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This is Boatem (We Have a Dragon)

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The first thing that seemed a little… off about Grian was the way he kept circling the Boatem pole — round and round in the sky above. Even that could have just been early-season nesting instincts (which he vehemently denied that he had. Everyone pretended to believe him). But after the third time he swooped down on a visitor with his feathers poofing in warning, wings mantling over his shoulders, and a tight grin that was nearly a threat on his face… Impulse started to develop a theory. He’d known Grian long enough to have seen him… change before, and when his avian friend took on the ender dragon just a few days into this new world — well. That was definitely enough to be a catalyst for all sorts of things.

“Grian,” he ventured one evening, as they all sat around the Boatem pole and plotted the pit they wanted to dig beneath it, “Got a question for you.”

“Hmm?” Grian looked up from the list of materials he was tapping into his datapad. Something glinted on his temples in the fading golden light, and Impulse squinted. He was nearly certain that those were faint scales… but it could have just been a smudge of dirt. They’d all worked hard the last few days.

Impulse kept his voice deliberately casual, looking back down at the design he was sketching out for a new bedrock-breaking contraption. “You, ah… you still keeping that dragon egg around?”

He watched Grian from under his eyebrows, and was rewarded by a quick narrowing of the avian’s pupils and an uneasy ruffle of his wings. His shoulders twitched like a cat raising its hackles, and his voice was maybe just a little too sharp when he replied: “Maybe. Why?”

Impulse shrugged, and kept his smirk to himself. 

“Oh, no reason,” he said. “Just curious.”

 

~*~

 

The second thing about Grian that changed was his plumage.

<Grian> Mumbo, could you come over for a few minutes? I need to show you something.

Mumbo stood in the doorway of Grian’s starter house and stared at the muddle of shed blue, red, and yellow feathers that lay scattered across the floor, like the aftermath of a cartoon pillow fight. It looked like someone had started to sort them by color before giving up, and in the shadows against the far wall, Grian perched on his bed, knees pulled up to his chest and his arms crossed on top of them. 

“Are you alright, mate?” Mumbo blurted, letting the door shut behind him. 

Grian snorted, shrugging his wings and sending another few feathers drifting. 

“I’m in molt, Mumbo,” he groused. “I itch, and I can’t fly, and there’s feathers everywhere. So yeah. I’m fine. Just fine.”

Mumbo winced. He knew this could happen from time to time — Grian’s wings had shifted last season from a deep purple and white to their vibrant parrot hues, and he’d had less dramatic molts a few other times over the course of the season… But normally it took a few weeks, just a couple feathers at a time. 

“Right, sorry,” he said. “I just — I haven’t seen it this… drastic before.”

“It’s never been this drastic before!” Grian hopped to his feet, loose feathers flying. He grabbed the end of one wing and waggled the new feathers at Mumbo. “Look at this! I look like a plucked chicken!”

“Charrot,” Mumbo mumbled. He stepped forward and took the proffered limb in his hands.

“What?”

“Nevermind.” He ran his fingers gently over the new growth, avoiding the ragged red feathers that hung crookedly. “These look kind of like your old ones. From when you first joined Hermitcraft.”

Grian hummed anxiously. “They’re darker, though,” he said. “More black.”

“And you’ve never molted this fast before?”

“Never.” Grian reluctantly tugged his wing free and shrugged them back to fold behind him. “It’s driving me mad.” He looked like such a ragged, pathetic fledgling that Mumbo nearly laughed — but he kept it to himself. His friend needed comfort just then, not teasing.

“Well — if it’s going this quickly that means it’ll be over fast, right?” He reached into his inventory and tossed a few freshly-baked potatoes to Grian. “Don’t worry, dude. We’ll help you keep on top of things until you’re flight-worthy again.”

With a relieved huff, Grian plopped back down on the bed. “Thanks, Mumbo,” he said. He opened his mouth as if to add something else, and then clamped it shut again. 

