Once upon a time in a land not too far away, there lived two dragon brothers. The elder brother was strong and sure and dependable as the tides. The younger brother was wild and free and as energetic as the wind. Both dragons ruled over their lands for centuries, never truly getting along, but never really fighting either. Until one day the brother spied a beautiful maiden. Both dragons were immediately enamored by her grace and beauty. She was not a princess or even a lady of noble breeding, but both brothers were taken by her none the less. They both turned human and attempted to woo the young maiden, but unfortunately the woman was unable to decide and split her attention between both brothers. Each dragon was unused to sharing anything and became increasingly jealous of his brother. They began to attempt to sabotage each other until, eventually, they began to fight. The elder dragon created storms, dropping torrents of rain while the younger blew the storm around with his powerful wind. Towns and villages were destroyed as the battle raged. Until the elder brother called forth lightning and sent it into his younger brother’s chest, gravely wounding him. Ashamed over delivering a mortal wound to his brother, the elder dragon fled, never to be seen again.
Mondatta looked at his students as he finished his lecture. “Now tell me. What lessons are to be learned from this tale?” He asked his pupils, hands folding on the book.
“Jealousy leads to destruction.” Zenyatta said, synthetic voice rising above the murmurs of the other monks, human and omnic alike. People stopped to look at him, and Mondatta nodded, agreeing with Zenyatta’s perspective.
“Good. And what other lesson does the story attempt to teach?” Mondatta asked.
Another monk spoke up, “That interspecies relationships, or relationships with gods or humans are wrong?”
Mondatta clapped his hands together once. “Excellent. Now please discuss amongst yourselves which lesson should be the one to take away from this story and why that is so.”
Zenyatta listened to the quiet conversations for a while before he overheard someone speak. One of the few human monks at the temple. “It’s not that the lesson on jealousy isn’t important. It’s that the lesson on interspecies relationships is equally important.”
Zenyatta hummed, his orbs chiming softly as he floated over to them. “And why do you think that?” He asked. He was trying to keep a level head, trying to keep from assuming the worst. They were all here because of their similar beliefs after all.
“Because it comes down to sentience.” It was said so casually, that Zenyatta’s memory banks bristled, bringing up memories of other humans who claimed that their sentience wasn’t true sentience. That their souls were just a glitch in the program, akin to a virus. That they could not truly feel and think and want.
“How so?” His voice stayed even and calm even with the memories flooding through him.
“Well, plants are known to feel pain and try to avoid it right? That’s basic sentience. Above them are animals. They know their needs and wants, and although some can work together, most don’t care whether they do or don’t. Above them are people like you and me. Humans and Omnics.” Zenyatta’s fight response filed itself back away into his non relevant subroutines, and he almost felt ashamed for the snap judgment. He should have more faith in his fellow monks. “We’re driven by our wants more than our needs, and we are interested in working together, forming communities and taking care of each other. In most cases. We also fight over inconsequential things and are more than willing to destroy each other. Above us are gods like the Iris or those dragons. Just as it is wrong for one of us to have a romantic relationship with something of less sentience, it would be wrong for a dragon god to have a romantic relationship with one of us.”
“That is a fair point, but I believe the flaw in that argument comes from the fact that between animals and us there is a level of thought and intentionality to every choice we make. An animal acts on impulse without considering the possible consequences of their behaviors, even if given the opportunity to do so. Humans can have that forethought which is why I believe that the main takeaway from this lesson is not to be jealous, especially of a sibling.”
The conversation came to a slow end in the natural way that most ‘philosophical debates’ at the Monastery did, and though the ethics and morality lesson had not yet drawn to a close, Zen floated off to the rock garden to do some meditating of his own. He needed to think on his previous judgment and work to stop from making such harsh assumptions of his brothers and sisters. As his meditation went on, he found himself thinking about how with myths , such as the one Mondatta read, they were often rooted in truth. The idea of dragons though... it was as fantastical as it was exciting. Zenyatta knew that 200 years ago the idea of omnics , or robots even, was equally fantastic. So there was a possibility, a miniscule one, but a possibility nonetheless, that these creatures had existed at one time or another. It would be a most intriguing find.
The gentle chiming of his orbs helping him stay in the moment during his meditation and not drift off into daydream was interrupted by the deep bong of the monastery’s bell. It meant he had a job to do. As the other monks began to separate for their duties Zenyatta floated back towards the monastery to get his supplies. He was meant to go to the mountain and gather healing herbs for the village, so he needed a satchel and a set of pruning shears. Only once he was certain he had everything he’d need, did he begin his trek. The best herbs were either near the summits, in the mouths of caves, or near streams.
Zenyatta loved being in the wilderness. Nature had a peculiar way of continuing no matter what hardship befell it. Fire? New plants were growing in months. Not enough water? They appeared to wither only to flourish at the next rain. Too much water? They’d just cease to absorb it. A tree falls? It becomes food for the new growth. Zenyatta aspired to be such a resilient creature. Sure, his body was strong and his will was possibly even stronger, but he had faults. His past life had left him quick to anger, quick to defend himself and his omnic brethren. Children and animals too. He understood that peace had a steep price, though it seemed as if sometimes he was the only one who wished to pay it.
Once he had hovered far enough away from the monastery, he let his feet to the ground, enjoying the feel of soft grass on the pressure sensor array in his feet. He couldn’t actually feel the ‘tickle’ that humans often attributed to grass, but he could tell that some grass was more yielding and some grass was less. The air intake valve on his face plate registered compounds attributed to pollen, decaying plant life and various plant nectars. His aural sensors took in the chirping of several different species of birds and bugs, as well as the rustling of leaves high in the trees and the sound of a river or stream a mile or so away. His optical sensors took in the chlorophyll in the leaves and various other plants, the way the light waves curved through the atmosphere creating the blue sky, the pockets of condensation in the sky and the way they appeared to be soft and light.
