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One Hundred Four
Alyfaen Dinaen paused to watch as a caravan drover led a thirty foot long subterranean lizard laden down with cargo across a natural bridge over the chasm in front of them. Her riding lizard hissed softly as it sampled the air with its tongue. Her house had invested heavily in the trade goods the merchant was taking to trade with a human settlement a week’s travel away from Guallidurth and she had hired on as a warrior and priestess to go along.
The merchant was a male drow named Caldax whose arrogance she only tolerated because he was a member of the lowest ranked noble house and, therefore, untouchable since his family outranked hers by a great deal. Otherwise Alyfaen would have flayed the skin from his body for his impertinence. She’d have waited until the caravan had returned, since her house needed the funds this trip should generate, but skin him she most certainly would.
For an instant, she fantasized about returning to Guallidurth only to find Caldax’s house had withdrawn its protection from him. It made her wonder how long he would live after that. If she was careful, he might survive for weeks of entertainment.
Then, very reluctantly, she returned her thoughts to the real world, one in which all she could do was put up with his arrogance and possibly arrange for him to have a fatal accident somewhere on the return leg of trip, but all of the blame for the accident would have to be carefully managed so as to fall on someone else, perhaps someone she didn’t like. Since she didn’t like anyone in the caravan, she had plenty of choices.
The bridge was clear and she tapped her riding lizard in the flanks with her boots to send it trotting forward across the bridge. They were halfway across when Alyfaen was blinded by a sudden spray of hot blood as her riding lizard’s head vanished. Her lizard collapsed as something powerful jerked her from the saddle and slammed her, facedown, into the stone of the bridge. Her head bounced off the stone and she lay limply. In the distance she heard a single cry of surprise and pain start and instantly stop as if choked off. Her helmet was roughly jerked from her head and she was flipped over once to look into the face of a human female. “It’s her,” the human called before spinning Alyfaen over again to lie face down and shove her against the rock once more. When she lifted her head to look around, her captor drove a fist into the back of her head, hammering her forehead into the stone and stunning her. While she was stunned, she could feel her arms and legs being bound.
When she was jerked to her feet, hardened priestess of Lolth that she was, she shrank back from the creature in front of her. It stood at least seven feet tall and leathery wings towered even higher above the leonine head that watched her evenly. A reptilian head with a mouth full of razor sharp teeth sat to its left, licking blood from its muzzle as it watched her. To the right, a goat like head smiled coldly. “We have her.” It raised its voice. “We will take the animals and all the equipment as well as the survivors as prisoners. Strip the dead for their gear and make completely sure they’re dead before disposing of them in the crevasse. Just in case one of them has magic that makes them look dead, remove the heads before tossing them over so they can’t levitate somewhere below us and find a way to escape. No one can return to gainsay the story that will be told about how events unfolded here. Natalie will use flamethrower to remove any remaining evidence that the caravan passed this way. The dead lizards we will take for butchering.” The leonine head looked past Alyfaen. “Julia, take her now. The rest will be along in a few minutes.” The reptilian head smiled. “We can’t have her come to any harm, now can we,” it said mockingly “After all, if things work out as our lord hopes, we’ll be sending her home to her mother and house with more treasure than she’d ever hoped for.” The reptilian head yawned redly as the leonine head smiled. “Sorry about the rough treatment, but if you’d gotten involved in the fighting, we’d probably be removing your head right now so we can toss your corpse into the crevasse. I’d have Julia cut you free, but the truth is that you don’t know anything about your new situation or how aligning with us could make you and your house more powerful than you can imagine and I don’t want to free you until you have the information you need to make the smart choice.”
“You said me and my house.” Alyfaen raised an eyebrow. “What about my mother?”
“The matron will prosper as you and your house prosper,” the goat head replied. “However long she will prosper with the house will be your decision, as her ambitious daughter and heir,” the reptilian head continued. “That could last for centuries or it could last only until your house’s situation has stabilized. It all depends on when you are ready to take the reins of power.”
Alyfaen licked suddenly dry lips as whole new worlds opened in front of her. “I see,” she said slowly.
“Not until things have been completely explained to you, you don’t,” the goat head disagreed. “Once you understand your new situation, you’ll understand what the true possibilities are. Now, Julia is going to take you back to our home. She will have to put you in a cell, but that’s only because we understand that we are not drow and, according to you, we don’t outrank you, so your parole to us would be worthless. Your spells will not work inside your cell. There you will strip and be given clothing. You will, however, as a sign of our desire to work with you, be allowed to keep one weapon, that being of your choice. You’ll also be allowed to keep your house badge since it is enchanted to inform your mother if you are killed and it will do so if it is removed by anyone other than you or the mage who enchanted it, although he has been dead for years.”
Alyfaen’s eyes widened. “How do you know about that?”
“You are going to find that I know many things,” the reptilian head replied. The leonine head smiled. “You are going to learn what we know. And when you meet our lord, you will learn even more from him.” The creature’s tail twisted around her side to point at her and Alyfaen started when she realized that it too bore a head, this one that of a cobra. “Yes,” it said, in a fourth female voice, “a male leads us, but he is as ruthless as any drow female and far more ruthless than most. You will find a kindred spirit in him.” Its eyes shifted up. “Julia, take her away.”
“She is here, my lord.”
Iain nodded. He was in a small cave off from the middle main one. He’d furnished it with some statuary and other pieces of art from the dragon hordes they’d looted, mostly for this meeting. The table he sat at was another piece of loot. It was a single piece and carved from what must have been a tree on the scale of a California redwood. It was carved with friezes of dwarven life to match the eight chairs they’re acquired with the table.
Ling led Alyfaen Dinaen into the cave. The prisoner was wearing a thick white gown and had a flanged mace hanging from the belt that tied the gown together. “This is Iain, your host,” the Cheetit said cheerfully.
The drow’s eyes narrowed. “You’re a surface elf.”
Iain smiled coldly. “No, I am not. I look like a surface elf. I can also look like a drow.” He became the drow female form he’d used in Guallidurth. “I can become many things,” she said. She shifted to the form of a dragonborn, covered with black and silver scales. “As you can see.” The dragonborn shifted back to the elf male form. “Please sit. We have some fermented green fungus tea from the city.”
Alyfaen settled down in the chair, pausing to study it and the table briefly. “Are you trying to impress me with your display of wealth?”
“Would this be out of place in any of the noble drow houses that could afford it,” Iain asked as a reply.
Alyfaen ran her hand over the top of the table. “I suspect that only a few could pay the price you’d ask for it, and even fewer would.”
“That is entirely possible, but it can go with you if you want.”
“It would be taken from us by a noble house as soon as they learned of its existence, and they’d learn about it as soon as we entered the city with it.” She reached a finger towards the bottle of fermented fungus and paused. She chuckled. “If you wanted me dead I’d be dead.” Her chuckle stopped as she peered into his eyes. “But then you actually do want me to die.”
“Like you just said, if I wanted you dead, you’d be dead. I take it Rhea has explained to you our proposal to save you and your house?”
“She has, in great and exacting detail.” Alyfaen’s smile was eager. “I agree to your terms.”
“You will be sworn to me.” Iain poured two glasses of the fungal tea. “You were told that.”
“I was and I still accept your offer. I am curious, what about my house badge?”
“Emerald and her research team have come up with a way to alter it slightly so that the warning spell doesn’t work. Nothing else on it will be changed and only the creator could tell anything has been done to it, and only then if the creator examined it very closely.”
“That’s rather elegant. I like it.”
Iain smiled and sipped the tea, keeping his face still at the moldy aftertaste. A delicacy in Guallidurth, it was very definitely an acquired taste. “Can I ask a personal question?”
Alyfaen drained her cup and poured another. “This is an excellent tea. What is your question?”
“How can you volunteer to die?”
“I won’t live to die of old age, not with what other houses are planning for mine. Instead, by choosing when I die I’ll become much more difficult to destroy. I’ll also become immortal as well as incredibly more powerful.”
“What about children?”
Alyfaen scowled. “When I was a novice, I was offered the honor to breed with a tanar’ri. I accepted and mated with a galebrezu. I became pregnant and bore a daughter, a draegloth who tore her way free from my womb and took my ability to have more children with her when she did. My mother wisely decided the child was worth the price, at least until one of the noble houses raided us and took her.”
