at The Great G’n-zalo in dismay. Before they knew what to say, all five were transported across space and time to start their journey back to magic. Unpredictable Horse and The Great G’n-zalo were left looking at each other through the portal and through cell bars.
“I’m sorry I can’t help you,” Unpredictable Horse said, “but the moose will come. And maybe by then you’ll be ready to be a guardian again. Although I’m going to guess that that won’t go quite as you have planned…”
The Great G’n-zalo chose not to respond – he already realized he would need to conserve his energy to keep this dimension linked to their home world.
“In the meantime, I’m going to go have some fun. After all, I am Unpredictable Horse!”