Overall, it was a pleasant experience.
He enjoyed walking through nature like this. It reminded him of the simplicity and harmony that life could be. Sure, plants may not be as self-aware as omnics or humans were, but honestly, was it not better to not have anything to worry about? The human saying “Ignorance is bliss” could definitely apply to plants and animals. How often did he see an animal that was well taken care of be miserable?
As he pondered, he made sure to kneel and gather the various herbs and berries he was meant to. He dug roots here, picked leaves there, always careful not to harm the plant more than necessary, to never take more than he needed, and to not over harvest a single location. As he walked, he made it a point to try new paths, after all, there was so much nature to discover. However, even as he made it a point to seek out new locations along with the places he knew would have what he sought, he was surprised to find that there was what looked to be a dilapidated building next to one of the cave entrances. Curious, Zenyatta rushed over, examining it from every angle. He found that ‘building’ was too generous a term, as it was not, and had not ever appeared to be, completely walled in. It was too small to be a hut, and made with too neat of materials to be a child’s work... Perhaps it was a shrine?
He crouched in front of it, posterior plate nearly touching the ground, and peered inside. There was a nest of bees or wasps that would need to be moved before he could properly repair it. It would need new wooden paneling and a proper roof. He made a note of this in his log files.
“To whomever this shrine belongs, please know that since I have found you, you will not be forgotten again.” Zenyatta promised, “I will return and fix up your shrine, and I will leave offerings whenever I am able.” With that he rested a solemn hand on the roof of the shrine and stood again as a feeling of doubt washed over him. Was it internal? Doubting his own abilities to build a shrine worth having? Or was it external, coming from the shrine’s patron, someone who doubted he’d be back? Maybe it was both, though the likliest answer was that it was internal. Though Zenyatta knew the truth, that gods or god like entities were there, the probability that there were some invested in a tiny shrine in the middle of the Nepali mountains was incredibly low.
Still, it was a feeling worth exploring, but not now. Now he had a job to do. He said his goodbyes to the shrine, the bees, and whatever possible inhabitant the shrine had, before giving a wave and returning to his foraging.
This chapter features art from the lovely Polarain. I am so impressed by her work guys. Go check out her twitter www.twitter.com/poularain
alternatively you can click the pictures themselves
The next week was spent researching how to relocate an entire hive of bees or wasps, and when the tutorials online proved to be.... unhelpful at best in relation to his specific situation, he decided to research insect safe outdoor glue. That way he could just pull the nest off at the base and glue it into a tree. Still finding no help, Zenyatta decided what he was going to do, was take the entire wooden board that the nest was affixed to, and attach it to a tree. That way he was not disturbing the insects inside more than necessary.
Clapping his hands together once as his plan was settled, Zenyatta floated to the stock room. There were building materials there from when they had last repaired the monastery’s roof and he was certain Mondatta wouldn’t mind if he took a few of the remnants. He filled his satchel full of shingles, nails and a hammer, as well as smaller two by fours, but carried some of the larger pieces of paneling that he was taking to make the outside.
Carefully he carried all of the materials back to the shrine. It still looked as overtaken by nature as it always had, and Zenyatta felt almost guilty at disturbing it. What if the creature that the shrine belonged to was a nature spirit? Zenyatta would be desecrating it then. “Iris, forgive me if I am making a mistake...” He prayed, before gently laying out each board and shingle onto the grass. He scoped out a good tree that would be easily climbable while he was holding bees. There was one not too far off, within easy view of the shrine. Hopefully none of the bees would get confused. He took the hammer and carefully pried the roof off of the shrine, bees swarming onto his hands and faceplate, crawling into his air intake valve and buzzing with all of their might, attempting to sting him. Pheromone samples given off by the insects in his air intake valve labeled them as a kind of wasp. That was important information. He worked as carefully as he could with wasps swarming his optical sensors and attempting to access unprotected wires and nodes. His outer plating was sensitive enough that he could feel them standing on him, walking along his body, dragging their stingers and hoping to find a place they would catch.
He climbed the tree with careful ease and settled himself between two branches, gently balancing the old roof across two of the smaller limbs, carefully nailing it down. The sound of hammering echoed through the forest as the tree shook. Zenyatta felt terribly for the wasps. They had no idea what he was doing and he must seem like a god to them, appearing to destroy their home while being impervious to their biggest weapons. He wondered if that was how the dragons had felt with humans? Nothing in the human world could hurt them, so they had to use their own godly weapons against each other. What a sad existence that must be.
He returned to what was left of the shrine, carefully pulling half rotten pieces of wood out from the form, rebuilding it stronger with new wood. He hit his thumb with the hammer once or twice, the “pain” zinging through his sensors as his metal chassis became slightly scuffed. It didn’t hurt in the way that a blow that required repair would, but it was enough to activate his warning protocols and subroutines.
Pain was really abstract for an omnic. There was no lingering ache, in fact it didn’t feel like anything but pressure. Not in the way a human could touch something and have to cradle it and soothe it for it to stop being an annoyance. But it would cycle through his awareness every so often in a “You should have this repaired” way. The more severe an injury, the more frequent the notification came up. The hammer simply spawned a warning that if he continued to do that, repair would be necessary.
Still, the frame went up easily enough, as did the roof, and before too long the sun was beginning to get low in the sky. “I will be back soon friend,” Zenyatta promised, “I will bring a stain or paint with me as well. Perhaps a nice color to go along with the forest. Green maybe?” He mused, though a sense of peace and happiness rushed over him at that idea. “Yes. Perhaps green.”
