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One Hundred Five
The city of Oryndoll had been settled by illithids fleeing another planet in the Toril system nearly three thousand years ago. Terrified of the githyanki, githzerai and other attackers, the mind flayers had ringed the city with the most powerful defenses they could muster. Every generation added to it before going to join the elder brain in the deepest part of the city. It was widely considered by the few who knew of its existence to be invulnerable and unassailable by anything, living or not.
Laidan wore the same veiled and hooded robe she’d worn in Guallidurth as she walked through Oryndoll. Her mission did not allow her to fight the illithids, something she thought would be fun, so instead her mind was busy controlling all of the minds around her as she walked. Under her control, most of them looked away so their eyes couldn’t see her and thus their minds couldn’t be aware of her presence. Those that did see her were having their memories actively erased as they tried to record her passage. Having to simultaneously control and erase the memories of dozens and sometimes hundreds of creatures was a challenge, albeit only a small one.
What was challenging, on top of that, was keeping the elder brain that controlled the city from being aware of her presence. It wasn’t even close to being as powerful as she was, but it could see through the eyes of the thousands of thralls in the city and randomly did so, sometimes viewing through multitudes of them at once. Detecting the elder brain’s presence in each of them as it moved and then controlling the thrall’s mind to keep it from giving away her presence kept an unusually large amount of her mind busy at all times doing so. It was also very amusing to constantly deceive the self proclaimed strongest minds in existence into believing she didn’t exist, even while in their midst.
It would have been much easier to kill them and Liadan hungered to do just that, but Iain had been right and keeping them from noticing her as she walked through them was vastly more entertaining.
Walking at an even and steady pace, she made her way from the farthest edges of the uppermost portion of the city, the caverns where the thralls were born, lived and died, into the Ring Caverns or middle levels where the illithids lived.
It wasn’t where they were born, that was in the pools of the lowest levels, the Undervaults of Illsensine. There, thralls and prisoners were taken. Once there, illithid tadpoles were placed on them so they could burrow into the skulls of their hosts, consume the brains and then transform the body into a new illithid.
The Undervaults were not physically connected to the Ring Caverns. Illithids traveled between them by psionic teleportation. For Liadan, it was but simplicity to find an illithid who was teleporting to the Undervaults, possess its mind and take its hand so it moved her along with it when it did so.
The Undervaults were filled with pools of water that had been tuned with psionic powers and filled with the knowledge of the illithids and their victims. Liadan skirted them carefully as she moved unwaveringly towards the Grotto of Sacred Thoughts and the elder brain that resided in it.
It took someone who understood the psionic language of the illithids to comprehend the contents of the pools, and Liadan knew she did not have that knowledge. The elder brain did, however, and it could be used to learn everything that all of the illithids of Oryndoll knew. Then she would know it too.
Liadan entered the Grotto and didn’t pause at the edge of the pool that held the elder brain, wading her way into the water. Tadpoles surged towards her, mistaking the energy that Iain gave his undead harem for true life and she used her psychic powers to kill any who came too close to her. They wouldn’t be missed, all illithid tadpoles were cannibalistic and the ones she killed were swiftly eaten by their brethren.
When the water grew deep enough, she swam to the elder brain. It was huge, dozens of feet across and weighing several tons, all massed from the original elder brain and all of the brains of the illithids who had merged with it over the thousands of years of its existence. Liadan pulled a small container from a pouch on her belt. She opened the container and dumped the contents on the brain, where the nanites vanished as they burrowed into the brain’s flesh. She returned the container to the pouch and swam back to the shallows so she could wade out of the pool. Once back on dry land, she became perfectly still and stood there for nearly five hours, her twee and mind acting as a conduit for the Phantasmal Surveyor’s computer as it drove the nanites to grow into a subspace transmitter and neurologically attach itself to the elder brain so it could be drained of its knowledge for Iain’s project.
Once the work was done, Liadan found another illithid teleporting back to the Ring Caverns and had it take her along. Then she retraced her steps, leaving the city of Oryndoll and all of its inhabitants completely unaware of her visit.
“Where are we?” It was Vazmyr, one of the male fighters and their unofficial leader. He was also the captain of her guard.
Zilvra managed not to snap at him in frustration. She was as tired and hungry as everyone else and it was not helping either her temper or her judgment. “I don’t know,” she admitted quietly. “I knew of that portal but I have never heard where its destination is. There is another portal that I wanted to use that would take us to a region where I know we have people who would help us, but it is on the other side of the city and there was no way we could get to it after what happened.”
Vazmyr nodded. He glanced back where the others were resting. “We could move faster without the slaves.”
Zilvra’s red eyes narrowed. “They are not slaves, not anymore. Only their sudden attack kept that patrol from completely surrounding us. We’d have never gotten away if they had completed getting behind us and we would be prisoners or dead by now. They more than earned their freedom when they helped us.”
“They were slaves,” Vazmyr said plainly. “Yes, they helped us. Yes, most of them died because they helped us, but the truth is that they aren’t as healthy as we are, they can’t keep up and they’re slowing us down because you won’t leave them. They are dwarves and they’re much weaker than we are.”
Zilvra’s temper slipped on its leash. “Then go. Take whoever wishes to go with you and leave us. I will not abandon them for any reason, and certainly not because it is convenient to do so.”
“I cannot abandon you,” Vazmyr said sourly. He drew himself to attention. “I am the captain of your guard and we are yours to command. We stand with you, Zilvra, no matter how altruistic and foolish you are.” His lips quirked in a smile. “Especially since you’ve always been that way. What would you have us do?”