Using his perception, Iain looked at her stomach through her clothes. Her lower stomach was a tangled tracery of thick scar tissue that extended deep into her abdomen. Considering drow and their obsession with physical perfection, it must have been yet another reason Alyfaen and her family weren’t higher placed in drow society. “If you’re ready, we will proceed with the process in five days. Before then I want to excise and regenerate the scar tissue and damaged portions so it doesn’t carry over when you become a lich and you have to have it forever.”
Alyfaen’s eyes widened. “You can do that?”
“Of course. A high enough priestess of your goddess could do the same thing, but they chose not to, probably because your house is common and therefore you are unimportant. If you want, we can do it now.”
“I’m going to be dead. Why is it important?”
“Drow like physical purity, so I doubt you like having your scars. Also, although I won’t be sure until I examine them, scars like that can bind and limit movement of your legs and torso. If I’m making you a lich, I want you to be as perfect as possible when I do. Often vampires keep scars and other things of that nature when they rise and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.”
“I have to trust,” Alyfaen suddenly chuckled. “This is not some elaborate charade to kill me, is it?”
“If we wanted you to be dead, you’d already be dead and your headless body would be at the bottom of the chasm where we captured you,” Ling pointed out. “Why go to the effort to bring you here and let you in the presence of our lord, and armed at that, unless we want you alive for some reason?”
“Ling raises a very valid point,” Iain leaned back in his chair. “We looked very carefully for who we wished to ally ourselves with in Guallidurth. You are our best choice, which is why you are here now. You were interested. Has that changed?”
Alyfaen drained her glass. “It has not.”
She is already planning to betray you and wrest control away from you, Liadan said in his head.
I figured as much. Maybe she’ll appreciate us outmaneuvering her maneuvering when she realizes we will make sure she can’t do that.
She will. Eventually.
“Would you feel more comfortable if we tried to kill you,” Iain asked amusedly. “I suppose it would remind you of home. But then you expect outsiders to be soft and not understand the rules drow operate under.”
“That will not be necessary,” Alyfaen said hastily, suddenly conscious of the fact that Ling was standing somewhere behind her.
“Good,” Iain finished his tea. It was definitely an acquired taste. “So we’ll fix you up tonight and start the process of you becoming a lich in five days after you’ve completely recovered from the surgery.”
Iain walked into the chamber and stopped, raising an eyebrow at what he saw. “Eirian, I thought I was binding Alyfaen.”
“You are, my lord”, the silver Dragoness said.
“Permit me to state the obvious, but there are five skeletons standing here, not one.”
“We processed four of the guards and merchants from the caravan, my lord. All are very low ranking in drow society and three do not come from any established house.”
“Why? I didn’t authorize this.”
Eirian’s head turned to regard him with what he knew was an amused smile. “My lord, a cursory review of the plans you have for Guallidurth show beyond a doubt that Alyfaen alone will not be able to carry them out. The other four will remain here while Alyfaen initiates our plans and begin their training as wizards.”
Unfortunately, she was right. More annoyingly, she knew she was right. Most annoyingly, she knew he knew she was right. Iain decided to accept the situation rather than argue pointlessly. “Do you have any other surprises for me?”
Eirian laughed. “A great many, my lord, but none to reveal to you this day.” She opened the small chest she carried to reveal five pale gems. “My lord, they are ready.”
Iain considered ordering her to not do this again, but Eirian was only doing her job. And she had never just presented him with acquisitions for the dead harem. Even these were here for the mission, and they both knew it was unlikely that these would be the last additions. He gave her a slightly annoyed look and reached for the first gem.
Alyfaen adjusted the hang of her cloak as Iain watched. “Your caravan has already been missed and word has been sent to Guallidurth and to your mother.”
The drow touched the house badge she wore. “As long as this hasn’t told her I am dead, my lord, she will believe that I am still alive.” She glanced at him. “As was your plan from the beginning.”
“True. Sorrel will take you to the outskirts of the city.”
Alyfaen nodded. “I can make my way from there. There will be questions about the fate of the caravan, but the evidence that it was captured was completely removed. And I will tell the truth, that we were attacked and I was captured and released.” There was a mirror in the room and she turned to peer into it. She adjusted her cloak again and then checked her hair.
“And when they ask why you were the only survivor?”
“I will tell them that I do not know if I am the only survivor since I did not see the others die. I will also tell them that I was released because Lolth willed it so that I could warn the city of a new threat, that being a band of murderous monsters that overwhelmed the security of an entire caravan without difficulty.” Her reflection smirked at him. “Eirian has already given me a message to deliver to the matrons of the city demanding tribute with the threat that, if no tribute is forthcoming, more caravans will not arrive at their destinations and Guallidurth can slowly starve. They won’t believe you can hinder the city that much, my lord, but will dispatch extra patrols for the future.”
Iain nodded. “And the patrols will be successful in frightening us off, as far as anyone knows.”
“When I am home, I will return for the portable hole that has been prepared with the treasure I will present to my mother. Then we will begin growing my house.”
“What about her?”
“She will never find out that I am a lich, my lord. In a year or so she will die. Should she be sent here to join the undead harem?”
“I haven’t decided yet, but I’m inclined to say no. We’ll reassess when the time comes for us to take complete control of your house and make the final decision then.”
“Yes, my lord.” She turned to face him. “The interesting thing that you did not anticipate was that Lolth apparently finds what we are doing to be acceptable, for she continues to listen to my prayers and grant my spells.”
Iain chuckled sourly. “That fact makes me wonder more than a little if we’re going about this entirely the wrong way.”
“What you plan to do will make my house much stronger, make the city a little bit more secure and will not threaten the control of the noble houses unless they pit themselves against us, which they will have no reason to do. I can see why she would not oppose us in our endeavor.”
“Or she plans to use us to temper the noble houses somehow,” Iain countered.
“If she does, as long as I complete my mission at the same time, does it matter?”
“That kind of logic is very enticing, which, of course, makes it completely suspect,” Iain said dryly.
“The fact that you are not a drow makes that understandable, my lord.” She cocked her head. “You know I was planning to supplant you, or at the very least to win my independence from you.”
“You’re a drow. You worship the Spider Goddess,” Iain said. “I’d have been surprised if you weren’t plotting against me.”
She chuckled. “You do know a little about how to play the game.”
“I’m taking over a drow common house to give me a secure way to infiltrate the city as well as start my surveillance programs in the Underdark for my primary mission. You get rewarded with the resources and opportunity to make that house yours and to raise it in rank among the other houses. Even if you were still alive, with how well you are going to do personally with this plan, you’d be loyal to me for many more decades to come. That loyalty would only end when you finally decided you didn’t need my help anymore. But with you bonded to me, you will be loyal forever. And, with you as a lich, it will be much less likely that I will have to find someone else in Guallidurth to become my agent. I think I understand the game well enough that Lucifer would express misgivings about my goodness and Pandora,” he chuckled. “Pandora would have several arguments with me to try and get me to drop this entire idea.”
“And I have plans of my own,” Alyfaen said. “Working with Eirian and the others, we have formulated what I think is the best way to proceed. It will provide my house with a steady income, give us a specialty that other houses will have to come to us for and it will give desperately needed funds for mercenaries until I can recruit and train enough house troops to give my enemies pause. All of this should quickly give me opportunities to advance my house in the rankings.” She smiled thinly. “You understand that I will have no choice but to advance my house’s rank. Eventually I may have to make the transition into being a noble house.”
“To not do so would be so out of character for any drow matron that it would immediately invite suspicion.”
She nodded. “Exactly, my lord. My I remove my mother immediately?”
“I thought you were going to wait and let things settle down from your miraculous return.”
“I realized that if I do wait, my mother will squander the monies I will bring to the house on her plans, which are not mine, are flawed and will succeed as well as they have in the past, which is not at all.”
“And you’re so humble too.”
Alyfaen sneered. “Humility is for the weak. The only way for people to know how superior you are and how superior your plans are is if they are told. Either tell them personally or arrange for them to be told after your plans have reached fruition and they have lost everything you have chosen to take from them.”
Iain chuckled. “I’m not disagreeing with you.” He leaned back in his chair, thinking. “You’re going to be the woman on the ground. If you decide that your mother needs to go, so be it. But you do need to be able to take control of your house and defend it from other common houses.”
