The five people from Stanford University were organizing their equipment before their trek through the jungle. Among them was a beefy middle-aged man who directed the remaining four. He was Professor Johnson, and the four individuals accompanying him were his students. Three of them were male, and the last was female.
“Professor, why are those soldiers following us exactly?” the sole lady asked.
“I genuinely don’t know, Lucy. This morning the university called, asking to let them accompany us. Apparently, the Department of Defense is involved in some way.”
Professor Johnson’s tone also carried a bit of dissatisfaction. With his status and accomplishments, he did not feel comfortable being rushed into this kind of collaboration without more information.
“Well, let’s just consider them as bodyguards. The forest is full of dangers after all. So long as they don’t interrupt our research, it should be fine. And who knows? They might turn out to be useful,” the professor continued. He gave a helpless shrug.
At this juncture, one of the other men spoke, “That’s right, Lucy! This place is just teeming with danger. There are poisonous insects and fierce beasts by the dozen, and these soldiers might give us an added layer of protection.” He courteously spoke, and eyed her affectionately, “If I didn’t understand your love for zoology I would never have brought you here.”
“Goddamit Dylan do you ever stop?!” Lucy snapped.
At once the remaining students broke out into sniggers. It was common knowledge that Dylan was head over heels for Lucy. He came from a wealthy background, and Lucy, one of the most beautiful ladies of the university, was someone he had been courting for a long time. The two were already considered by most on campus to be a couple.
The professor smiled inwardly at this and reminisced over his own youth. From the corner of his eye, he made out the bespectacled captain approaching them. He clapped loudly to call his students’ attention.
“Alright guys, let’s finish prepping. I’ll be having a chat with the captain in the meantime.”
He then walked over to meet the military man.
The officer saluted the professor before taking out a map, “I apologize for the interruption, professor. I’m sure it’s inconvenient in many ways, but there’s little we can do about such direct orders.”
“It’s no big deal. I’m only a citizen, but I know that sometimes our cooperation can go a long way. In any case, you aren’t the one inconveniencing us. Your bosses are.” The professor’s words were amicable but conveyed his slight annoyance with the arrangement.
The commander smiled apologetically and handed the map to him, “Please take a look. The area marked here is our destination. I am not at liberty to explain the mission’s contents, but will you be able to help guide us there nonetheless?”
Professor Johnson looked at the map and frowned, “This is quite deep into the forest. I have no problem taking you there as it happens to be within my scope of research. However, it’s best that I make something clear: though there is little conflict in this area, it is nevertheless quite dangerous. I would appreciate it if you could listen to my advice as we go through it. It could be the difference between life and death.”
“No problem, professor,” the captain laughed, “I’ll keep those bastards of mine in line.”
“In that case,” the professor nodded and pointed at an area on the map, “I would suggest landing here. Of all the areas close to your target, it’s the most suitable for a helicopter landing.” The professor drew a circle over the designated area before continuing, “I must confess beforehand, officer, that neither I nor my students have any military training. If you wish to conduct any military maneuvers like helicopter taxiing, I’m afraid you’ll find us incapable.”
“No need to worry about that, professor. I have kept in mind you and your students' abilities.”
The captain and the professor discussed some more details related to the mission. After both had hashed out all likely contingencies, they separated to finish their preparations.
The two men came from different walks of life. One a soldier, the other a scholar; but neither knew that this expedition strange would herald great changes to Earth and humanity.
Deep in the Amazon jungle, Louie was lying at the edge of a pool of water. His golden scales could repel most mud and dirt, but some grime still managed to cling to them and dulled their brilliant sheen. Louie felt slightly dissatisfied at this and decided that he needed some servants to wipe them clean.
Under normal circumstances, pools like the one he lay in would be teeming with all sorts of life. Predators and prey of all sizes would engage in deadly tangoes of life and death as they went about their business. However, Louie’s presence had emptied the ecological niche of all its members. Within the few hundred meters surrounding his location, no small animals could be found.
At this point, he had spent several days thinking about how to resolve the food shortage in Dragon City, but no solution seemed to work.
100,000 people really were too big of a population.
Over the past few days, the natives had offered him good food and drinks, putting him in a pleasant mood. Nevertheless, he did not much care for their company, and he would mostly spend his time wandering the forest before returning to the tribe to collect their tributes.
He had made an important discovery after finding the villagers. Whenever they worshipped him while he was in their village, he could feel his divine power fill up slowly. However, when he lost sight of the natives it would not stir, even if they prayed and sacrificed as normal.
Louie was initially quite baffled by this problem. But he soon discovered a way around it.
Because of his great appetite, Louie could finish their offerings in two days. The natives, however, kept trying to hunt for him even while they were hungry. This filled him with a sense of endearment towards them. At the very least, they were quite pious to their deities.
For this reason, Louie felt that it would not be good if they starved to death. As a ‘God’, it was not good to rule by fear, and that he should at least answer the prayers of his believers.
Of course, as a fake God, he couldn’t actually reward them with divine arts. Neither could he personally hunt to feed them. No - that would diminish his divine prestige.
And so he came up with another method of helping them out. Plucking a single one of his scales, he granted it to them. The scale contained a faint amount of his mighty presence, and the natives could take it along with them on their hunts. It would help decrease the resistance of their prey and improve their hunting efficiency.
It also helped him in another way. Because the natives would worship the ‘artifact’ he had bestowed upon them, he would be able to receive their faith at all times, even if he was not personally present.
From this, Louie hypothesized that the statues of Gods often served as conduits for the faith their believers devoted to them.
Since he was not a true god, and so even if a statue was carved in his image, it would be useless. That said, the dragon scale was a part of his body. With his godhood, as long as the believers prayed to his scales, they could also pass on their small amount of faith to him.
Although seventy believers were not many, for a fake Godlike Louie, it was already a rare asset.
Just when Louie was thinking about Gods and food, his acute hearing once again sensed something.
“Eh? This is the sound of human footsteps? Moreover, it’s not just one person, but a group of people……”
Louie became alert.