“Bring most of the sentries in and let’s get some rest,” Zilvra said. “We won’t be pursued on this side of the portal. Only true believers can use it.” She ran a hand down her white braid. “We’ll take stock of our inventories after we’ve all had some rest. If we have as little food as I fear, from now on we may have to forage as we travel.”
“If by as little as you fear you mean we don’t have anything to eat, I agree.” Vazmyr looked thoughtful. “We found fresh water and that’ll keep everyone going for a while. That’ll have to do until we find some food.” He looked around. “But not here. Something about this place doesn’t feel right and I don’t want to split up to forage here.” He scratched his stomach under the edge of his chain mail. “I’ll pull the sentries in, but we have to keep at least a few of them out. As far as I am concerned, this side of the portal isn’t any less dangerous than the other side was.”
Zilvra wasn’t going to disagree. They had no idea what lived here, but something always did, and it was seldom friendly. It was the nature of the Underdark. “Good. I’ll see to the wounded again.”
“Wake up.” A hand slapped Zilvra across the face and she jerked awake, struggling against her bonds.
A face looked down at her, smiling coldly. Black skin, red eyes and white hair, it was very familiar to her. It was the face she saw in the mirror every morning except, of course, it was the face of her twin. “Briza.”
“Mother will be very glad I captured you,” Briza said cheerfully. “You brought a great deal of dishonor on our house and she will want you as the sacrifice to make our goddess happy with us again.”
Zilvra struggled to a sitting position. She looked around and saw a few of her people lying nearby, also prisoners. She hoped that the others, the ones she didn’t see, were still alive. A shield dwarf, one of the slaves who had fled with them, stood between two of her sister’s troops. It was obvious they’d been captured while she underwent reverie. She had no doubt that her meditation had been deepened with magic to keep her from waking up until now. “How did you get here?”
Briza gave her sister a gloating grin. “We know all about the portal you deviants use. There’s another one that we command which exits not far from destination of the one you used. Sadly, the one we followed you here with is a one way portal, so we have to walk back to Guallidurth.” Her smile widened. “Unless you want to activate your perverted portal, which I’ve been told is a two way portal, so our return doesn’t take weeks.”
Time was a gift. Time meant that they might find a way to escape on the trek. And the portal’s secrets were not to be revealed to unbelievers. “Never.”
Briza nodded. “I didn’t think you would. I’ll have to cull your followers though. I’m not going to be dragging a bunch of prisoners all the way back to the city and I don’t have food to feed them all for very long.” Her smile returned, malevolent and eager. “You’re the only one I have to bring back.”
The dwarf lunged forward and dropped to his knees in front of Zilvra. “I’m sorry, mistress, but I was so hungry. I went searching for something to eat and they caught me and used me to get the sentry before she knew they were there.”
Briza grabbed the dwarf by the throat and twisted her wrist. A blade shot out from her bracer and took the dwarf in the throat just over the top of her hand. She shoved, and the dwarf fell back as blood jetted from his throat. She twitched her wrist again and the blade retracted back into the bracer she wore. “One less mouth to feed already.” Blood had splattered her hand and she licked it as she stood. “Watch my sister closely.” She gestured towards the dwarven corpse. “And dump that outside camp. Then come back here and get my sister ready to travel. I’ll be looking over the rest of the prisoners and seeing who else I want to gift to my mother and who gets to join that dwarf.”
“Yes, priestess,” one of the guards said. He grabbed the dwarf and began dragging it away as the other moved to where she could see Zilvra clearly.
Zilvra blinked and lifted her head, looking around slowly. It had been just a moment since the guard had dragged away the dead dwarf, but things were significantly different from what they’d been then. The guard that had been standing over her was now down on the ground nearby, bound, gagged and blindfolded. Her helmet had been removed and she had a huge welt in the center of her forehead. “What,” Zilvra said slowly as she looked around.
“This way, master.” Zilvra’s head jerked up at the voice. “The strange one is over here.”
A small reptilian figure appeared in her vision. She recognized it as a kobold as it loped towards her and the downed female drow guard. Following it at a more sedate pace was a male surface elf, much taller than her with blue eyes and long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail that hung down to his waist.
The kobold stopped in front of her. “This one, master.” It poked Zilvra in the breast. “I think this and that one are females. I’ve never seen one but I was told that mammal females have these misshapen chest muscles.” It poked again. “They are very soft. This one must be very weak.”
The surface elf laughed. “Yes, she’s female, Spotted Tail. Those are called breasts, they’re mostly fatty tissue with some muscle underlying them and please stop poking her in the nipple.” He frowned slightly. “Why did someone pound that drow in the head with her mace?”
“Bent Snout says he was tying up that one when she started talking. Bent Snout thought she was casting a spell and hit her to knock her out. Then he blindfolded and gagged her just in case, as you have taught us. I think she just talks in her sleep, but the cautious kobold lives to have wyrmlings and the careless kobold gets turned into shit.”
The elf chuckled. “I did teach you that and you’re absolutely right.” He gave Zilvra an apologetic smile. “Sorry about the breast exam. Other than running from the occasional ogre or gnoll hunting party, the tribe hasn’t been around mammalian humanoids in over a century and the youngest ones don’t know much about anatomy but are intensely curious. Spotted Tail, well she’s as bad as any of the others about being inquisitive and you were unconscious.”
“Who are you?”
The surface elf ignored her question, looking at the kobold. “All right, Spotted Tail. You’ve led me to a group of drow that you and the others waylaid. I’m not happy that you found them less than a mile from my home, but, other than that, what is so strange about this one that you had to drag me here to see?”