As long as they’d been friends though, Mumbo had an inkling what he’d been about to say. He’d like to think he knew Grian fairly well… and he had seen him go through molts before, and knew that being flightless left the avian hermit feeling vulnerable, uncomfortable with being alone.

Mumbo sighed, but it was good natured. “You can stay at Treeza tonight if you want,” he said. “And I’m sure Impulse and Scar and Pearl would be okay with a sleepover or two as well.”

Grian brightened. “Thanks,” he said again, a sheepish note in his tone.

“One one condition,” Mumbo said, pointing. “You have to promise to clean up the feathers this time.” 

With a grin, Grian snapped his bedraggled wings out and flapped once, blowing a whirlwind of feathers in Mumbo’s face. “I always clean up after myself,” he said innocently.

Mumbo sneezed. 

Well. Boatem wouldn’t need feathers for quills or arrows any time soon.

 

~*~

 

Grian’s third change may have gone unnoticed longer if it weren’t for Scar’s hat.

He took it back from Grian’s snatching hand, ignoring his friend’s cackles of laughter and running his fingers around the inside of the brim.

“Grian,” he said, lightly indignant. “You’ve dented my hat!”

“What? No, I haven’t. I didn’t do anything to it.”

That wasn’t strictly true — he had dangled it over the Boatem hole and teasingly threatened to drop it in, and then he’d taken off running across the common area, the tall hat cocked rakishly over his forehead as Scar chased him down. Neither of those things should have damaged it, but Scar could distinctly feel the twin dents on either side of the inner red-velvet browband.

“Yes, you did, look—” Scar held up the hat and traced the shape. “See? Here, and here.”

Grian frowned, the now-obvious silvery scales at his temples crinkling around his eyes. “I just wore it for a second, Scar, I don’t think I—hey!” 

He ducked, but Scar was already on him, grabbing him in a headlock and ruffling rough hands through his hair. Grian flapped his still-molting wings, off balance, and fell to the thick grass with an “oof,” Scar landing on top of him. 

“Aha!” Scar declared, arm still wrapped around Grian’s neck and smushing his cheeks. “Yup! It’s your horns.”

“My what?

Grian pulled free, and Scar sat back, grinning at his friend. His grin faltered as Grian’s hands went frantically to his head, digging into the mussed blond mop with a look that wasn’t quite panic on his face. Scar saw the moment that his seeking fingers found the stubby, smooth nubs, and the not-quite-panic turned into a genuine freakout. 

“Horns?” Grian yelped. “Where—how—why do I have horns?”

Scar blinked, a little taken aback. “Um,” he said. “I don’t know? Sorry—I just assumed this was… you know. One of your things.”

“My things? ” Grian’s eyes were wide, and one hand tugging at the protrustion in his hair as if it might just pop off. “Scar, my things are like… chicken pranks. Not finishing the backs of builds. Forgetting where I stored things. Not growing horns.” 

“Hey, hey—” Scar reached for his friend’s shoulder, concerned at the rising panic in Grian’s voice. Reflexively, Grian yanked away, a hiss escaping his throat.

Scar froze.

“Um. Grian.” He stared.

“What?” Grian snapped, snorting in frustration.

Scar simply pointed at the tendrils of pink smoke drifting between them. Smoke that was coming from Grian’s nostrils.

Grian went cross-eyed looking down. 

He blinked.

“That—I… what.”

Scar didn’t often find Grian at a loss for words.

“It’s fine,” he assured his friend. “You’ve just gone… a little dragon-y. It’s fine.”

“I’ve what?” Grian’s voice rose in a panicked peak. 

Ah. Okay. Scar set his hat aside. This was a bigger deal than he’d realized.

“Hey—okay first: breathe. It’s gonna be fine.” He reached out again, slowly, giving Grian plenty of time to notice.

This time, Grian let him touch his shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly.