“Eirian and I have devised plans to defend House Dinaen in both the short term and long term. The biggest problem is that a short term defense would force me to show assets I don’t want to reveal. I already had plans in place to destabilize several of the houses that would see profit in attacking Dinaen. If necessary, I can put those plans in motion in less than a week.” Her red eyes met his. “But I see your point. I will leave my mother in charge until I am ready to move against her. I am still concerned about the money she will waste.”
Iain shrugged. “Don’t be. We can cover any reasonable monetary losses. I’d be more concerned about her destroying what little military your house still has before you take over.”
“How big is your treasury?”
“We’ve been clearing out the evil dragons who are close enough to presume my valley is part of their territory before we start developing it. Being smart, for the most part all of the hoards we recover go into the treasury. It’s not an inconsiderable sum. But you don’t have an unlimited budget.”
Alyfaen nodded. “I understand. There are three outstanding mercenary companies in Guallidurth. If necessary, I can hire them all to bolster my house’s defenses.”
“And if someone hires them before you do,” Iain asked.
“If they are not available, there are several other mercenary units that I could hire. They are not as good as the first three but are still fairly effective.”
“Can you put the one or more of the first three on retainer?”
“What is that?”
“You pay them to be available. I don’t know the hard numbers, but you pay them something along the lines of five to ten percent of their normal fee without hiring them. In return, if they are offered a contract with someone else, they have to come to you and asked to be released to it. If you refuse, you’ll have to hire them full time, but it means you’ll know if someone else is trying to hire them out from under you.” He shook his head. “No, that’s not going to work. They’ll just take your money and lie to you about first right of refusal. Hire one of the three best units as soon as you can. That way you’ve got them. While they’re in garrison, put them to work training your house troops.”
Alyfaen nodded. “That is an excellent idea, my lord. To return to the discussion of my mother, Eirian thinks I should send my her here to join the undead harem and then she can come back to Guallidurth and run the house while I am free to pursue our agenda. What do you think of this idea?”
“I think Eirian is as bad about expanding the undead harem as some of my women are about expanding the living harem,” Iain said grumpily. “Having said that, it’s your call. If your ambitions don’t want your mother running what you keep calling your house, then remove her when you’re ready. If you can tolerate her looking like she’s in charge, then you can reconsider your options.”
“I want to be the Matron of my house,” Alyfaen said flatly. Her tone turned thoughtful. “But if I don’t kill my mother, or at least it still looks like she is alive and under my control, her humiliation will be even more complete if I demote her and use her as my servant. I am already a more powerful cleric than she is, but it means that she and I could take turns coming here for our lessons in formal magic. And if she is bound to you, my lord, I can trust her to assist with the mission and the two of us, working in concert, would make our house much more powerful than it would otherwise be.”
“And in time I’ll find things for both of you to take charge of so you each have things in which one of you is in command that the other has nothing to do with.”
“My lord, you do understand more about drow than I thought.”
Iain flashed a grin. “All I have to do is let my inner sociopath out to play a bit and give it a huge ego. Now Sorrel is outside,” the door opened to reveal the Armsmistress. “Be careful.”
“I will, my lord.” She took Sorrel’s hand and the shadows swallowed them up.
One of the things that, so far, had proven to be impossible to find was big sheets of paper. Trying to improvise, Iain had found a carpenter who had built a twelve foot by six foot table as part of a dining set on commission for a noble who then been found out by the secret police of the Kingdom of Keltormir to be a traitor, passing along secrets to the Vyshaantar in return for gold. It had turned out that the king and the secret police took a dim view of this behavior and the noble had been beheaded and his property seized.
The dining set had been partially paid for, but the noble hadn’t taken possession of it, so the carpenter had it taking up room in his shop and owned money on the materials that had been purchased to fashion it. When Iain had inquired, he’d discovered that the carpenter was willing to sell it at a discount that would just cover his costs.
Instead, Iain had purchased the set at the original full commission price, paying what the noble had still owed on the furniture. Then he’d instructed that the table be split in half. One piece would be turned into a new table that matched the rest of the set. The other half had been planed completely flat on both sides. One side had then been smoothed and polished until it shone. Iain had mounted that piece on a wall in the cavern he was using and acquired some chalk sticks so it had become his blackboard. It wasn’t slate and it wasn’t perfect but it was better than drawing in the air and trying to remember what he'd written.
He’d still rather have some big pieces of paper to tack onto the board and to use pencils or charcoal, but papermakers were not set up to make sheets of paper three feet wide and six feet long. It would require new frames, bigger kettles and other ancillary equipment, none of which would be cheap. And if Iain did commission them, the papermaker would own them and would eventually trash them if there wasn’t enough demand to use them regularly. It meant that one day, perhaps soon, Iain would commission the frames, kettles and whatnot for himself and learn how to make paper. If he had to, he could apprentice himself to a papermaker and spend a decade learning the tricks of the trade.
Besides, making paper in that huge size would allow him to cut it to any size he wanted from the much larger sheets for the books he’d be writing over the next seven centuries. He’d already had enough notes for more than one and it was a tradition among wizards to compile their notes in tomes, if only to put unique information into books and then refuse to share, apparently for the sole purpose of pissing off other wizards.
He was sitting in one of the chairs and reading a treatise on elven society in Keltormir when Julia appeared in the entrance to the cave. “My lord.”
Iain couldn’t remember any appointments for today. In point of fact, he’d recently realized that he hadn’t had a day off in months and had decided to take today for nothing but reading, exercise and his magic. Nightraven wouldn’t beat him with a stick if he neglected his studies, instead she’d do something far, far worse. And what April would do was really frightening. “What is it?”
“There is a situation outside, my lord.”
Iain raised an eyebrow. “What kind of situation?”
Julia smiled. “My lord, there is a group of five kobolds outside. They claim to be the servants of one of the dragons we have slain.”
Iain carefully marked his place in the book and closed it. “Are they here for revenge or something?”
Julia’s smile became a quick grin. “Most definitely something. They wish to speak with you.”
“Julia, did you happen to enjoy doling out information by the spoonful to annoy people when you were alive or did this start after your death?”
The grin returned. “I enjoyed doing this while I was alive, my lord.” The smile vanished. “If the situation was time critical or an emergency of some kind, I would not play this game.”
“I know. And, honestly, your behavior is my fault since I want you to be as alive as you want to be.” He rose. “Let’s see what they want.”
As reported, there were five kobolds being guarded by Garnet, the red Dragoness he’d created from one of Geraldine’s. All five of them were winged, which meant they were dragonwrought. Dragonwrought kobolds were genetic sports that cropped up from time to time. Kobolds considered them to be proof of the true dragon blood that flowed through their veins. Most of the time, the wings of dragonwrought kobolds were underdeveloped and incapable of bearing the kobold in the air, but these five all had the powerful, deep chests and strong, healthy looking wings that suggested they were exceptions to that rule. The scales of a dragonwrought kobold were tinted a color that was found in the true dragons, mostly among the chromatic breeds. This group had two with red tinted scales, one with blue tinted scales, one with black tints to her scales and one that had, unusually, silver tinted scales.
Elminster had associated with several kobold sorcerers that he’d known and, because of that, Iain had learned Yipyak, the dialect of Draconic that all kobolds spoke. While it was rather doubtful that it would be identical to the Yipyak spoken here, on a different world and several thousand years in the past, Iain should be able to be understood in the language. He could use a translation spell but preferred knowing a language whenever possible. He laced his fingers together across his chest in the manner the kobolds did when meeting a kobold from a strange tribe. “Greetings. What brings the children of the dragon to my home?”
One of the kobolds, a female and the silver tinted one, looked at Julia. “You were to bring the one who killed our master to us. Why have you brought us this elf?”
Iain turned around and took several steps back towards the cave to make room before turning and shifting to his dragon form as he did. He crashed his forefeet down on either side of the group of kobolds and dropped his head until he and the silver female kobold were nose to nose. He smelled sudden urine and excrement from the group as he let his lips part to show his teeth. “I greeted you in kobold fashion to be polite,” he said loudly. “You, in return, were very rude. I don’t like rudeness. What do you want?”
The silver female kobold was shaking like a leaf. Iain took a step backwards and shifted back to his elf form. “Take a moment to compose yourself and, all of you, come towards me so you’re not standing where you just shit.”