“She has your medallion, master.” The kobold reached inside Zilvra’s shirt and tugged on the chain around her neck to flip out her holy symbol onto the drow’s breasts. It slithered down her neck and landed on the ground under her head with a thump. The kobold grabbed the chain and used it to pull the holy symbol up where it could be seen without touching it. “See?”
The surface elf stared at the dangling icon for a second. “Well, fuck.” His eyes lifted to look into Zilvra’s red eyes. “You’re a worshipper of Eilistraee?”
Zilvra nodded slowly. She would not lie to a direct question about her alliances. “I am one of her priestesses.”
“Of course you are. That just makes things completely perfectly fucked up.” The elf sighed. “I greet you in the name of the Lady of the Dance. Hold still and I’ll cut your bonds.” He produced a sharp looking black and silver knife out of the air as he moved behind her. “I’m going to pull you up where you can sit so I don’t have to roll you over and you get to eat dirt.”
“Thank you,” Zilvra said as he slowly lifted her into a sitting position.
“Master,” Spotted Tail said as she released the chain and backed up several steps. “I have things that must be done.”
The elf’s voice came from behind Zilvra. “Wait just a moment. I suspect I’m going to have more questions for you.”
Zilvra was careful to be completely motionless while listening intently behind her. “Who are you?”
“I’m Iain Grey. What’s your name?”
“I am Zilvra Khaven.” She felt the ropes binding her arms go slack and pulled them around to start rubbing her wrists. Pins and needles shot up her arms as blood began flowing freely.
“You’re the first daughter of House Khaven?” Iain moved around to her legs and sawed at the rope binding her ankles. The blade was razor sharp and the rope parted instantly. “How is it that the heir to the second ranked noble house in Guallidurth is a priestess of Eilistraee and, more importantly, how is that you’re here?” The knife vanished.
“I’m surprised that you know your politics so well. As for me, the Lady of the Dance spoke to me and I realized that her words were the truth I had been looking for my entire life. I let her into my heart and, because I was going to be found out, fled with some of the people I’d convinced to follow her as well. We were ambushed by a patrol while resting and captured. Then you arrived and that brings us to now.”
“Guallidurth is over a hundred miles from here. That’s quite the trip.”
“There is a portal that exits not far from here.” She looked at the rope marks on her wrists and grimaced. “According to the patrol’s leader, there is a second portal as well. It’s a one way portal and it’s how they followed and captured us.”
“There are two portals in my fucking back yard?” Iain growled softly. “I’m going to find them. Once I do, I am going to give them the Stargate treatment and fill them with rocks or maybe molten lead.” He turned and looked at the kobold. “Spotted Tail, were some of the drow tied up before you used gas to knock them out and captured everyone?”
The kobold nodded vigorously. “Yes, master.”
“Let me guess, you disarmed everyone so I can’t tell which is which.”
“We did, master,” Spotted Tail said proudly. “We searched them thoroughly.”
Iain shook his head and shrugged out of his pack. He pulled out a chunk of bread and another of cheese. He handed both to Zilvra. “Go ahead and eat. After you’re done, you and I’ll go around and you can identify which are your people and which are not.” He noticed her staring at the food and smiled as he slipped the pack onto his back once more. “It’s bread and cheese. And I have more at my home, so we can feed all of your people when we get them there so you’re not taking food that they need. Everyone will be fed soon, I promise.”
Zilvra took a hesitant bite of the bread and smiled at the flavor. “What about the others?”
“The patrol?” She nodded. “I can’t have them report back to Guallidurth. I’ll ask them to accept the Lady Dancer in case she hasn’t spoken to them yet, but if they continue to worship the evil that is the Spider Queen, I don’t have many options.”
“Master,” Spotted Tail repeated, her tail lashing in frustration. “I have things that must be done.”
Iain smiled amusedly at the kobold. “You brought me here.” There was a chuckle. “But I suppose I’m done with you for now and I can send someone if necessary. Go.” Spotted Tail yipped and raced away. “You’re supposed to be quiet in the Underdark or things will eat you,” he muttered.
Zilvra looked at him seriously. “Your prisoners, even the patrol members, are helpless.”
“And if I released them they’d kill all of us if they could. Worse, they could return to Guallidurth and lead a strike force back here since your mother is not going to want to let you escape her knife.” He shrugged. “Besides, it would be more merciful to kill them now rather than release them into the Underdark without any weapons and you know it.”
Zilvra knew he spoke the truth, but there was one last thing he needed to know. “The leader of the patrol is my sister.”
Iain’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Briza is here too?”
“You know my family?”
“I’ve been going into the city and bringing out converts to the Lady Dancer. To that end, I’ve cultivated some sources inside Guallidurth and they’re keeping me appraised of the political situation. With your house being second among the noble houses of the city, I had as complete an investigation done as possible.” He frowned. “Are you asking me to spare her?”
Zilvra started to speak and stopped. She shook her head. “No. As long as she lives, she will do exactly what you say she will.” She looked into Iain’s eyes. “That still might not stop my mother from sending others here.”
Iain smiled grimly. “There’s a kuo-toa city on the other side of Guallidurth and they’ve been doing a bit of raiding here and there. I’ll stage things to look like this patrol was caught off guard by a kuo-toa raiding party and wiped out. Then I’ll arrange for the battleground to be discovered by a drow patrol belonging to a different house and they can carry word back to Guallidurth of what they’ve found. This battlefield will be on the other side of Guallidurth and far from here. Hopefully nobody has any information that leads here.”
“If you can do that, it should work.” Zilvra took a bite of the cheese, marveling at the flavor. It was completely unlike any cheese she’d ever eaten before. “You will release my people?”