Zenyatta picked up all of his leftover materials, packing them away in his satchel as neatly as he had when he brought them out. It was then that he began the trek back to the monastery. The evening light gave nature such a different look. Sunrises and sunsets were the most appealing times in Zenyatta’s opinion, the way the light waves refracted along the atmosphere made everything seem so much more....ethereal. Darkness had almost fallen by the time he returned to the gates, only to find Mondatta waiting for him personally.
“Greetings Mondatta. I was not expecting to see you here.” He greeted his master, the one who had conferred upon him the title of brother and given him his surname.
“I was beginning to worry Zenyatta.” Mondatta’s tone was even, though the tilt of his head was indicative of more. “None of the monks had seen you since this morning.”
“Ah, yes, I have found a place for meditation in the forest, and the shrine beside it needed some maintenance. I did not think you would miss a few scraps.”
“Not at all. Am I correct in my belief that you will be spending more time there?”
“I would enjoy it. Not every day of course, as I have duties here, but it is peaceful.”
“You are still in need of tranquility, yes.”
“We all are.”
“That is true.” Mondatta hummed softly, and Zenyatta felt a... soft movement, what he would assume a human would call a ‘tickle’ around his mouth’s air intake valve and vocal output synthesizers. A moment passed, then two, before a wasp came crawling out of his mouth with a buzz. “You seem to have made a friend.”
“So it appears.”
The next time Zenyatta came to the shrine, he carried with him a canister of green paint and a brush. He set the paint can on the ground and knelt next to it, gently prying the lid open and looking down at the paint. It was very green. Brighter than the surrounding forest and definitely brighter than the clothing he wore. Well, obviously there was only one solution. Carefully he rose to his feet, unwilling to accidentally upend the paint, and began to remove his clothing. He did not worry much for modesty, after all, any important bits were still covered by plating, and there were no other souls around except for the animals and trees. Who was going to see him?
He hung his clothing over a branch before picking up his paint and beginning to get to work. The sun heated his chassis as it shone on the chrome plating. He knew he needed to be buffed but there was just no time for that with all of the work he had to do to become one with the Iris. When he finished, he wiped the nonexistent sweat from his brow with the back of his wrist and looked at his work. It was a nice job, and the paint should help the shrine withstand the weather.
As he looked over his chassis for any wayward paint drips, he found several, including a place where he must have accidentally drug the brush across his thigh while reaching from the paint bucket into a difficult part of the shrine. He looked through his alert logbook, and it turned out there had been a sensory alert but it had been so minor and he had been so focused that he did, in fact, just ignore it.
Closing the paint so the remainder of it would not dry out, Zenyatta took himself to the river to help rinse off himself and his brush. Even though he made certain to get non-toxic paint, he wanted to put as little of it into the river as he could. He used his hand to scoop water out, pouring it over the splashes of paint on his chassis and rubbing at them to get the pigment off of him. It didn’t work as well as he had hoped, metal was a difficult item to wash with, and even the textures on the pads of his fingers meant to assist with gripping items did nothing.
He glanced around, before finding a branch that had fallen from a tree, which still had green leaves on it. He plucked one of the leaves off, and used that to scrub at himself with. It worked.... well enough. Once he was free of green paint, or as free as he could reasonably be without a proper sponge, Zenyatta gently cupped water in his hand and dumped it over the brush. It was rather ineffective, but he got the majority of the paint out with time. Only then did he set the brush down and wade into the water. The water was cool on his sensors and the sensation of it flowing around his ankles was wonderous. Carefully, he slid to his knees, and placed his hands in the water as well. He could feel the rocks, smooth from ages of water rushing over them, under his fingers, along with grains of sand and dirt.
His body was waterproof to a hundred meters, and then water resistant for another fifty, further in fresh water. He could lay down and enjoy the sensations over nodes and wires.... but... it was not proper. If anyone from the monastery found him, he would be reprimanded. After all, he was considered Mondatta’s second. He should set a good example. He hesitated, listening and shifting his optical sensors to infra-red as he sought out any other omnic or human presence coming into the woods from the direction of the monastery. Hearing and seeing nothing aside from a few animals, Zenyatta gave into the impulse to flatten himself under the water, watching how life worked under the quiet stream. Slowly small fish made themselves known and Zenyatta was entranced at their beauty and curiosity. They would swim up to him, nudging at the array of lights on his forehead or nibbling at his fingers and toes. Trying to figure out what manner of being he was. To them, he must be an alien or a god. Something unlike anything they’ve seen before.
It was humbling.
As the light began to settle in the western sky, Zenyatta slowly began to push himself out of the water, letting droplets sluice off of his metal frame. As he rose, he watched the fish scatter, no longer trusting his presence among them, and he gave a wave goodbye as he stepped onto the grass. Judging by the light he had spent almost the entire day out here, and at least the last hour or two in the water. Mondatta would not be pleased with his dalliances. Even if he was getting closer to the Iris through nature. Quickly, but without careless haste, Zenyatta dressed again, and gathered the things he had brought with him before walking back to the temple.
Each time he was sent to the forest – trips that were less and less frequent with how much he tended to dally – he brought something for the shrine. Sometimes it was a small tea candle in a glass jar, as to not set anything on fire were it to tip over, other times it was a story or a small object he found on his way that he thought the guardian would enjoy seeing.