Four of the kobolds approached him while the fifth began scratching the dirt with his feet to cover the mess. The silver female laced her fingers together and pulled her hands tight across her chest. “I greet you, dragon. Some of my tribe watched you when you killed the master. You fell upon him out of nowhere and bit his head off. It was a sneak attack worthy of Gaknulak.” That was a kobold god of trickery, traps and stealth. Considering how much kobolds appreciated trickery and stealth, being compared to him was a high compliment.
Iain exchanged a look with Julia. He’d killed roughly two thirds of the dragons they’d hunted, using the fights as practice for when he was living in the land of the People, but he hadn’t bitten the head off of any of them. I think she’s talking about the red that you landed on, Zartalymere, his twee said. He’s the one that held Laraxithious prisoner. From a distance it might have looked like you bit his head off. Amusement radiated from the twee. It also might have looked like you were buggering him.
Oh, I fucked him right and verily. Iain smiled without showing his teeth. “Are you talking about Zartalymere?”
The female nodded once. “Master didn’t like us using his name. He said his name belonged only in the mouths of dragons.”
Iain chuckled. “He must not have known the truth about kobolds. Isn’t one of your sayings: ‘The dragon scale toughens our skin. The dragon bone adorns our skull. The dragon heart flames our sorcery. We are the dragon. We live for the dragon. Long live the dragon.’?”
The female’s jaw dropped in surprise. “You know our sayings?”
“I know some of them. I also know a little bit about how kobolds think.”
Another kobold glared at him. “How do we think?”
“Created by dragon god out of dragon, you are dragon, but you were created to serve and serve you often choose to do. You served Zartalymere and I killed him. You’ve consulted with your seers and they sent you here to find me so that you can tell me that I’m your new master.”
The silver female spun and punched the belligerent male in the snout as the others muttered. “You behave or master will gobble you down! He said be polite!” She turned back to Iain. “You are right. We are here to inform you that you are our master now. Our master should be strong and he was. Then you killed him and proved you are stronger.”
What was maddening was that Iain couldn’t refuse to be their master. If he did, they’d work for him in secret, and only the gods knew what kind of mischief they’d get to in his name. That left him only two options.
“I can either accept you as my servants or I will have to exterminate the entire tribe,” Iain said thoughtfully. He looked at the female. “What is your name?”
“I am Quick Bite, master.”
Iain chuckled. Kobolds were often, but not always, given their names based on something in their personality or physicality. “Quick Bite? I take it you have a temper, young lady.”
She dropped her head submissively. “Sometimes,” she said in a small voice. One of the males laughed and she growled as she shot him a glare. “Sometimes,” she said firmly. The male took a quick step backwards and away from her.
“My name is Iain Grey, and I answer to it a lot faster than to master. I am willing to accept you as servants, but there are some rules that the tribe will have to agree to before I will accept you. Kobolds say what they want to whomever they want, and they’re tricky little devils, but they honor their oaths. I will oath each person, be they male or female. I will also oath each child as it comes of age and becomes an adult. If I am to be your master, I will be your master. I will meet with your leaders and listen to what they feel the tribe needs, but the final decision will be mine. If that is not acceptable, then I will destroy the tribe. If someone refuses to take that oath, I will not allow them to serve me and if they and the tribe insists that they remain part of the tribe, I will kill them.” He held up a finger as Quick Bite started to speak. “In return for that oath from each member of the tribe, I will nurture the tribe and I will give my oath to protect it and help it grow and prosper.”
Quick Bite was staring at him. “You protect us?”
“I believe that an oath of service has obligations for the master and for the servant.” He smiled widely. “I know that Zartalymere didn’t believe that. He had barely room in his caves for him, his treasure and his ego. He certainly didn’t have room in it for what he would call mere kobolds.”
“We are not mere,” one of the red kobolds snapped.
“I agree with that. In your veins is the blood of the true dragons, which makes you the children of the dragon. I appreciate the fact that you are gifting me with your service, for there are a great many things that the tribe can do for me.” He smiled again. “And not all of it involves giving me the best jewelry and other things you make while you keep the things I don’t want.”
“What does nurture mean?” It was the blue.
“If you and the rest of the tribe are my servants, I want you to be strong and have many healthy offspring. More kobolds means more servants and more work you can do, after all. If times are lean, I will hunt for the tribe. I intend to have gardens and one of your tribe’s jobs will be to help tend them. In return, you will get part of the crop, part of the fresh crop and not the leavings or the rotted vegetables and fruit. If sickness strikes the kobolds, I will help tend to the sick and I will do my best to keep the death toll as low as possible. If you are attacked by any who are not my servants, I will help you kill them. If there is a question about something that you have discovered during your excavations, I will come and offer what wisdom I have.”
Quick Bite laughed. “You could not fit in our tunnels.”
Iain became a black and silver winged kobold who stood a little taller than the tallest kobold. “Now I can.”
“Will you breed the tribe’s females?” It was the black scaled female.
Iain shifted back to elf. “No. I am not tribe, and my people do not lay eggs. Our women carry like mammals do. And, in any case, the tribe would not be ready to raise anything of my blood.” He cocked his head. “Now you are my guests, since you have not sworn oaths to me. I would like to take you down to the river to clean up and then we’ll go into my cave and I’ll feed you if you are hungry.”
The black’s eyes went wide in surprise. “You offer us food?”
“I do. If you swear yourselves to me, you will learn about the rules of hospitality. One of them is that if you accept someone as a guest, you attend to their needs. You feed them and give them shelter and protect them during their stay. In return, they will help protect you, if need be, and they will be polite. So you are my guests right now. We’ll get you cleaned up and then fed and then I’ll show you around my home and some of the valley. If your tribe does decide to come into my service, it will have to move here.”
“Some of us do not want to move,” Quick Bite said. “It is a long walk to here and the mountains are full of things that want to kill us.”
“Then the whole tribe has a decision to make.” Iain shrugged. “I will help the tribe to move if they decide to come into my service. I have a big flying vehicle that I will use to bring the tribe here so they don’t have to walk so far and die so much.” He gestured. “We’ll talk about it in detail after you’ve bathed and eaten.”
The hammership was a human designed spelljamming ship that was so popular that other races, who normally sneered at human designed ships, not only used it, they were constructing their own versions of it. Its popularity came from the fact that it was a tough, durable workhorse with a relatively large cargo payload and could be fitted with reasonable defenses without sacrificing much of that cargo capacity. Even though Iain intended to strip the spelljamming helm out of it and replace it with a modern antigravity system, his hammership, which, in a fit of whimsy, he had named the Lemon Sour, was still every bit as good as any other ship. The design was not meant to land on hard surfaces, only water, but Iain was fitting the Lemon Sour with foldable paired oleo struts running down the length of the hull. These would act as landing gear so as to allow the ship to be carefully landed on hard surfaces and would still let it land in water if necessary.
As he’d been told before going back in time, the first hammership had been captured only a week into the Phantasmal Surveyor’s time in this universe, when pirates operating it had refused to be warned off. Also, as instructed, Phantasmal Surveyor had loaded the vessel with the equipment Iain had wanted and had sent it to his valley by a quick shuttle run to drop it off.
The shuttle had also carried two dozen kattle, all of whom had been gravid to the point of delivering sometime in the next few days. A rough pen held them for the moment, but they’d all been given tracking devices and Iain intended to release them into the valley to, hopefully, thrive for later harvesting.
Iain had done the modifications to the vessel, with the help of his undead harem. People like Viersunuth had made a handy crane to lift the vessel as needed.
Eirian had helped with some of the grunt work during the remodeling. Right now she stood nearby and kept watch as his sentry while she waited for him to need her to something. “Why are we doing this?”
Iain was underneath the greater spelljamming helm this hammership had come with and was removing an attachment point for it so it could be lifted free. It was remarkably like an iron bolt and nut and was rusted solid. He didn’t take his attention away from what he was doing. “Why are we doing what?”
“This helm is perfectly functional. I remember having Julia test it after we captured this vessel and interrogated the pirate who had been using the helm until he told us how to operate it.”
Iain slid out from under the helm, put down his tools and turned to the silver Dragoness. “I don’t like torture, and I’d like to make sure that I never start liking torture. The best way to do that is not to torture people and not to let my people torture people.”