“I will release everyone you want me to.” He gave a sharp whistle and, less than a moment later, several kobolds appeared out of seeming nothingness. “Well done. I’m glad to see you’re using the that knockout gas I gave you. As you can see, it works even on drow, so feel free to place more traps using it. Just make sure I get a map so I don’t walk into one of them.”
“Yes, master,” one of the kobolds said.
“Thank you. Now, I’d like one of you to find Spotted Tail and tell her I want to talk to her.” All the kobolds instantly started arguing about who was going to go. Iain waited a few seconds. “Enough!” All the kobolds whipped around to look at him. “Lisper.”
One of the kobolds stepped forward. “Mathter.”
“You haven’t run an errand for me recently. You do it.”
The kobold snapped to attention. “I go!” It turned and sprinted away.
“Thank you,” Iain said to the rest of the kobolds. “Return to your regular duties.” He turned back to Zilvra as they raced off. “How many people are with you?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t know how many were killed when we were captured. Before that, there were twelve drow and nineteen dwarves.”
“We were discovered while leaving the city. The forces loyal to Lolth and my mother attacked us while we were passing though the slave markets. We had been surrounded and were being pressed hard when a bunch of dwarves that had been held by one of the slavers suddenly attacked the ones attacking us.” Her eyes turned sad. “A hole opened up and we fled through it, taking the dwarves we could with us.” She looked around them, her eyes flitting randomly. “Most of them were left behind.” She looked back at him. “I will not abandon them.”
“I wasn’t asking you to. I intend to take all of your people to my home, get them fed and cleaned up and then I’ll take you all to Ilhar Mrimm.”
“I am not familiar with that name.”
“It’s a village of the Lady Dancer’s worshippers, most of whom are drow. The high priestess and leader there is Laelra Mytlar and she’ll welcome you all and help you make a home on the surface.”
“Do you live there?”
“I do not. I live in some caverns about a mile from here. The village is on the north side of the mountains my valley is in.”
Zilvra smiled disarmingly at him. “Who lives with you?”
“Nobody except the kobolds. They don’t live with me either, they live in their own caverns nearby, although you will see some in my caves since they’re doing some stonework for me.”
“They aren’t your slaves, are they?”
Iain snorted. “Eilistraee doesn’t tolerate slavery and I’m against it too. The kobolds are sworn into my service and are my vassals. They shouldn’t bother you. If they try, let me know and I’ll have a word with them and they will stop.” He chuckled. “I might have to talk to them twice. Some of them are as stubborn as I am.”
Iain swarmed up the cargo netting and onto the Lemon Sour. “See,” he called down, “it’s easy. Come on up.”
As usual, Zilvra and Vazmyr were the first ones to try something this new, with the drow female leading by a few seconds. Soon other drow had joined them. It was four days since Iain had taken Zilvra’s group in and nearly midnight, a time deliberately chosen by Iain so that the drow hopefully did not have as many problems going outside to where the hammership waited. He’d hoped for an overcast sky, but it was partly cloudy and the crescent moon alternately smiled down at them and hid as the clouds covered and uncovered it.
It would have to do.
Iain realized something odd and gave Zilvra a questioning look. “I thought the dwarves were ready to load. Where are they?”
Her head swung from side to side as she looked around them. “I thought they were here too.” She grabbed the netting and swung over the side. “I’ll bring them.”
While she was gone, Iain quickly roped Vazmyr into helping him get the drow settled down. He and the captain of Zilvra’s guard had quickly found a mutual respect in each other’s martial prowess and they got along well because of it. They were finishing up when Zilvra appeared at the bottom of the netting. “Iain,” she called. He came to the side of the ship and looked down at her. “There’s a problem with the dwarves.”
Iain jumped over the railing and landed next to Zilvra, crouching to let his knees absorb the shock of the impact. “Show me.”
She looked up at the railing nearly twenty feet overhead, back at him and shrugged. “Come.”
Iain looked at her as they traveled. “What is wrong?”
“They say they cannot leave.” Zilvra sounded upset. “I don’t understand what they’re saying. Perhaps you can.”
“Uh, sure. Let’s go found out if I can.”
The twelve surviving dwarves were in the second cavern of Iain’s caves. They were staring at the entrance from the first cave, but when Iain and Zilvra entered, they all looked away. Iain turned to Solnys, the female dwarf who had taken charge of the former slaves. “Please explain to me what’s wrong.” He could smell their fear and deliberately kept his tone light and cheerful.
Solnys’ hands twisted in the cloth shift she wore. All of the dwarves had been dressed in light calf length tunics and boots for sale and Iain wasn’t supplying them with clothing. “We can’t go out there,” she said desperately. Her pupils were wide with panic and fear.”
“Solnys, I want you to do something for me,” Iain said calmly. “I want you to take a deep breath, as deeply as you can, hold it for a slow five count and then exhale completely. Can you do that for me?” She nodded and did as asked, visibly relaxing as she exhaled. “Now you say that you can’t go outside.” She nodded. “Are you afraid you’ll be attacked?”
“It’s too big,” she blurted. “It’s scary.” Other dwarves nodded agreement.
“I do not understand her,” Zilvra said quietly.
Iain frowned thoughtfully and then cocked his head. “Where were you born, Solnys?”
“In Guallidurth.” She gestured around her. “We all were.”
“So you’ve always been a slave and you’ve always been in Guallidurth?” She nodded. “It’s all right,” Iain smiled reassuringly. “Zilvra, do you remember the first time you went to the surface?”
She looked embarrassed. “I do. It was my first raid and the night was much cloudier than tonight is. We slaughtered some elves we found. I hadn’t heard the Lady Dancer’s call yet and didn’t know they weren’t my enemy.”