Always, he found as he walked, he was able to enjoy a fresh breeze on his face plate, coming down from the mountains and registering gently over his sensors. The temperature readout told him that it was cooler than it had been a week ago, which made sense. Fall was fast approaching and soon there would be crunchy leaves on the ground. Some trees were already starting to turn and Zenyatta knew that once one started, almost all of them would change to bright reds and oranges and yellows overnight. There would soon be a plethora of mushrooms to harvest, and Zenyatta hoped that he would be able to find enough edible ones to flavor soups with and make stock from for the winter.
The humans at the monastery enjoyed the seasonal treats.
Weeks passed and Zenyatta found himself correct in that the leaves changed color almost at once, but he was able to gather apples and mushrooms for the human monks and villagers, and tell the stories of how the children enjoyed the sweet apples of the forest to the shrine’s spirit.
Soon the crisp fall faded to a bitterly cold winter. Snow had fallen almost nonstop for the last month, first heavy and wet, freezing into ice sheets; then light and fluffy, blowing and drifting and making it impossible to tell how deep the snow truly was. As Zenyatta made his way into the forest he could not help but reflect on how gorgeous it really was. The snow made everything so bright and quiet. Even if he strained his auditory input devices, he could barely hear the scampering of animals. The reflection of light off of the snow made it bright even at night and Zenyatta wished he had been originally an art bot so he could paint the beauty. As he went along what was normally the trail Zenyatta found his gravity module struggling to keep him afloat over the snow. Normally he would not venture out but there had been an outbreak of fever and there were herbs in the caves that should help. Zenyatta recalled an old story about a sled dog who brought a medication across the Alaskan wilderness during a cold winter. He felt like this was a similar, though far less heroic, undertaking.
Zenyatta was not doing what he did for recognition though, but even if he was, he knew that it would be futile, after all, similar to people’s feelings about omnics, most of the world did not care about children with darker skin tones. It made him frustrated and depressed to think about so he chose to do what he could to help rather than dwell on it.
Zenyatta found the shrine by muscle memory alone, as it was buried in snow. He brushed off as much of the snow as he could, feeling the sensors in his hands register an alarm for how cold the metals were becoming, before bowing his head in a sort of greeting. “Hello old friend. I look forward to warmer weather so I may sit and chat with you again.” He murmured to the wind as it blew another dusting of snow around. He continued on his path as his internal sensors ticked the temperature of his core of with alert chimes in his brain. It was far too cold for humans to be out and about right now. If they had some protection from the snow and wind, maybe they could handle it, but it was much safer for an omnic. As he entered the first cave and got out of the wind, his body was able to slowly warm, the temperature alerts going up by a degree every few minutes, rather than down, as he gathered the herbs. In order to help the process along, he ran as many background tasks as he could, to keep his core producing as much heat as possible. Everything from replaying old memories to doing complex math and translating every word he knew into every language he knew to running complex diagnostic scans on himself. Anything to keep his system busy.
Still, by the time he finished his route and was ready to head back, the alert chimes in his brain were more frequent and his processes were running slower. He’d have to get out of the cold soon or risk his body shutting down until warmer weather. He was moving as quickly as he was able, though the wind had picked up and brought more snow with it. A normal person wouldn’t be able to see in these conditions, but then again, a normal person would have already succumbed to frostbite. As he passed the shrine a particularly strong gust of wind shook the nearby trees, and blew a clump of snow and ice loose. Zenyatta barely had a chance to register the clump hitting him and sending him sprawling into the snow before a final alert chimed in his brain and his system shut down.
When Zenyatta began coming online again, it happened slowly. His internal GPS tried to sync with a satellite but was unable. Same with his internal clock. He did not know how much time had passed, and he did not know where he was. It was.... terrifying, honestly. Or it would be had his emotional center returned to online status. Since it had not yet, Zenyatta still felt numb. He could register something solid under his body, the temperature was warmer than it should be given the season, but still very cold. His memory banks returned to online status, and he replayed the final moments before the shutdown, trying to figure out what had happened, before cursing his foolishness. He should have spent more time in that last cave, in order to warm himself up more thoroughly before returning to the cold weather.
As more and more surface sensors came online, he realized that the solid thing he was laying on was a fur of some sort, and it felt like solid ground beneath that, though he would not be able to confirm that suspicion with his optical array still offline. It was always one of the last things to boot for him. As his aural network came online, he was able to hear the crackling of a fire? That was odd. Perhaps someone in the mountains had re s cued him. But.. . he didn’t recall anyone else living up here. If he strained, he could also hear what sounded like breathing, though it was with far deeper breaths than any human he remembered.
Finally, after what felt like ages, but his internal clock said only was a minute and seventeen seconds, his optical sensors finally came back online. What he saw was confusing. He was definitely in a cave of some sort, but the fire was contained in an actual fireplace. He hadn’t seen any smoke on the mountain... well... ever, so whoever built it had to be good at camouflaging it. The cavern seemed carved, with walls that were fairly smooth, save for where rocks were jutting out to form almost shelf like areas. Zenyatta couldn’t see anything there, but that didn’t mean it was devoid of objects. There was no real furniture, but there were furs spread out, with more stacked in a neat pile. The fire’s crackling came into focus more sharply as more and more sensors fully activated, and behind that he could hear something deeper and rhythmic, but he cou ldn' t quite place what it was.
After all of his sensors came online, Zenyatta was able to slowly move his body. He pushed himself up onto his elbows and looked around.
What he saw.... was impossible.
Emerald loops coiled around themselves, shimmering in the firelight as they led up to an impressive head, powerful jaws shut as the creature regarded him. Yellow... no... not yellow. Gold? Perhaps. Topaz? Yes. That was better. Topaz eyes were fixed on his every miniscule movement, seemingly unbothered by his presence. The creature had horns curving back along his head, forks branching off of them.