“He was plugged into Phantasmal Surveyor and his mind was drained of all his knowledge. Once we had it, he was threatened with death unless he showed us how the helm worked. He was not tortured.”
“What did you do with him after that?”
Eirian smiled. “I am aware that you would prefer that I not murder someone after telling them that I wouldn’t kill them. He was placed in stasis and is still there today.” Her eyes narrowed and she cocked her head. “He will still be there in two hundred years, I mean.” She gave a low chuckle. “I will have to congratulate Phantasmal Surveyor when we reach that time. None of your undead harem had any idea she was this busy with you on the surface. We never even missed this ship. Will her involvement continue as it has?”
“To a point, yes. I trust her to do what I want, so she’ll be helping set up our infrastructure. And she was under orders to keep her activities secret from you.”
“I thought so, but the fact that she succeeded so completely is to be commended.”
“Whatever works for you,” Iain said. He picked his tools back up and turned back to the helm. “Everyone knows that the Arcane manufacture all of the helms, except for a few that the illithids and neogi created, and those tend to kill the users. In addition, everyone knows that nobody really knows how the Arcane make their helms. What they don’t know is that the helms are all created by a super helm, an artifact called the First Helm. It spawns seeds that the Arcane grow into the helms that they sell. Every helm created by the First Helm is linked to it and, when a helm is used, the First Helm steals information from the mind of the user for the Arcane. That’s why you will never find me using a helm unless I have prisoners to feed into it that don’t have any information I want to keep secret.”
Eirian’s head lowered angrily and she hissed. “I will destroy it as soon as it is removed.”
“No, you won’t.” he gave her a grim smile. “As we both know, it is very hard to make a data flow system that can only run in one direction. I hope that, with Liadan’s help and using her super-duper psychic powers, we can tap the helm and she can use the connection to leech information from the First Helm for us.” He slid back under the helm. “And leave the Arcane alone. They have racial telepathy, which means that they all know when one of them is fucked with and who did it. I don’t care about them as a race, I just want their information for my mission.”
“Could the Arcane have learned anything of value from the time Julia was in the helm?”
Iain was working on a bolt that had been cross threaded and was sticking. “I don’t think so. Don’t forget she’s undead and a lot of people have a hard time reading the mind of the undead. We’ll know if they feel that they have learned anything dangerous to us. We’ll start getting visits from people who were sent by the Arcane to kill us. They might not know who sent them to kill us, but their handlers will.”
Eirian hissed again. “What do we do if they do start sending assassins?”
“Once we definitively prove that the Arcane are behind the kill teams?”
Eirian nodded. “Yes, of course, once we have proof.”
“Then we go find the nearest Arcane and explain to him that we don’t like what’s happening and that we want it to stop.” He grunted as the bolt snapped. “Fuck you, that still does what I want.” He slid out from under the helm.
“And if the attacks do not stop?”
“We tell the Arcane during the first visit to them that we are warning them that they have six months to call off their dogs. After that, we find ourselves another Arcane and we see if Liadan can use that Arcane as a link to do something nefarious to the rest of them.” He smiled at her grimly. “Hive minds do have their weaknesses. If that doesn’t work, we just might start hunting down and killing every Arcane we can find until they stop. Now help me try to lift this free so we can find out if I missed a bolt somewhere.”
The Lemon Sour slowed to a hover before settling down to the ground. Iain dropped some cargo netting down each side of the vessel so he didn’t have to set a boarding ramp. As he climbed down one of the nets, Viersunuth landed nearby. She was here as security and to help load any bulky items onto the Lemon Sour, if there were any since Iain hadn’t rigged a cross timber with a block and tackle to act as a crane.
Iain threw her a wave and she chuckled. “My lord.” She made a show of looking around. “I don’t see any kobolds waiting for you.”
“Trust me, I’ve noticed.”
Iain didn’t have long to wait until Quick Bite appeared out of some bushes. She warily eyed Viersunuth for a moment before turning to face Iain. “Master, I’m sorry we’re not ready,” she said. “The tribe could not agree on moving and so the tribe is splitting in two. It just happened last night and so we’re still dividing things up between the groups.”
Iain frowned. Kobold tribes sometimes did split if there was a serious disagreement about something, but it hardly ever came to fighting between the two groups. In that, kobolds were more civilized than many of the so-called civilized races, including humans, dwarves and elves. “Can we help?”
Quick Bite shook her head. “Tensions are still pretty high and I don’t want to chance someone biting you in frustration.”
“I’d rather not chance that either,” Iain said with a chuckle. “Should we come back later to pick everyone up?”
“Please stay. The division is almost complete.”
When a kobold tribe divided, the leaders of the old tribe and the leaders of the new tribe would work to evenly divide the resources of the tribe between the two groups, proportionally, based on population, not only of food and equipment, but of training and personnel to ensure the new tribe had as strong a chance at success as possible. The only things that the new tribe didn’t divide with the old one was the tribe’s treasure reserves and the young. Each kobold would take his or her personal treasure, but no more. As for the wyrmlings and unhatched eggs, not having them would help the new tribe travel more quickly and settle in faster. Kobold females were fertile until they died and the ones that went with the new tribe would lay fertile eggs soon enough once the tribe was in one place for more than a week or two.
“Since we’re not far from the entrance to the tribe’s caves, you can start sending people out as soon as they’re ready and I’ll start getting them settled for the trip.”
The kobold nodded. “I will. Thank you for not being upset.”
“I’m still surprised any of you want to work for me, what with the restrictions I’m insisting on. I’ll welcome anyone who does, but I won’t find fault with anyone who doesn’t.”
Quick Bite started to speak, stopped, wrinkled her nose in a frown, started to speak again and stopped once more. Finally she nodded and raced off into the underbrush to vanish.
I think you blew the fuses in her mind, his twee said with amusement.
“I doubt that Zartalymere would have been the slightest bit patient about anything having to do with the kobolds, and he might have gotten his ego bruised when finding out that not all of them thought putting themselves into eternal servitude to him was a great idea. I’m also pretty sure he tended to lash out when frustrated. I’m not sure that putting themselves into servitude to me is the best thing for them, but I can certainly use any help they’re offering.”
“Here, my lord,” Viersunuth said as she leaned forward, plucked a chair off the deck of the Lemon Sour and put it on the ground near him.
“Thank you very much.” Iain sat down and pulled his truewizard book from his arm.
He’d been studying for a few minutes before Viersunuth spoke. “My lord?” He looked up. “Will I ever be able to join the others in the cave?”
Iain closed his book. “One of the things I brought the hammership down for is so I can use it to ferry equipment to set up a laboratory for me. I’ve already bought most of what I need to establish a basic lab for magical research and item creation. Once it’s up I intend to make you a ring or amulet that will let you change shape.”
Viersunuth cocked her head. “I would be happy if I merely had a side cave so I could be with the others.”
“I want you to be able to join us, not be nearby. Besides, the ability to suddenly have a full sized blue dragoness appear could be rather useful. I can think of several situations, like being accosted in Guallidurth where having you along with me could help to keep me from having to fight a running battle with the entire city.” He smiled. “And, if you were in that side cave, you’d only be pretending to be happy, wouldn’t you?”
“How is it you know me so well?”
“I know that blues aren’t all that social but that they can resent things that others have that they feel they should have too. You are part of my dead harem. The rest of my dead harem gets to be in the caves with me. I think you should be capable of doing that too.”
“I think I should too,” Viersunuth said. “Now I understand how you understand so much.” She dropped her head down and carefully licked his face. “Thank you.”
Iain touched his face and then dried his face on his tunic. “Was that really necessary?” Veirsunuth made a sound that was suspiciously like a giggle and Iain glanced up at her. “I didn’t think so either.” She giggled again. “So many people think they’re funny, so few are.” Iain got up as, with his perception, he saw kobolds approaching from the direction of the tribe’s caves. He returned his book to his spot on his arm. “I think you can put the chair back up because here come our first customers.”
She lifted the chair up. “Yes, my lord.”
For the next hour, Iain was busy showing kobolds how to climb the netting and then where and how to get settled. Apparently the netting was new and fun because he kept finding the same ones climbing up and down it over and over. Finally, he drafted them and put them to work helping others get settled.
Finally, Quick Bite reappeared. “There will be no more coming with us,” she told Iain. “I am sorry, master. I did my best to convince the others, but they do not wish to move.”