“Do you remember that first step into the outside and how hard it was?”
She blinked. “They’ve never been to the surface.”
“Born and raised as slaves in a city that’s miles underground,” Iain said, “how could they have been? And you were with others of your kind who had been outside and who helped you,” he chuckled, “as much as unrepentant drow help each other.” He shook his head. “And I was going to fly them to Ilhar Mrimm. That could have been a disaster. Solnys, can you and the others be left alone here for a few hours? I shouldn’t be gone too long.”
“You want to leave them here?” Zilvra was watching him.
“I’m worried that unless we pop them into sacks and bind them into the hold, if we drag them to the Lemon Sour they’ll panic when we’re flying and end up going overboard to their deaths. They can stay here for a few weeks while I get them accustomed to the outside and then they can rejoin you.”
Solnys was watching him apprehensively. Now her look changed to suspicion mingled with hope. Four days had not been enough to build any trust with her. “You would let us stay here?”
“I think that would be best, so yes.”
“We will stay,” she said. “And we will be useful. You will see!”
In drow society, slaves that sat around were quickly sold, gifted to the closest temple of Lolth as a sacrifice of some kind or turned into something useful, like fertilizer for the vast mushroom farms that fed Guallidurth. Solnys and the others would eventually learn that they weren’t in that society anymore, but now was not the time to try and explain things to them. “I don’t doubt that.” While the tunnels were being dug for him, the second cavern had become something of a dump for anything he didn’t currently have a place for. Trunks and boxes were neatly lined up, and Quick Bite had an inventory of their contents if the kobolds needed something specific. After a quick mental review of that inventory, Iain went to a nearby trunk and pulled the lid open. It was filled with various pieces of glassware that were eventually destined for a laboratory he had planned. He searched for a second and pulled out an hourglass filled with softly glowing purple sand. “Solnys, can you or anyone else here count?”
“I was used to keep accounts of people who owed my mistress money and other favors,” Malnar, one of the male dwarves said. “I can keep numbers as well as read and write elven and two of the underground trade languages.”
“Excellent.” Iain handed Solnys the hourglass. “I should be back before you can turn this over sixteen times. If I am not back by then, don’t worry, I will be back before you can turn it over thirty times.”
She nodded and clutched the hourglass to her chest. “Yes, sir.”
“You know where the food is, go ahead and eat if you get hungry. You will continue to bed down here until the kobolds finish a room large enough to become a barracks for you and the rest of the dwarves. That should be only a couple of days.” He pointed at some large chests. “Those have weapons and some other equipment in them. Feel free to arm yourselves if it’ll make you feel safer. Just don’t go attacking the kobolds, please.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Do you have any questions?”
He looked at Zilvra. “Do you have a problem with this arrangement?”
“If it keeps the dwarves safe, I do not.”
Iain chuckled. “You and Laelra both would probably rip me a new asshole if I let anything happen to them after she finds out about them.” She stared at him blankly and he grinned for a second. “It means you’d be angry, blame me and try to punish me for being derelict in attending to my guests.”
“I most certainly would.”
He looked at the dwarves. “Just to keep things simple since you seem to have elected Solnys as your leader, she’ll stay in charge. I’ll be back as soon as I can and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t go wandering off into the Underdark. I’ll take you exploring later.”
Solnys smiled. “Yes, sir. We have much to do.”
“Zilvra, let’s go.”
Iain lifted the Lemon Sour off the ground, drifted it sideways to the open spot in the canopy and headed up. As directed, Phantasmal Surveyor had included an autopilot in the control system for the Lemon Sour and Iain set the reciprocal of the course he’d just flown and engaged it with a mental sigh of relief now that the drow had been dropped off.
Laelra had been happy to get another, normal priestess as well as several new able bodied drow, Zilvra was happy to no longer be chased through the Underdark and the villagers had been pleased to have new faces and people.
The only potential problem had been Laelra’s excitement at the possible uses for the Lemon Sour, which she hadn’t known about and had never seen before. Iain suspected he’d be running errands for her from now on and was wondering how this was going to affect his presence in Ilhar Mrimm. If every time he arrived at the village she had some errands for him to run, he was going to stop going to the village as often as he had been.
He didn’t have a problem running the occasional errand for Laelra and the village. But he wasn’t going to be available all the time for regular shuttle runs or anything like that and he was most certainly not going to turn the Lemon Sour over to the village. He had deliberately set the flight system up to require a twee to operate, so they couldn’t use it even if he was willing to let them have it.
He supposed he could get them another spelljamming ship, but they couldn’t normally hover very well and they couldn’t side shift using a spelljamming helm. Still, he supposed they could tie a rope to it and drag it sideways, but then there was still the whole issue with the Arcane siphoning the secrets out of anyone sitting in a helm. He chuckled softly as he realized that he thought of the drow in the village as “his” and didn’t want the Arcane using them to gather information.
The whole situation was just very, very annoying. It also reminded him that he needed to get those warhorses so he could start the project he needed them for. For that he had to find someplace that had enough humans that they’d be breeding the type of animals he wanted.
Iain set the altitude so that the Lemon Sour was flying just above the local cloudbank. It was very picturesque and made it appear that the ship was sailing over a sea of clouds.
In the end, he reflected, what she and the rest of the villagers wanted from him only mattered if he let it matter. Maybe they’d argue about it. If so, it would do Laelra good to be told no now and then.
Since he was alone, Iain could crank up the speed to much higher than he would do if he had passengers and the flight back to his valley went quickly.