Zenyatta sat all the way up, serenity filling him. If the creature wanted him dead, he would be dead already. His vocal abilities were the last to come online, and although his voice still had glitches in it, he was able to speak. “Hello,” He said, raising one hand in greeting. “Are you the one that pulled me from the snow?”
The creature nodded once, slowly, and Zenyatta could see that one of the horns was broken about half way down leaving splinters and shards missing from the otherwise smooth looking surface . How unfortunate. They must have survived a nasty accident.
“Well I thank you deeply. My name is Tekhartha Zenyatta and if there is any way I am able to repay your kindness, please let me know.” The creature rumbled a reply in return, huffing a breath out through its nose. Zenyatta had the idea that it was attempting to communicate but he wasn’t certain what he was supposed to understand.
The air in the cave held the same attributes and chemical makeup as spring, and Zenyatta wondered if he had been frozen all winter. If that was the case the other monks had surely written him off for dead or having deserted them by now.
“Do you know how long I have been offline?” He asked, only to receive yet another rumble. “Ah. I am afraid I do not understand your attempts to answer.” Zenyatta sighed, tapping a finger to his chin in thought. “Aha, how about one rumble for yes, and two for no?” The dragon rumbled once, eyes focused on Zenyatta. “Is it spring?” Two rumbles. “Later than spring?” Two rumbles again. “That is comforting. Has it been longer than a day since you found me?” One rumble. “A week?” Two rumbles. “Well then the other monks should not be too worried, as long as I explain what had happened. I can normally keep time very well, but the mountains make satellite uplinks nearly impossible. When the snow came down on me it froze my processor and forced it offline. I thought I would be stuck until spring.” Zenyatta explained, and the dragon looked at him in a way that made him think there was an attempt at conversation that they were trying to make.
Zenyatta, however, was unaware of what that was, and he felt.... very disappointed at that. He would like to be able to converse with such an interesting being! “Have you lived here for a long time?” Zenyatta asked, sitting up completely and settling into a lotus position. His antigrav motors hummed to life and he began floating again. It was a comfortable feeling. The dragon’s single rumble sent sympathy through Zenyatta, “Have you been alone all of this time?” Another single rumble, before the dragon moved its great body closer to him, claws catching on the ground and helping move his bulk through the space. Then gently, when the dragon was close enough, it reached a foreleg out, delicately touching one claw to Zenyatta’s chest. “Me?” Zenyatta asked, staring down at the scaly appendage for a long moment before looking up at the dragon, hands raising to his face. “Are you.... perhaps.... the one that the shrine belongs to?” There is a moment of silence that Zenyatta swears stretches on forever, but according to his internal clock was only two point four eight three six seconds, before the dragon rumbles one more time.
“Oh! I am so glad that I fixed it up then.” Zenyatta clapped his hands together, before almost looking bashful. “I... admittedly was not certain that anyone or anything actually owned the shrine, I just could not see it neglected any longer.”
The dragon rumbled again, long and low. Zenyatta thought it sounded pleased. It creeped forward into the cavern slowly, light highlighting his emerald scales with gold. He must be a sublime beauty in the sunlight. Though, it appeared he had been in some sort of battle as his chest was scarred. How unfortunate, though it didn’t mar his beauty any. Zenyatta found himself understanding why so many humans were told to be held captive by dragons in stories. If it weren’t for his calling, he would be too tempted to stay.
“Do you have a name?” He asked, head tilted out of curiosity. One rumble. “Is it possible for you to write it for me?” Two... no... three rumbles. Was that a maybe? A great foreleg came out, claws delicately extended, scratching.... something into the ground. A name? Perhaps? Not in any language Zenyatta knew. As the dragon returned its paw to the ground beneath it, Zenyatta circled around the word, trying to see if he could decipher it, to no avail. He saved the image to his memory files anyways, to decode it later.
“Apologies, I do not know what language that is, but I will download the appropriate translation packs when I have satellite access again.” Zenyatta explained. He and the dragon sat in silence for a while longer, before the guilt of being gone started to pop up in his subroutines.
“I... do not wish to leave, as I would love to spend more time getting to know you. However, the monastery is probably concerned about where I have went . Would it be possible to leave? I will still come visit the shrine when I am able, or perhaps I could even return here and we could spend time together.” The dragon appeared to consider this, before giving one low rumble, almost as if asking ‘so soon? You’ve only just arrived.’
“I know it must be lonely for you here...” Zenyatta said, standing and moving closer to the dragon, reaching out to touch its arm with one hand. “But we are friends now, and for as long as I am able, I will visit and keep you company.” He promised. The dragon rumbled again, and snorted softly, but unraveled itself as it backed through the tunnel, leading Zenyatta to the mouth of the cave. As he walked to the entrance his locators picked up the satellite feeds again, and his global positioning filled in the gaps in his mental map, not too far from the shrine actually, as well as resetting his clock to the right time. He had been gone for two days, six hours and thirty-five minutes. His brothers and sisters were probably concerned. He gave the dragon another gentle pat and a wave, bidding him goodbye before leaving to return to his home.
Zenyatta floated down the path while his internal processes found and reconnected to the satellites, pinging his location to Mondatta and the other omnic monks. It was a way of marking himself as safe. The other good thing about being able to connect to the satellites was that he was able to translate that word. It was Japanese, from an old script, and he believed it was indeed a name. Genji. He would have to ask when he returned to visit the dragon in the spring.