“I don’t doubt that, Quick Bite, and it is their decision to make. Now get on board.”
Iain climbed onto the Lemon Sour’s deck, stowed the cargo nets and headed up to the control chair he’d installed in place of the spelljamming helm. The chair was empty, but Iain suspected the only reason it was had to do with the fact that Viersunuth was probably chasing away any kobolds who tried to claim it. He settled down in it as he linked his twee into the neural control system for the ship. His twee and the Lemon Sour exchanged some passwords and key phrases before the ship decided he was who he was saying he was and allowed him access.
The Lemon Sour had been fitted with a public address system and Iain activated it, turning the volume level down to something just a little louder than the excited chattering coming from the kobolds. “Good morning, I’m Iain and I’ll be your captain during this flight. I wanted to give you a little information about what we’re going to be doing. This vessel, as you should have been told, can fly, and it will be lifting off and flying you to the valley which will be your new home. As much as possible, I would like it if you stayed in your seats, but a place to relieve yourself is set up at the very back of the ship,” it was so hard not to say stern, but kobolds had probably never heard the term before and would have no idea of what it meant, “and so if you have to do so, please return to your seat promptly when you are done. Next to the place you can relieve yourself are some barrels of water and dip cups along with some barrels of apples for your convenience. The flight itself will take roughly a quarter of the time before sunset. When we get close to the area where you will be living, I’ll start pointing out landmarks and then I’ll go over the valley once to show you the extent of the lands I am claiming. That is all for now.”
His twee chuckled as the ship lifted off. In the event of an emergency, please follow the instructions of flight personnel and, above all, remain calm. We’ll be traveling at an altitude of a thousand feet because you will be high enough not to be able to identify anything below us and throw yourselves off the ship to try and get to anything interesting. Fortunately, with the magic of this universe we will still have our air envelope with us and you won’t suffocate. And if anything gets spilled, we have no club soda, so it’s probably going to stain.
“We will not live in that cave!” A gnarled and scaly hand pointed at a cliff wall several hundred feet from the entrance to Iain’s cave. “I have done the auguries. We will live there. There are rich minerals there.”
The speaker was an older kobold named Chaser. Well, Iain thought, perhaps ancient was a better word instead of older. Kobolds could live to somewhere around a hundred and thirty five years old, barring an accident or being murdered by the numerous enemies of the kobolds. And if it was dragonwrought, a kobold could leave even longer. Of course, almost none of them lived that long, since homicide from raids and accidents were the two leading causes of kobold mortality. But this fellow looked to be a few decades older than any kobold should ever be. His eyes were dull and cloudy and the only reason he had teeth was because kobolds, like sharks and dragons, were constantly growing new teeth as they lost old ones to replace teeth regularly over the entirety of their lifetimes.
Chaser was one of the ore diviners for the new tribe. Instead of digging exploratory shafts in likely mineral rich areas like gnomes, dwarves or humans did, kobolds used divinatory magic to locate and identify bodies of ore before they ever started digging. These diviners were well respected within the tribe and held places only below the tribe’s leaders and priesthoods. Ore divining was a rare gift, but Chaser had it and he was very, very good at his craft. The other two diviners that had come with him were good, but they were not in Chaser’s class and wouldn’t be for years.
Iain knew that the elderly kobold was right this time too. He didn’t have access to the divinatory magic that Chaser had, but, out of curiosity, he’d cheated and had the Phantasmal Surveyor send a shuttle down to scan the entire valley for ore and mineral deposits. Surprised at the results, he’d had the valley scanned a second time along with the region outside his valley in the surrounding mountains. The plethora and wide variety of metals and other minerals had confused him since they didn’t make geologic sense.
Then he remembered the sudden appearance of evolution stones on pokegirl worlds. The prevailing theory was that they had been placed by waves of magic. The same could have easily happened here since this world had been supposedly created. While annoying because it didn’t make logical sense and Iain liked things to make at least some kind of sense, he still planned to use the deposits.
Where he thought Chaser was pointing was in the direction of some gold, lead and gemstone deposits. There was, however, no iron, but Iain knew where there was iron that was not too far away from the gold and he’d let Quick Bite know about it when the time was right.
He realized that the kobolds, including Chaser, were watching him warily. Apparently it was time for a pronouncement from the dragon, if only to announce Chaser’s doom for defying him. “If Chaser says there are valuable minerals there and the tribe needs to dig its first tunnels there, who am I to argue with his wisdom?” He smiled. “After all, it’s my minerals too.” He looked at Quick Bite. “However, there are no natural caves over there. You are welcome to stay in my first cavern while your miners are digging out some rooms for you to move into.”
“We accept,” Quick Bite said. “Can we use the bath?”
During their first visit, Iain had given them a quick tour of his home, including the bathing area he’d set up using hot water from his decanter. When asked, he’d demonstrated by filling it, which had been a mistake. Unlike their dragon ancestors, kobolds were ectotherms. While true, Iain actually suspected that they were facultative endotherms and could thermoregulate through activity. He looked forward to studying this over the next seven hundred years.
However, they were still ectotherms. But, even as or perhaps especially as ectotherms, they loved being warm and they loved bathing. The combination of high temperatures and water had been irresistible and all five of them had piled in before he could stop them. Getting them out had been an exercise in futility until he’d finally just pulled the plug and drained the tub, which had elicited a chorus of protests.
“I am going to need another decanter and heating nozzle,” Iain muttered to himself before speaking in a normal voice. “I’ll set it up.”
Quick Bite gave him a tongue lolling grin. “The decanter or the bath?”
He’d suspected they had excellent hearing. “Both, eventually, but the bath now.”
“Thank you, master!”
Are you really the master, his twee asked amusedly, or did you just find a whole bunch of Golden Clouds?
Oh, absolutely it is very funny. Hilarious even.
Fuck off. Iain smiled. “Start getting people inside and I’ll see if I have a couple of whole deer I can drag out or if I need to go hunting. Tomorrow morning I’ll oath everyone and we can get started.”
The door opened and a green elf female pulled a mildly resisting Rhyem Ammanth outside. “You must take a break, Rhyem.”
Rhyem chuckled softly. “Unless I get another miracle, Sylnala, we have to figure out how to defeat the two armies before they can combine.”
Sylnala looked at him curiously as she shut the door and pulled him farther away from the meeting. “What miracle?”
“I believe he’s talking about me.” Iain smiled when both elves whirled as they drew their swords. “I’m still not here to kill you, Rhyem or the lady would be busy trying to avenge your death.”
“I remember you. Iain Grey.” Rhyem put his sword away and motioned for the green elf to do the same. “Why are you here now?”
“I’m about to go collect some more heads and I was wondering if you wanted them as proof like you did the last ones. Do you?” He turned to the green elf and bowed. “Please forgive my manners. I am Iain Grey.”
Rhyem waved a hand towards her. “This is Sylnala Stormlily.”
Iain smiled. “You’re the local high priestess of Solonor Thelandira.” He gave a slight bow. “It is my pleasure to meet you. I apologize for disturbing what little time you two get alone together, but unless I want to kill several of his staff when they leap to his defense, I have no choice but to approach Rhyem when he’s outside and as alone as I can get him.”
“He is a nobleman. Please call him Duke Rhyem, as befits his rank,” Sylnala said.
“With all due respect, lady, he is not my duke. I do not require him to use my title and I refuse to even seem to be subservient to him, lest there be a colossal misunderstanding that ruins the relationship we’re building.” He smiled broadly. “And if he were to use the title of my rank, I outrank him and I’d still get to use his first name alone if I wanted to.”
“I remember the mistake you said I made,” Rhyem said. “What are you?”
Iain chuckled. “Very good. I am one of the People. You would call me a dragon.”
“Why is a dragon interested in my kingdom’s war with the Vyshaantar Empire?”
“They’re a blight on the world,” Iain replied. “And I know that if they win, they will seek to destroy me.”
“Why would they do that,” Sylnala asked curiously.
“People like that cannot abide that something is outside of their control. They would hunt me because I would refuse to bow down before them and acknowledge their suzerainty.” He smiled. “That and I would probably mock them to their faces when they insisted that I submit to them and they don’t seem to have much of a sense of humor for things like that.”
“You don’t believe you could destroy them?”
