How the First Firedrake Squadron was Formed
Evelyn Winterbourne, lead investigator at Elemental Investigations, was reviewing the overnight dispatches. The last dispatch caused her to sigh deeply. It detailed an incident involving the gnome clans to the north of Saxondale. One of their regular tourneys had focused unwanted attention on the magical community. She understood that the tourneys were an important part of their culture, but couldn’t help wondering if the clans understood concepts like secrecy and discretion.
A gnome clan tourney involved feats of martial prowess, feasting, dancing and celebrating. At thirty centimetres, one foot, in height the average gnome is not very big. When the clans get together for a tourney, they are very rowdy and not discrete. Especially when it came time to the highlight of the tourney, the jousts.
Similar to the human jousts in medieval times, a gnome knight wears armour and fights with a lance. The main difference is that where humans rode horses, a gnome flies on the back of a firedrake. Firedrakes are the smaller cousins of dragons, and with an average wing span of two metres they are similar in size to bald eagles. The jousts involve considerable amounts of aerial acrobatics and fire-breathing. Many of the residents of Saxondale where starting to worry about the strange happenings in the north.
So far, the agents of Elemental Investigations had kept the rumours under control. It was only a matter of time before word got out, and people started to panic. The prime directive of Elemental Investigations is to keep the magical world and the human world separate. Evelyn needed to find a way to keep the clans occupied, provide a good cover story, and continue to keep the magical world secret.
Finishing her review of all of the dispatches, Evelyn stretched the tension out of her shoulders and decided she needed her morning coffee, before facing the rest of the day.
‘Come on Felix’, she said to a cat that looked like a miniature snow leopard, and together they left her office.
The offices of Elemental Investigations are in a three-story, red brick terrace, in a row of terraces situated on a tree-lined avenue. From the outside it looks like a high-end private investigation firm, only those who are part of the magical world knew its real purpose. Evelyn’s favourite place to get coffee was a boutique café a few doors down the avenue.
It was a short walk for Evelyn and Felix, the cool autumn air helped clear her head. A small brass bell tinkled when Evelyn pushed open the door to the café and walked through. Felix followed with the air of someone who owned the place, as only cats can. Evelyn took her usual table by the front window. Felix jumped up to the ledge beside her and sat with his tail curled around his paws. His vantage point gave him a good view of the patrons in the café and the avenue outside.
Nathan, the barista, waved in greeting ‘Hi Evelyn, the usual today?’ he asked.
‘Yes please Nathan’, said Evelyn, ‘and today’s paper if you have it’. She wanted to see if news of the events of last night had made it into the papers. A few minutes later Nathan came over to her table with her coffee, a small dish of water for Felix, and the news paper.
Evelyn nodded and said ‘Thank you Nathan, please put it on the company account’.
‘Already done’, replied Nathan with a smile and went back to the counter to take someone else’s order.
Spending time in the café in the mornings was one of Evelyn’s favourite times of the day. She found the routine and the sheer ordinariness of it soothing. It also reminded her how important the work the she and her agents did in protecting humans from the magical world.
Reading the paper Evelyn felt pleasure and pride in her agents work as she saw that the tourney was only mentioned as a small story in the local news section of the paper. The current theory was that kids had been playing with fireworks and generally being annoying. Evelyn chuckled at the mental image of an old man shaking his fist at the sky shouting ‘The youth of today!’. She made a mental note to thank the agents responsible.
The coffee was nearly finished when a small story in the international section caught her eye. It detailed how Dutch police were training bald eagles to capture and disable drones. Evelyn and her investigators had noticed the rising use of drones by members of the human community. It was only last week that she had been in a conference call with HQ and their military contact about drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as he’d persisted in calling them.
After reading the article an idea began to form. ‘Hey Felix, come look at this’, she whispered. Felix jumped from the window ledge to her lap and she started scratching him behind his ears. Anyone who noticed would think that she was simply giving her cat a scratch, but they would be wrong.
‘I think this could be a way to solve our problem, and add to the capabilities of the agency’, she mused quietly as a plan began to form in her mind. Felix purred loudly and bunted his head into her hand, and she could feel his excitement.
It was six months after Evelyn first had the idea in the coffee shop. After countless committee meetings, memos, discussion papers and paperwork, the first ever firedrake squadron was ready to become part of Elemental Investigations.
The cover story was that Elemental Investigations was using birds of prey as part of a program to protect clients from drones. They had acquired land to the north of Saxondale, ostensibly as a training ground for the new program. Outside the training ground a perception spell, embedded in the gnomes armour, hid their true nature from humans. Instead of seeing a gnome riding on the back of a firedrake, they would see a bald eagle with a high-tech weapons package on its back. If the humans noticed them at all.
Evelyn’s idea had become a win-win for everyone. The tourney’s were now explained as training exercises. The residents were no longer worried, they were proud that a company based in Saxondale was at the forefront of a new industry. The gnome clans looked forward to testing their skills against real adversaries, and Elemental Investigations had a new defensive capability. Scuttlebutt in the break-room suggested that if the program was a success, other divisions within HQ would start similar programs.