Mondatta was, of course, beside himself with anxiety over where Zenyatta had been. Zenyatta was vague about it, saying that a friend had helped dig him out of an avalanche. It was distressing to have to lie to him, even if it was only by omission. It wasn’t just that Zenyatta had a reputation for complete honesty, it was also Mondatta had been so kind over the years, helping him when nobody else would. He had been so angry at first, learning how prejudiced people were against omnics . Learning that no matter what he did some people would still think he was lesser because he was made of metal and not flesh. How he had come to a mystery sentience rather than following the orders he had been built to do. He had even been angry that while he had been given the ability to form the questions, he had not been given the ability to find the answers.
There were, he had since discovered, no answers to find. It was all a mystery to everyone.
Omnic sentience had been seen as rogue programming to start out, but they had learned that even the most airtight code developed the sentience if they were left to interact with humans for too long. The first theories had said that perhaps sentience had been given to them as a gift from the humans, since the first omnics were built in their image after all. Then, the enlightened few had been able to gaze upon the Iris, and everything changed. Zenyatta had not believed at first, the same way humans refused to believe in a God that had not spoken to them. But as he saw peace come upon his brothers and sisters.... he began to believe. Slowly at first. Agreeing that maybe somewhere there was possibly something out there. Only once he began to accept that there was a possibility of something bigger than himself did he become touched, blessed by the Iris’ power. Only then did he feel that peace for the first time.
Zenyatta hadn’t been able to return to the cave or the shrine for the rest of the winter, for far too many storms had blown through with little to no warning. Then when the nice weather approached and the snow melted away, he was too busy to visit, as the town was in need of repairs. He should not have been surprised when he returned to the monastery to find that he had a visitor. “He is young and handsome.” one of the girls said walking past him on her way back down to the village from class. “The only thing he has said is your name.” One of his brother monks, acting as chaperone to the children, explained. “And... And he was almost naked !” The girl’s younger brother exclaimed, obvious jealousy in his tone. “You still have to wear clothes.” The girl told him tone vaguely cross, though whether it was at her brother’s idea or the strange visitor, Zenyatta did not know, “Do not let that... odd visitor... teach you otherwise.” Zenyatta waved as they walked past, thanking them for the information. He was not exactly hurrying up the path to the monastery, but definitely moving with purpose. After all, he was curious.
Who would be visiting him? Was it the dragon? No there was no mention of scales. But Zenyatta didn’t know who that would come looking for him specifically that would be described as young and handsome. He found himself slowing as he pondered. Could dragons shift form? In that morality lesson last fall the dragons had had human bodies. But that was just a fable. Wasn’t it?
As he walked into the monastery proper, he was directed to the sitting room where they received guests. Kneeling on one of the cushions was a young man that could only be described as objectively handsome. Dark hair that shone in the fading sunlight. Black, maybe with the faintest green reflections. Pale skin. Just the right amount of muscle for all of his ‘human’ databases to return ‘lean but attractive’. Then he turned, hearing the whir of Zenyatta’s antigravity modules, and a smile broke out on his face, all sharp teeth but honest in its sincerity.
“Zenyatta.” He said, voice heavily accented in a way that Zenyatta could not place. Zenyatta nodded his head in greeting and raised a hand.
“Greetings.” He looked back up at the young man, and saw a spiderwebbing of scars near his shoulder and across his chest. It almost looked like a spiderweb, or perhaps the pattern lightning left. But he had not heard of anyone getting struck by lightning lately, nor had there been any storms that produced lightning recently. But the marks appeared old. Hm. Zenyatta remembered that in the fable the younger brother had been struck down by lightning by the elder.
Was there more to that fable than anyone had thought?
“Are you, perhaps.... Genji ?” he asked, floating more completely into the room. The man was silent for a while, before nodding. When he spoke, it was thickly accented and halting, as if he was still working through the translations.
“Yes, I am. The weather has been nice. I thought you forgot.”
Oh. If that didn’t break Zenyatta’s heart. Or the coolant pump in his chest. Emotional center of his motherboard? Something. Either way, if he had a heart, it would break at the disappointment clouding Genji’s tone.
“No! I did not forget,” Zenyatta rushed to say, “There has just been too much to do for me to get away and visit. I apologize for not finding the time and coming out to visit you sooner. There were repairs to do here and in the village, then illnesses to tend to. I really did intend to come visit again.” He assured Genji.
“Oh,” the dragon said, as if that hadn’t dawned on him at all. “I did not think you would be busy. I know you often seemed to be doing chores, but I had thought that you were just...”
“Just a simple monk?” Zenyatta asks, giving a small good natured laugh. The dragon flushes and it highlights his cheeks. “I am not offended, do not worry. We at the Shambali are not just monks who are devoted to our order and only our order. We wish to make the world a better place through the Iris.”
“The Iris?” Genji had the appearance of someone who was racking their brains to see if they had heard of such a thing before. “I do not think I have recalled the religion.”
“Oh, then please, attend lessons. The Iris is a wonderful gift, and advocates peace, regardless of who you are or from where you come.”
“Do you teach?” Genji asked.
“Sometimes, though I also attend the lessons myself. I still have much to learn and improve upon myself.” Zenyatta still needed practice staying calm in adversity. His first impulse was still to fix the problem through any path that would work effectively, not just the nonviolent ones. Genji seemed to hesitate, before nodding once.
“I will stay and attend lessons then.” Zenyatta clapped his hands together.
“Excellent. I will take you to meet Master Mondatta and we will get you some robes.” Zenyatta offered his hand, and Genji took it as he raised himself up, though it seemed none of his weight was put onto Zenyatta. So he had not needed the help? But still took his hand? Odd.
The sensors in Zenyatta’s palm measured Genji’s pulse, strong but a little quick, and temperature, cool but not cold.