After landing, he engaged the holographic projector to hide the ship, activated the alarm and locked the controls before heading into his cave. Eventually he’d have a hanger dug out to park the Lemon Sour in to keep it as safe as possible. Until then, he’d protect it as best he could. As a point of fact, the alarm system should let him know if it was disturbed at all.
He headed into the cave. He was well within the fifteen turns of the hourglass, each turn of the glass running for half an hour, and that should hopefully make Solnys and the others happier about staying here for a little while.
He stepped into the second chamber and paused when he realized it was empty of people. “What the hell?” He headed for the entrance to the third chamber only to stop when Quick Bite came out of the opening. “Hello.”
Quick Bite lolled her tongue in a laugh. “The dwarves are at our caves, master.”
“I thought they couldn’t go outside. That’s the whole reason they’re still here.”
“We have one passage connecting the tribe’s caves into the Underdark and I took the dwarves through the Underdark to our caves.” She hesitated, “I also gave them clothes from your chests. I understand they are guests and deserving of hospitality.”
Iain frowned and ran through the inventory in his head. “What clothes?”
Quick Bite jogged over and jumped on a chest, spreading her wings for balance as she landed on it. “From here, master, and,” she pointed at another chest, “there.”
Iain closed his eyes for a moment as he fought his temper. Neither of those chests were common usage chests. “You dressed them in my treasure? All of the armor and clothing in those is enchanted and, most importantly, mine.”
Quick Bite instantly cringed, crouching as she pulled her wings in close to make herself as small as possible. “I’m sorry, master.”
Iain sat down on the chest that Quick Bite was standing on and laughed. “Fuck, I sound like a dragon whining over his hoard. How am I going to survive seven hundred years alone when I haven’t been here a full year yet and I’m already going off the rails?” He reached up and hugged Quick Bite with one arm. She stiffened before going limp inside his grip. “You did the right thing. I’m the one who is fucking up right now, and because some guests need something that I have that I’m not using and don’t want to share.” He grimaced and let Quick Bite go. “And I owe you an apology for what I just did.”
She cocked her head. “Master?”
“I treated you like a pet, and you’re not. You’re a person and I didn’t ask permission if I could touch you. I also know how much it aggravates kobolds to be seen as smaller than others and I handled you. I shouldn’t have and I’m apologizing for my terrible behavior.”
Quick Bite hopped off the chest to stand in front of him. “Master, the old master would eat us if we disobeyed or if he thought we disobeyed or if he was bored. We were his slaves and we thought we were happy serving him. As much as you can, you treat us as if you are tribe. I know that it is because you say we are clan and you are clan and leader, but the others do not understand that yet.” Her jaws gaped in her smile. “I do not understand it either, but I accept that I will someday.”
“You will.” Iain got up. “I think you should show me the path through the Underdark to your cave entrance in case I don’t want to go outside to visit.”
“Yes, master. Come with me.”
Iain followed her. “Why are the dwarves at your cave?”
“They want to know how to serve you, master. Solnys asked me this as we are your servants. She is not of the dragon, but you told us how clan does not have to be that way. You also said we should give them what they need and Solnys said she needed to know how they could serve you, so I took them to our cave so they could learn.”
Iain started to remind her that the dwarves weren’t going to be staying and decided it wasn’t important. “Just remember that they also need to learn to be able to go outside.”
“We will teach them, master,” Quick Bite said confidently. “They’re dwarves. It’s not like they’re stupid gnomes.”
“You know, whatever.”
Happy Anniversary, his twee said as he stepped outside. It made a noise in his head that sounded like a kazoo being blown.
Iain closed the door to the greenhouse and carefully locked it. Anniversary?
You’ve been here a year.
Iain frowned. I have?
You arrived on the surface early last summer to this day and minute.
Iain counted in his head as he headed for the stable. “Damn, I didn’t realize it has been so long.”
Long? You have six hundred and ninety nine more years to go before Nightraven gets to judge the quality of your work. You have experienced zero point one four three percent of your time here so far.
Iain noted that the wagon was not parked under its roof so he wasn’t surprised that the oxen were gone when he went into the stable. The kobolds and dwarves took care of the livestock as part of their regular chores. By now, Iain had a dozen cattle, ten cows and two bulls. The bulls had been trained as oxen to increase their utility. Iain had used the bulls to breed the cows, using each bull to impregnate six of the cows and carefully documenting the start of the breeding lines. Every one of the cows smelled pregnant, which is what he’d been hoping for. Iain was eagerly anticipating being able to have fresh milk and had already built an aging room for the cheese and butter he planned to produce.
Given a choice between horses and oxen for pulling the wagon, kobolds would choose the oxen every time. Iain wasn’t sure why, but he suspected that if he sniffed the oxen when they returned, he’d find that the kobolds had been riding the oxen while they were pulling the wagon. Horses had proven to be far less tolerant of kobolds being in physical contact with them. The dwarves, on the other hand, would use the horses, rotating them out as they went.
He also had purchased and transported up to the valley a dozen warhorses. He’d purchased one stallion and eleven mares from decent but not anything he’d consider being from award winning bloodlines. Being smart, he’d purchased the cows in the late winter when it was hardest and most expensive to feed them, thus driving their prices down as much as possible. He’d had to buy the horses earlier in the year, during the early summer months, so he could have the mares when they came into heat. He’d allowed the stallion to breed four of the mares, but the other seven were involved in his project and had been artificially inseminated. For him, feeding all of the new stock hadn’t been difficult since he and the kobolds had spent a month in the fall cutting and storing hay from the grass that grew in the valley. They’d stored around fifteen tons of hay and, if he could, he’d cut double that amount this fall, since his losses over the winter had been far worse than he’d anticipated. The kobolds had taken most of what had vanished. Being dragon blooded, they had odd dietary requirements and some of them had added hay to their diet while a lot of it had gone for bedding once they’d gotten used to Iain’s new rules on hygiene.