Iain smiled slowly. “That’s not the right question. If Keltormir and the other elven kingdoms destroy Vyshaantar, then the survivors, all of the multitudes of elves of the empire who did nothing to provoke me, will be incorporated into the victorious kingdoms and their bloodlines will survive the war. If I destroy Vyshaantar, there will be even more loss of life than that which took place when the Vyshaantar destroyed Miyeritar in the Dark Disaster.”
Sylnala raised her hands in protest. “I agree that Vyshaantar is evil, but Miyeritar destroyed itself by trying to access forbidden magics.”
“That’s a Vyshaantar lie that everyone accepts as fact because it lets the rest of the elves and their gods shirk their responsibility for what happened, and they have plenty of responsibility for the events. If you are looking for some evidence, even if it’s circumstantial, most of Miryeritar’s High Mages conveniently dropped dead from a variety of accidents right before the Dark Disaster took place. Vyshaantar was worried that with the High Mages, Miryeritar might have been able to resist the magic or, even worse, rebound it on the Vyshaantar. They were so worried about it that they assassinated as many of the High Mages of Miryeritar as they could find before they brought down destruction and ruin on the dark elves.”
Rhyem frowned. “Vyshaantar had pacified Miryeritar. Why destroy their own subjects?”
Iain smiled. “First, the kingdom wasn’t pacified. There had always been a resistance to being absorbed by Vyshaantar and it was growing and becoming better organized. Second, they were manipulated into the attack by worshippers of Lolth.”
Sylnala folded her arms over her chest. “That’s absurd. They were destroying their own people.”
“No, they weren’t. The dark elves who worshipped the Spider Queen of chaos and destruction had always had members among the nobility of Vyshaantar, while the majority of the people of Miryeritar worshipped Corellon’s daughter, the goddess Eilistraee. These nobles manipulated the Vyshaantar into destroying the majority of Eilistraee’s worshippers, who they see as their enemies. Eilistraee was the only member of the Dark Seldarine who had enough worshippers and was strong enough to fight the Spider Queen for the salvation of the dark elves. Now she’s not that powerful anymore, and it’s unlikely that she will be that strong again for a very long time, which was exactly the desired result.” Iain suddenly chuckled. “Sorry, I suddenly sound like an advertisement for Eilistraee and that was not my intent.”
Sylnala smiled. “You sound like a priest defending his goddess.”
Iain shook his head. “The dogma of Elistraee specifically says that she only has priestesses.”
“Then you’re just an ardent supporter,” Sylnala asked teasingly.
Iain snorted. “I’m just horny.”
“What does that mean? I see no horns.”
He suddenly realized who he was talking to. “Um, nothing important.” He turned to Ammanth. “Well, Rhyem, do you want more heads?”
“Could you bring me the heads of the leaders of the army that’s a week’s travel to the north?”
“If that’s the Army of the Iron Princess, it’s one of two I intend to visit tomorrow.”
Rhyem smiled. “It is. What other army are you going to behead?”
“The Army of the Eastern Glade.”
Rhyem frowned. “That one? That’s so far inside the Empire that I don’t know where it is. That has no strategic importance to the war.”
Iain’s teeth gleamed in his grin. “It is posted as being in garrison at the capital, and its significance is that nowhere is safe.”
Rhyem stared. “If you can reach that far, why not strike down the king?”
“Oh, he’s an emperor now and his time will come. I still have to make some arrangements for his reception. Bringing his empire down around his ears is part of that, but there’s still some planning for his special meeting with me.” He shrugged. “In the meantime, do you want those heads or not?”
Rhyem nodded. “I do. Once again, you’ve probably saved my army.”
Iain chuckled. “You really need to stop getting into these predicaments. It’s only been a few months since I saved you the last time. Helesatra will bring you the heads tomorrow night.” He nodded to the two elves. “Sir. Lady.” Helesatra stepped out of the darkness, took his hand as she murmured a teleport spell and they vanished.
Iain stood in the moonlight outside the entrance to his cave and played his Scottish bagpipes. He’d brought a set of the Uillean pipes as well as the various sizes of Scottish bagpipes and wanted to stay in practice. Originally, he’d thought he’d play music in the village of Ilhar Mrimm since they had music nightly and he’d been encouraged to come and play for them. They’d like his guitar and the various types of flutes he had. But almost as soon as he’d started playing the pipes, they’d stopped him and politely but firmly asked that he end his performance.
He finished his set and went inside. Thankfully, the kobolds had moved out a month before. Once they’d been sworn in and he’d formally given them the rules they’d be living under, they hadn’t been any real trouble. But there were eighty seven of them and they were used to a life where they toiled for most of the time they were awake. Over half of the group were miners, which was typical of a kobold tribe, but the many of the others hadn’t had a whole lot to do while the miners were busy carving out a preliminary cavern for the tribe to move into.
It turned out that the saying in Proverbs about idle hands being the devil’s playground was very true if one was referring to kobold hands. While the pranks, tricks and traps weren’t specifically aimed at Iain, a trap didn’t care if it was set off by a kobold or by him. Only his perception and constant vigilance had saved him from tripping several of them. And if one of them went off and he was nearby, well some of them spread things like colored liquids that stained cloth, leather, skin, hair and scale.
Iain had considered going to Quick Bite to complain, but he’d invited the kobolds into his house. Besides, in the relatively egalitarian society that was kobold life, she’d been the victim of more than one prank. He’d been amused that she still had the temper that had given her the name she bore and he’d had to help bandage up or heal more than one kobold who’d gotten too close and been bitten after she’d been dyed a bright lavender.
He’d finally consulted with Quick Bite and the two of them had put the idlers to something a little more useful. Some of them had become woodcutters, been transported to a wooded area in the valley that Iain had decided needed to be thinned out and put to work cutting trees down, chopping them up and pulling stumps as they turned the trees into firewood and other type of wood for various projects that Iain had planned.
Those that Quick Bite hadn’t trusted with axes had cleaned Iain’s cave until it was spotless. Among the things they’d been doing, they’d removed all the loose stone and started marking the walls where Iain wanted passages later dug by the miners.
Heading into the cave from the entrance, one would pass through a series of four caverns before the back of the cave opened up into what Iain knew was the Underdark proper. He’d also started marking out where he’d put a preliminary door to keep nasty surprises from wandering in unannounced. Of course, the fact that Underdark extended for thousands of miles meant that he’d always have room to expand, if he needed it and managed to run out of mountain overhead and below. It also let the kobold hunters have the opportunity to start exploring while hunting subterranean animals and fungi to supplement what Iain was feeding to the tribe and himself.
Another large patch of ground had been cleared in the valley for where Iain planned to put gardens and greenhouses. But those plans would be for next year. Right now the vegetable and fruit part of his diet came from foraging the valley and what he grew with his magic.
He’d need to find some human areas soon. He needed a plow and oxen to pull it. He also wanted horses, but those would be warhorses and he wanted them for a very different project.
Iain cleaned his pipes and hung them up before getting up, opening a cupboard and taking out a plate of cookies before sitting down on a stool with it and his canteen of lemonade. He put everything down on the low table to his right and poured himself a large mug of lemonade. Then he closed his eyes as he sat silently, only the rise and fall of his chest showing his deep, meditative breathing.
“You’re a fraud.”
Iain turned in his seat and drew his pistol in one smooth motion that would have been nothing but a blur to anyone else watching. He looked over his sight into large iridescent bluish white eyes for several seconds before lowering the pistol. He was looking at a drow who towered over him, even though he’d kept his regular height as an elf and was practically a giant among them. A conservative estimate suggested she was at least eight feet tall, with ankle length silver hair. She was nude, but Iain was not going to be so stupid as to stare at her body or the motes of silvery light that swirled around her. He holstered the pistol, reminding himself that soon he’d probably have to stop wearing it. “Evening, Lady. Please forgive me for not falling abjectly at your feet. There’s another stool and you’re welcome to it. Would you like a cookie and some lemonade while you tell me why I’m a fraud?”
Eilistraee settled down on the indicated stool and took a cookie. “You were not ordained by a priestess of mine.”
“I never said I was, Lady, but I have been careful not to lie to Laelra or anyone else in your ministry about my origins.” He glanced at her. “I pray to you, however, and so far you have seen fit to answer my prayers.”
She bit into the cookie and her eyes went wide. “What is this?”