As the weeks passed, Zenyatta learned that Genji was not the most attentive student they had had. He was easily distracted, especially if Zenyatta was doing other things during the lessons. Genji had taken to following him around like a small kitten followed its favorite person. In an attempt to soothe that impulse, Zenyatta would attend lessons he did not need, cleaning something or quietly meditating in the corner of the room. So long as Genji could see Zenyatta, he was attentive enough to the lessons that he did well. He could debate hypotheticals with the best of them, and knew plenty of stories for the morality lessons. He struggled with meditation, but.... so did Zenyatta some days. The more you had on your mind, the more practice meditating you needed in order to achieve the same feeling of calm and peace. He was polite and told jokes to the monks, generally bringing laughter where he went.
However, all of that changed when the first real thunderstorm of the spring came in nearly a month after Genji had joined them. As the dark clouds rolled in across the skies, they did the same over Genji’s mood. His easy smile had turned into a tight frown, muscles bunching up like Genji was preparing himself for a fight. Zenyatta politely excused the pair of them from the conversation and gently placed his hand on Genji’s shoulder, gesturing to the same path he’d take to the shrine. “Walk with me, Genji.”
Genji did not move yet. He looked at the sky, eyes narrowing further. “It looks like rain.”
“It will not harm us. Walk with me.” Zenyatta began walking without him, trusting Genji to follow. It took a moment, but Genji followed him, the hurried pace of his footfalls on the stone slowing once he closed the distance. Zenyatta led him out into the forest, and soon the sound of feet on stone changed to feet on bare earth, and Zenyatta let himself properly stand, loving the way the new spring grass ‘tickled’ at his locomotion safety sensors.
A flash of lightning shot across the sky, the thunderous boom following shortly after and Genji sucked in a sharp breath behind him, but said nothing. Zenyatta hummed softly, the sound reminiscent of the way his orbs chimed. They walked in silence for a while yet, lightning occasionally shooting across the sky and causing Genji to jolt beside him with every crack, until they came to the clearing with Genji’s shrine.
“Why did you bring me here?” Genji asked, anxiety and irritation brimming through his very pores and creating an aura around him. Zenyatta folded his legs back into a lotus position, then let his anti gravity module slowly lower him down until he was seated on the ground. “Are you trying to get rid of me?”
“Not at all dear dragon. This is a place that brings me peace. I thought I could share it with you while you tell me of your worries.” Genji stared at him, eyes an electric green and narrowed. The same color as his scales, Zenyatta remembered, though he swore – and his memory banks confirmed – that they had not been that color previously.
“I am not worried.” The dragon snapped, and the trees around them shook with a sudden breeze.
“Oh, forgive me then. It had seemed that you were anxious about something.”
“I just do not like storms.” Genji’s voice seemed to imply that he wasn’t going to share anymore. Zenyatta, however, was undeterred.
“Oh?” Zenyatta tilted his head. “Why not?”
“That is not your business.” Genji snapped again, folding his arms across his chest and turning away.
“Perhaps not, but I still wish to know. After all, I am your friend, am I not?”
“We hardly know each other.”
“Perhaps I hardly know you, but you know quite a bit about me. Besides, you saved me when you did not have to. I think that tells me all I need to know about you.”
“Which is what, exactly?”
“You are kind. Even if you are cautious.” Zenyatta tilted his head, one finger tapping on his faceplate, near the air intake valve. Where his lips would be if he was human. “You do not wish for harm to come to someone in your lands. You care about omnics as well as people.”
Zenyatta looked at him dead on now.
“You are also afraid of something to do with this storm. Could it be, perhaps, you fought someone with electrical abilities?”
Genji was taken aback. “How... What... Why... Why do you have an idea like that?” he sputtered.
“Well, the answer is simple really.” Zenyatta says. If his air intake valve could smile he is certain he would be now. “Right before I found your shrine, we had a morality lesson. You know, those debates you are so fond of? Well Mondatta told of a legend. Two brothers. Two dragons. Who both fell in love with the same person and wound up fighting. One was a dragon of air, and the other of storms. The dragon of air, the younger brother, was struck in the chest and wounded gravely. Then neither dragon was seen again.”
“You think I am the dragon from that story?”
Zenyatta allowed himself to hover first, then stand. He walked forward and placed his hand on Genji’s chest, over the epicenter of the scars that radiate from him. “I believe there is a strong chance of it.”
“And if you are wrong?”
“Then I am wrong. It would not be the first time.” Genji stared at him for a long moment, even as the first fat drops of rain began falling from the sky, plinking off of his chassis in a way that would have been almost musical if he were paying enough attention to it. Instead, he was captivated by Genji’s eyes, the hard stare seemingly scrutinizing him down to his very soul.
“Your story has a few things wrong with it.” Genji says at last.
“Yes. For starters, I was not ‘gravely wounded’ or whatever the fable said.” Genji seemed almost offended that he could be taken down with something so simple as a bolt of lightning, even if it happened to come from a powerful dragon. Zenyatta did not understand the dismissal of the strength of a storm, after all, if he were struck with a big enough bolt it could completely destroy everything that made him him . Wipe his memory banks, the works. Sure he had uploaded copies of his memories and personality to satelite databases but... there was no guarantee that a reboot would mean he was still him. " He did not wish me dead. If he did, I would not be here.” Genji looks down at his scar, and consequently, Zenyatta’s hand. “And we were not fighting over a woman. We were fighting over the most handsome man I had ever seen in my life. Dark hair and skin. Rumor has it he and my brother are living happily together, and that the man was not a mortal himself.” Genji’s tone had changed quite a bit throughout those sentences. It was obvious to Zenyatta’s emotional processing chip that Genji missed his brother dearly, and wished him happiness with his ‘prize’. But at the same time he had perhaps.... a longing for what might have been. Such a human emotion, and Zenyatta was captivated by it. “And yes, okay, we did fight, and it was bad. But... it was not just over the guy. When two people live together for centuries the little things add up.”