The amusing thing was that, if given the opportunity, kobolds could very happy while being utterly fastidious about cleanliness.
The stable had been built from logs that the kobolds had harvested from the valley which had been stripped and laid out to dry before being notched and assembled into a log stable and chinked with mortar to keep the weather out. Later he’d upgrade to stone or perhaps, and more likely, move the stable underground.
For the greenhouse he’d considered several ways to produce it and finally resorted to cheating since he wasn’t powerful enough to create it out of thin air like Nightraven or Caintigern were. Last summer a pit had been excavated in the Underdark between his caves and the kobold’s. He’d dumped some nanites into it and buried a control unit inside some rock nearby. He’d then had the kobolds throw all the mining overburden and tailings that they would have otherwise dumped in the valley someplace along with any trash and debris. Interlocks had been added to the software to not disassemble organic material unless overridden by Iain while within a few yards of the system so as not to have kobolds or dwarves who fell into the pit turned into resources and then Iain had left the weaver running full time in disassembly mode. Once a week he stood by it while the kobolds and dwarves tossed in all the organic waste that didn’t go into the compost bin, which was things like bone, although there wasn’t much of that either. With kobolds and their diets, there wasn’t any meat waste to worry about. They even ate the food waste from the dwarves. Most of the organics going into the weaver came from poop, wood scraps and whatnot.
From this, among other things, he’d used the weaver to produce aluminum oxide in crystalline form, which was corundum. He added just enough iron to make it slightly bluish in color and turned out sheets of synthetic sapphire, which had been used to construct the greenhouse. Far tougher than glass, Iain didn’t have to worry quite so much about snow crushing his winter crops or an errant crossbow bolt from a kobold hunter smashing in a pane.
Another product was high grade coke, which was being used for smokeless cooking fires and smelting of ores. This allowed the kobolds to dig ventilation tunnels for their cooking areas and smithies without having to worry about nearly as much smoke as if they used wood or coal. Less smoke meant less detectability of the caves and less chances of being discovered.
Sapphire also was highly resistant to damage from almost all bases and acids and Iain was already planning to replace his laboratory glassware with it just as quickly as he could. It would also make very good shatter resistant potion flasks and had a plethora of other potential uses.
The reason he kept the greenhouse locked was more to keep problems from occurring than it was to keep both the dwarves and kobolds out of it. Once the plants had matured, he’d taken some kobolds and some dwarves into the greenhouse and taught them how to care for the plants. Originally, he’d left the greenhouse unlocked, but someone had left the door open and, not only had all of the heat escaped, but their chickens had moved in to escape the fall rains and greedily devoured the plants he’d been cultivating. He’d considered locking it up then but had decided to give them another chance. That lasted until he found some of the cows inside the greenhouse. They’d not only grazed heavily on the plants, they’d knocked over many of the planters and shelving, making an even bigger mess than the chickens had left.
That was the final straw. After that, he had decided to strictly control access to the greenhouse. Self closing doors were another option he’d be looking at later, when he had a bit more free time.
He was busy checking on the horses but stopped when a new thought hit him. If it’s been a year, how long have the dwarves been here?
Five months. And, yes, they’re all going outside. They haven’t said anything to you because they don’t want to leave. His twee sent him bits and pieces of conversations that Iain had overheard but not paid attention to since he was either busy at the time or trying not to eavesdrop. These proved that not only were the dwarves actively working to not go to Ilhar Mrimm, they were colluding with the kobolds in working to keep a low profile while learning to fit in.
Bloody hell. I need to talk to Solnys. He finished up checking on the animals and headed into the cave.
Out of respect for their privacy and because he hadn’t been invited into it, Iain hadn’t been in the dwarven area since the barracks had been dug. Now, entering it, he discovered that the barracks was a communal dining room and a hall exited the room on the other side. Five months, he grumbled to himself. Don’t let me lose time like that again, he told his twee. I might come back and find they’ve built a city while I wasn’t paying attention. Or they might fight a war and I’d miss it.
I’ll set a calendar and a regular alarm since I wasn’t really aware of it either.
Therkom, one of the males, was the only dwarf in the room. He had a scroll open on the table in front of him and his lips were slowly moving as he read the contents. Iain had insisted on an educational program to make the dwarves and the kobolds literate and had been giving group lessons regularly in his portion of the caves. Reading assignments were a normal part of the homework Iain gave out at these classes. Therkom glanced up at the movement and his eyes went wide before he shot to his feet. “Master!”
His twee chuckled. Master? The kobolds are rubbing off on the dwarves? That’s funny.
No, it’s not. Iain smiled. “It’s all right, go ahead and sit. I was looking for Solnys. Do you know where she is?”
Therkom slowly sat. “She should be in the mine, master. She’s on the first shift.”