“First the wings, then the scales, and now horns…” Grian let out a laugh that was only half hysterical. 

“Hey, look on the bright side,” Scar joked. “Imagine what it would be like if you’d decided to raid an ocean monument instead of taking on the dragon.”

Grian snorted, and some of the tension went out of him. “Talk about a death glare,” he muttered.

Scar laughed. “Maybe you could have at least gotten us a bunch of prismarine that way,” he teased. He gave Grian a friendly shove and released his shoulder. 

Dragon Grian. Huh.

Well. It was always something in Boatem.

 

~*~

 

Pearl knew Grian as well as anyone on the server—and better than some—and she was the one to put the final pieces together.

Though it did take a minor misunderstanding about exactly what she was building with Keralis for her to realize what was going on.

Grian was waiting on her front stoop when she got home that night, her hair sweaty and her fingernails filthy with dirt and stone-dust, every inch of her sore and tired from the long day of building—re-building—and corralling Keralis. Wordlessly, she waved Grian inside—as long as they’d known each other, she was half surprised he hadn’t just gone in on his own. 

She went to the cauldron in the corner and washed her hands, scrubbing under the nails and sighing at the feeling of the day’s grime rinsing away.

“So…” Grian flopped onto her bed, the darkening feathers of his new wings looking a little ruffled in the low light. “Are you… Are you and Keralis nearly done?”

Pearl lit another lantern and dropped down beside him, tugging his left wing into her lap and beginning to card her fingers through the disheveled feathers.

“Mm-hm,” she said. “And if Keralis suggests one more addition or change, I’m going to strangle him.”

She grinned as she said it, though. The heist castle they were working on was turning into one of her favorite projects on the server so far—even if she did hear Keralis’ tone-deaf rendition of the Neighbors theme in her nightmares. 

Grian sat in silence for a moment, his eyes closed as Pearl gently straightened the purple-black feathers, the new pinions smooth and oddly metallic under her fingers. She could feel the tension in his shoulders though, and it didn’t fade as she worked.

Suddenly, Grian pulled his wing away and reached for her hand, his skin hot—almost fevered. Pearl was startled to find his eyes wide with agitation.

“You can’t go,” he said—and it was nearly a growl, but not one of anger. More of… desperation?

Pearl blinked. “Go?” she laughed. “Go where?”

“To Keralis. Pearl, please.” His grip tightened, and Pearl glanced down to see indigo talons curling around her fingers. “You… What can I do to make you stay?”

Oh.

Pearl put her hand over his and squeezed it gently.

“Grian,” she said, looking him dead in the eye and making her voice firm. “I’m not leaving Boatem. I’m not going anywhere. None of us are. Promise.”

He searched her gaze for a moment, his eyes flicking back and forth and his pupils rapidly expanding and dilating before finally settling. His frantic look faded, and the ruffled feathers at the nape of his neck smoothed back down where they had poofed in distress.

Grian relaxed his grip on her fingers. “Sorry…” he said, curling back on himself and looking sheepish. “I—you can do whatever you want, Pearl. I just… I don’t know why I’m this freaked out about it.' He scratched at his scalp, chagrined. "I mean, obviously I want you around; you’re one of my best friends. But—I dunno. I don’t… I don’t want you to leave. I don’t know why I care so much.”

He started to move away, but Pearl kept ahold of his hand. 

“I know why,” she grinned. “But you’re not going to like my theory.” 

He frowned, and she just pointed at the wings.

“Dragon,” she said simply.

Grian huffed, a small plume of rose-colored smoke rose into the air. He slumped back against the wall, wings flaring on either side of his shoulders. 

“This officially makes me a shapeshifter, doesn’t it,” he said, letting his head thunk back against the wood. 

Pearl scooted over and nudged one wing out of the way to sit next to him. She poked his knee. “What was your first clue?” she teased. Then, more seriously and a little cautious, “Do you think you’ve always been like this? Or is it something… they did to you?”