“I suppose that is true.” Rain was falling hard now, sluicing off their bodies. Zenyatta thought Genji had been fortunate, being able to live with his sibling for centuries. He hoped in a century that he was still able to live with his omnic siblings at the monastery. It would be sad not to have the human ones still there, but....
“Thank you.” Genji said softly, only barely audible over the plink and patter of the rain.
“For bringing me out here.”
“Oh, of course. We are friends, are we not?” Genji smiled now, and Zenyatta felt something shift in his core. If he had human parts he would assume it was a fluttering where his heart would be.
But he was not, so that was a silly notion.
“Yes, I guess we are.” Zenyatta offered his arm at Genji’s words. Brow furrowing as he frowned softly, Genji took it, wrapping his hand around the metal of Zenyatta’s arm.
“What is the matter?”
“I just... I am not used to touching others again yet. I have been alone for... a very long time.”
Zenyatta hums softly, patting Genji’s fingers with his other hand, sensors effortlessly cataloguing his temperature – again it was cooler than a human’s but still within the optimal homeostasis range – and the texture of his skin – smooth and soft. “You are free to touch me whenever you wish,” He offers, head tilting up at Genji’s face and his eyes closing in his imitation of a smile. Genji blew out a breath.
“That is kind of you Master Zenyatta,” He seems to have something else on the tip of his tongue, and he debates whether or not to say it. Zenyatta hums again, encouraging him. “Well... I would like... I mean, if it is alright with you and Master Mondatta ...”
Genji trails off and Zenyatta slows their walking speed a fraction, to give him time to come out with his question before they risk encountering someone else. “Whatever it is,” Zenyatta prompted after Genji was silent for nearly five minutes, “I would like to know what it is you wish.”
“I would like to stay.” The words are so quiet Zenyatta’s audio processor has to adjust the volume settings, filter out background noise and then play it back. When he finally does hear the words correctly, he claps out of excitement.
“Oh yes, we are always looking for more disciples of the Iris.” It was difficult for Zenyatta to contain his excitement. He did not often wish his body was different, but at times like this he wished he was able to emote properly. Oh, how he wished. But alas, he had to take comfort in knowing that his forehead array was blinking like crazy to show his excitement.
As the building returned into view, Zenyatta became even more excited. He pulled Genji along to the front doors, then inside to find Mondatta . They rounded corner after corner, checking room after room, until finally they found him, in the library. “Master Mondatta !” Zenyatta’s synth box crackled from the sudden forceful noise.
“Zenyatta? What is the matter?” Mondatta seemed to be startled from the sudden clamoring at the doorway. It was rare for Zenyatta to act this way, so his concern was appropriate. Zenyatta felt almost embarrassed.
“Apologies Master, there is nothing wrong.” Zenyatta has brought his voice under control again and sounds almost sheepish. “It is just... ah... Genji wishes to stay with us, and learn about the Iris.” Mondatta stared at Zenyatta for a moment, before looking up at Genji, his forehead array blinking in a pattern that Zenyatta recognized to mean consideration and surprise.
“Is this true?” Mondatta asked, and Genji, to his credit, did not fidget much as the full weight of Mondatta’s gaze was directed at him.
Genji’s head bowed slightly. “Yes, it is. Master Zenyatta has shown me such kindness, even before he knew who I was, that I wish to learn about the force that made him the way he is.”
“Zenyatta has always been kind, Genji . The Iris has just helped him, and all of us really, accept who we are, and the way we are.”
“The Iris helps me calm my more turbulent emotions.” Zenyatta admits. “I am often more willing to fight for what I believe in than some of my brothers, and the Iris helps me to follow a nonviolent path.”
“Knowing this, do you still wish to join us?” Mondatta asks, “There will be no judgement if learning the truth has made you change your mind.”
“I would like to stay and learn from you,” Genji repeats, “If you will allow it.” Zenyatta had a sneaking suspicion that he was not talking solely to Mondatta.
“Then you are welcome to stay.” Mondatta says. “Welcome to the Shambali .” Genji bowed low at Mondatta’s words.
“I hope to make your order proud.”
And so, Genji came to stay permanently with the Shambali . He helped them with their chores, fixing the monastery and buildings around the village. Collecting mushrooms and herbs in the forest with Zenyatta in the fall, berries in the summer, and fish year round . Zenyatta still insisted on maintaining his shrine, even though Genji insisted that the act was silly and useless. Zenyatta had tilted his head in that almost smiling way of his – though his faceplate remained still, and claimed that it was a simple thing that brought him joy.
Zenyatta had also been caught slipping a note into the pages of the fable Mondatta had read to them almost a year prior during their morality lesson. If you were to find the note and open it up, it read:
Once upon a time, in a land not so far away there lived a dragon. Though he was once free as the wind and changing his direction just as often, the wildest of gales have since eased to gentle breezes carrying the scent of fresh river water and cherry blossoms. Though he once had to share the lands he watched over with his elder brother, these lands and those who inhabit them now are his own. He protects them and cares for them, walking among them as a monk. Those who meet him say his smile and laugh are infectious. Those that attempt to harm the humans and omnics under his care claim he is as cold and biting as a sub-zero January wind. Though he pretends to be only human, enraptured by the monastery in which he now resides, if you are ever traveling in the mountains of Nepal, and come across a village protected by omnic monks, keep in mind that you never know just who, or what, will come for lunch.