“It’s a gingersnap cookie. I don’t think it’s made on this world except by me. Ginger grows on this world, but far from here and I’m sure there’s a variant of sugarcane somewhere, but I’ve never heard of molasses or brown sugar being made here. Even if it is, the two ingredients are thousands of miles apart.”
Eilistraee finished the cookie and looked suggestively at Iain’s cup of lemonade. He handed it to her and she smiled. “Thank you.”
“I answered your prayers because I thought it was the proper thing to do while deciding what I was going to do with you.”
“I take it you’ve made that decision.”
“I never had a moon elf named Ava of any of the royal houses of Evermeet as one of my priestesses. And I never had a moon horse named Dancer as a priestess either.”
Iain nodded. “I’m not surprised to hear that. I did some research. The Princess Kasserine of this world disappeared during the time that mine was being raped by the sire of a friend of mine. She was also Ava’s mother, so Ava was never born here and neither was her older brother.” He shrugged. “There aren’t any records on Dancer, but I figure she learned about Eilistraee from Ava, who was a very enthusiastic priestess.” He smiled warmly. “Is.”
Eilistraee took another cookie. “How do you know them?”
“I’m married to Ava. Dancer is the ranking herd mare of the moon horses that live at my home. Ava, Dancer and Mielikki hatched a plan to have me be a priest of Eilistraee so I wouldn’t worship Mielikki here and so hopefully I’d still somehow stay as good a person as I can.”
Eilistraee eyed him curiously. “Mielikki? Can you tell the whole story at one time?”
Iain chuckled. “I’m from a different universe. I’m here on a mission that will last for the next seven hundred years, minimum. Several of the women in my life are worried that I’ll finally give in to the darkness in my soul and stop being a good bad man. Mielikki doesn’t want to share me with another Mielikki and so she told me not to worship the one here. She asked Ava and Dancer to teach me about Eilistraee and ordain me as a priestess of hers,” he glanced at her, “so I could be a priestess of yours.”
“What is this Mielikki to you?”
“She’s my friend, my goddess and my lover.” He glanced at her again “Well, she’s one of my goddesses now. She said, that if it became necessary, she’d share me with you since she’s friends with the Eilistraee she knows and also knows I wouldn’t get involved with an Eilistraee that she wouldn’t approve of and try to become friends with.” He took a cookie. “I don’t know if she hoped we would become lovers or not.”
“What do you hope?”
Iain was quiet for a moment. “I hope that when I can finally return home, the people that I love don’t look at me, shudder and turn away for the things that I have done and will do here. One of the reasons I agreed to Ava’s request was because I know what lies inside my heart and just how easy it would be to let that out more than I do. You are a caring goddess who wants to help everyone she can and wants her priesthood to do as you do. I’ve been rescuing worshippers of yours who could not voluntarily come to your priestesses and I’ve been working to put a plan in place to enable more of your priesthood to travel to Guallidurth so they can rescue more of your worshippers as well as bring your word to the ones who think the Spider Queen is the only show in town.” She cocked her head curiously at him. “Sorry, that’s slang from where I come from. It means she’s the only one they know they can worship and they don’t understand the love you so desperately want to give them if they will just open their hearts and let you in.”
“Why are you here?”
“I’m on a mission to gather information about this world and the events taking place in it for the next few hundred years. My teacher sent me on it as a learning exercise.”
“You have a very unusual teacher. What does he hope to accomplish?”
“I’m learning how to gather information from many disparate sources and assemble it into a coherent picture for later analysis for specific details that can only be gleaned from the overall collection.” He hesitated and then gave a mental shrug. “I and she are familiar with this particular time period from her version of Toril and she’s looking for how things will turn out differently here. If there’s something specific that she is looking for, I was not made aware of it.”
Eilistraee grabbed a handful of cookies and leaned back on her stool to regard him dispassionately. “You know the future?”
“I know how the next few hundred years unfolded on her world and on another one or two more. That does not mean that this world will follow the exact same path. Considering that a dragon who was a priestess of Eilistraee was not present in any of them, while I expect the timeline to remain the same in broad, I also expect some significant changes in the details.” He turned to face her. “Speaking of history, where is the Crescent Blade?”
Eilistraee’s eyes went wide. “I have not made it yet. How is it that you know of my plans?”
“It was on the worlds I know about. If this world’s history remains similar, in about ten thousand years, some priestess of yours is going to take it to the Abyss and try to use it to kill the Spider Queen. It will be broken and then possessed by Wendonai.”
Eilistraee hissed. “My mother’s servant.”
“By then she’d supposedly withdrawn her favor from him until she needed his help again. She had him possess the broken blade and power it so it could be used to kill that world’s Eilistraee.” Eilistraee gasped. “She was dead for a little more than a century before Ao got involved and she and several other dead deities came back to life when he remade the Tablets of Fate.”
“There is no way for you to know that name.”
Iain chuckled. “Ao? You’re going to find out that I have an interesting reputation for knowing things that it should be impossible for me to know and also for being really, really hard to kill. Fortunately, I don’t often talk about the things I know and my mind cannot be read.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Ava loves you and I have always liked you, even before I discovered that these worlds were actually real. More importantly, the drow need you if they are to have any hope of ever escaping the Spider Queen’s completely nonexistent mercies. If telling you will change the potential future of this world and save more drow from the Spider Queen, Ava and several other people that I love would push me to tell you. That helped me decide to tell you.”
Eilistraee rose. “If I keep you as my priest,” she smiled, “or priestess, I will have things for you to do for me.”
“I expected you would. If they interfere with my mission from my teacher, I will tell you and see if we can work the details out so I can do what you want.” He stood. “Can I make a request? I mean besides the request I just made about making a request.”
“What is your request?”
“Could you teach me to play sava? Laelra kicks my ass in that game and it’s in part because she insists that I am supposed to figure out the rules as we play. I won’t accuse her of cheating, but I am pretty sure the rules change slightly to favor her from time to time.”
Eilistraee laughed. “I will teach you to play sava.”
“Thank you, Lady.” He made a face. “My Lady. Until I quit or you fire me, I am your priestess and at your command.”
She smiled. “Yes, you are. Can I have the rest of those cookies?”
Iain looked at the plate thoughtfully. “No, I don’t think so.” He smiled at her look of surprise. “But what I will do is keep a fresh supply ready for your future visits. And if I don’t have any ready, I’ll bake them for you while you lounge around and criticize me. And after every one of those visits you can have the leftover cookies to take with you.”
Eilistraee chuckled. “I accept your proposal.”
Ninhursag Grey - Elfqueen & maharani
April Grey - Duelist & beta
Dominique Grey - Blessed Archmage
Pandora - Fiendish Archangel
Zareen - Nightmare
Sofia - Ria
Vanessa – Evangelion
Lucifer – Megami Sama
Ganieda – Snugglebunny Splice
Heather - Elfqueen
Marguerite – Unicorn
Scheherazade – Dread Wolf
Irena – Sanctuary Goth
Lynn – Dire Wolf
Rosemary – Mistoffeles
Dianthus – Elfqueen
Golden Cloud – equine unicorn
Arianrhod -Fey Goblin Female
74 male Goblins
89 female Goblins
Queendom / Outer Clan
Dionne - Elfqueen
Adrianna - Elfqueen
Heltu - Wet Queen
14 Wet Elves
Eirian - Silver Dragoness
Aurum - Gold Dragoness
Skye - Blue Dragoness
Emerald - Green Dragoness
Beryl - Red Dragoness
Julia - human
Ling - Cheetit
Matilda - White Tigress
Liadan - Twau
Sorrel - Armsmistress
Natalie - Blazicunt
Maria – Slutton
Rhea Silvia – Chimera
Geraldine – Human analog of Iain
Alabaster – Dragoness (white)
Onyx – Dragoness (black)
Lapis – Dragoness (blue)
Garnet – Dragoness (red)
Iolite – Dragoness (purple)
Malachite – Dragoness (green with white swirls)
Dabria – Dark Queen
Omisha – Demoness
Viersunuth – Blue Dragon
Helesatra Vyshaan – Half pit fiend sun elf
Myrna (Age 4)
Dorothy: Duelist (Age 3)
Olivia: Megami Sama (Age 6)
Seraphina: Megami Sama
Miram: Angel (Age 5)
Caltha: Nightmare (Age 0)
James: Jamie Harris kid (Age 2)