He shrugged, lifting his hand to examine his new talons. “Does it matter?” he asked. “I can’t control it, apparently. The wings, the horns, the smoke—”

“The hoarding.”

Grian looked at her sharply. “I haven’t been hoarding,” he protested.

“Have too.”

“Have not.”

Have too.”

“Fine!” he threw his hands in the air, exasperated. “What exactly am I hoarding, then?”

Pearl waggled her eyebrows at him. “Boatem.”

“That doesn’t even make—” Grian cut himself off with a frown. “I haven’t—” 

Dawning realization covered his face.

“Oh.” He said. “Oh void.”

“You don’t want me moving out and joining up with Keralis. You get antsy every time Impulse stays overnight at one of his farms. You practically stalk anyone who comes around,” Pearl ticked off each point on her fingers. “And I swear I can see you bristle every time Doc or Ren comes anywhere close to Boatem.”

Grian buried his face in his hands. “Ooooh nooo. Pearl,” he groaned, his words muffled by his fingers. “Pearl, that’s so creepy. I’m like… some kind of crazy stalker!”

“I think it’s kinda sweet.” She reached for his wing again, smoothing some of the unkempt down around the still-growing flight feathers. With a smile, she added. “You could have started hoarding anything—gold, diamonds, deepslate, copper, ancient debris… It’s flattering that you decided to hoard us .”

Grian raised his wing, peering at her from underneath. “You’re taking this very calmly,” he accused. 

She winked. “We’ve suspected for a while.”

“We? Who’s we ?”

“Mostly me and Impulse,” she assured him. “At least about the hoarding thing. I think most folks have noticed the… dragony bits at this point.”

“I can’t believe this,” he sighed, letting the wing fall again. “I can’t believe this.”

Pearl laughed. “Believe it, Gria,” she said. “And for what it’s worth, I think it’s adorable that your bird-dragon brain went: friends. Must hoard friends .”

From behind the wing, she heard Grian snort. “I’m never going to hear the end of this, am I.”

“Nope!” she said cheerfully. “Never. Now sit still, birdie-boy. Your wings are a mess.”

 

~*~

 

Grian soared over Boatem, his wings finally re-feathered enough to properly fly again. The wind in his hair revealed the thumb-sized horns on his head, and his neatly-trimmed talons curled around the handle of his knapsack, holding it securely.

The alley was coming along nicely, he thought, but there was one more thing he wanted to add to his Magical Menagerie (“Babagerie!” he heard Scar chirp) in a place of honor. And safety.

He swooped in and landed lightly on the deepslate bricks outside the Menagerie. Slipping his hand into the knapsack and running his fingers over the pebbly texture of the egg within, he smiled to himself. This would be the pièce de résistance of the interior. 

The bell over the door jingled when he walked inside, and the black cat in the corner of the room opened its eyes to mew softly at him. In the center of the space, a small deepslate pedestal glowed softly with the light of the amethyst crystals that studded its sides.

He lifted the dragon egg out of the bag and gently rested it on the pedestal, his hands lingering over its warm, curved surface. Something protective in his heart clicked into place, and he fluttered his wings, settling the feathers in satisfaction. 

“Dragony,” he muttered, a self-deprecating grin crossing his face. “Could be worse, I guess.”

Turning, he left the Menagerie (“Bebagerie!”) and took off again, flapping with strong wingbeats to lift himself up above Boatem. Below, he caught movement: Pearl ducking into her shop, Impulse and Mumbo chatting about something near the Boatem hole, and Scar precariously balanced atop one of his copper roofs. 

Everything and everyone safe and right .

Boatem was never intended to be what it had become. It was chaotic and messy and loud, with pranks and dinnerboned animals and explosions and constant surprises.

But it was his.

And he was theirs.

He flew higher, circling the area with affection swelling in his heart.

This was Boatem.

And it had a dragon.