Kobolds tribes, when they were subterranean, were constantly active. Individuals and groups would wake up, work the mines, take care of the offspring, patrol the lair and surroundings, do other chores, eat and sleep together, but the groups were staggered enough that at least one group was always up and busy. As the tribe grew, more groups formed and they tended to continue to stagger their schedules against that of preexisting groups so that more kobolds were active at any one time, but more were also asleep, keeping the absolute percentages almost unchanged even though the numbers grew and shrank as the tribe gained and lost members. Iain had examined this tendency to work in shifts and decided that it would be best for everyone if the schedule was formalized for efficiency. He and Quick Bite had decided on three shifts and then he’d given the kobolds some water clocks so they could follow the shifts. However, rather than trying to restructure the kobold routine to his still somewhat diurnal one, he’d allowed them to set the shifts while he limited the maximum amount of time that each shift worked. The kobolds had set three shifts of eight hours. First shift ran from about three in the morning until eleven. Second shift ran from eleven until seven in the evening. That left third shift to cover from seven in the evening until three in the morning. Kobolds worked eight hours and had off sixteen, but Iain knew that Quick Bite had set different orders and the kobolds instead worked eight hours on their primary job, worked eight hours on some other job that benefited the tribe as a whole, like tending the wyrmling kobolds and children, cooking or carving the walls and, finally, had eight hours of private time. Nobody complained and Iain decided to merely observe rather than interfere in something he didn’t yet understand.
“Will you see her when she comes off shift?”
“No, master, but Karnas will. Can I give her a message to pass to Solnys?”
“Yes, please. I’d like to talk to Solnys sometime today or tomorrow, but it’s not urgent.”
“I’ll tell Karnas, master. She’ll make sure that Solnys gets your message.”
“Thank you.” Iain looked around the room. “I take it you’re using the same schedule that the kobolds are?”
“Yes, master.” Therkom looked hesitant. “Is that acceptable?”
Iain nodded. “It is. I was just thinking that if you are, I can provide you with some clocks like I gave the kobolds.”
Therkom looked shocked and then his face lit up with a huge smile. Iain noted idly that he needed some dental work and reminded himself that dwarves didn’t shed their teeth like kobolds did or have twee to keep them healthy. And they certainly didn’t have regenerative magic, but he did. “That would be wonderful, master!”
“Excellent. I’ll see about the clocks and you please pass my request along.”
“I will, master!”
Solnys paused in the entranceway. “Master, you wanted to see me?”
Iain had been working on his list on the wall board, but it had devolved into stick figures hitting each other with hammers or stabbing each other with stick knives. Iain gave her a slightly guilty look before picking up a rag and wiping the board clean. He gestured at the table. “I did. Please sit down.” He sat and slid some papers sideways so they weren’t in front of him as she pulled out a chair and sat. “I’ve been kind of stupid recently and it took until now to realize that you and the other dwarves apparently don’t want to go to Ilhar Mrimm.” Solnys’ face tightened. “It’s true, isn’t it?”
“Master, you said this place was full of drow, did you not?”
“They’re worshippers of Eilistraee or unaligned, but yes.”
“Master, Zilvra took us with her because she felt guilty about the ones who stayed and died. She said we were free, but we weren’t, not really. The others treated us like slaves and spoke often about how we were a burden and only slowing them down.”
“That does bring me to a question I’ve had since I heard that story. Why did you attack the drow? Was it to save Zilvra’s group?”
“Master, I am a dwarf and I was a slave. Slaves do not get involved in fights between drow. If a slave lifts a hand against a drow, unless it is by the order of its owner, that slave is put to death. As for what happened, I knew there was a battle going on between two groups of drow. I could see it. I do not know what happened next, but I do know that suddenly a drow from one side was in front of me and trying to kill me and the dwarves around me with a mace. We had been released from our coffle because the slaver was lazy and didn’t want to unlock us and relock us and we had never shown spirit. I did not want to die and so I fought back. Others joined me because they knew that they would die because of what I and others did. I think that other drow were attacking more of the slaves, but I could only see the one trying to kill me. We killed the drow that was trying to kill us and then a drow, whom I later learned was Vazmyr, yelled for us to come with him. He wasn’t trying to kill us and he’d given an order. We follow orders and did as he told us to.”
She used a fingertip to trace an abstract design on the tabletop. “Master, we didn’t know each other. I was sold by my house as a single sale and I knew none of the other dwarves. The only ones I have known are the others who came with me when Vazmyr ordered us to follow him and I met them on our journey here.” Her mouth set and she looked up at him. “The drow in this town would have resented us too. We are not drow and drow look down on any being that isn’t one of them. You know that. There will be drow in the village who will treat us as slaves and many of us will respond to that and be slaves for them, even if we do not have the name of slave.” Solnys had taken the time to clean up and change clothes before coming to find him and she nervously smoothed her skirts as she spoke. “Master, you are the only person that has not seen us as slaves.” She held up her wrists. “The drow cut our chains so we could move faster. We came with manacles because the drow didn’t see a reason to remove them. You did. Why would we want to live among the drow, who would put our manacles back on and pretend there are no chains attached to them? Please don’t make us go there.”
“There is a dwarven kingdom that’s not far from here. I could take you there.”
“Master, during one of your lectures about freedom, you told me that I could live where I want to. I want to live here.”
“I’m not a dwarf and I don’t know most dwarven traditions.”
Solnys laughed and it was a cold and bitter sound. “Master, I am not a dwarf either. I was born a slave and I was raised as a slave. I am a slave. I don’t want to be a slave anymore, and here I am not. Dwarves will treat me as a dwarf is treated and I won’t understand it. I know nothing about being a dwarf. Worse, eventually they’ll start treating me like a slave since that is all I know.” She cocked her head in a gesture that was eerily like Quick Bite or the other kobolds. “Chaser says that dwarves keep slaves.” Chaser was one of the kobold mining shift leaders.
“Some do. It varies from kingdom to kingdom.”
“Do you keep slaves?”
“No. I find the idea abhorrent, which is a good thing since my goddess doesn’t want me to keep slaves.” He chuckled. “Neither of my goddesses want me to have slaves.”
“You don’t worship her?”
“The Spider Queen?” She nodded and Iain shook his head. “No, I worship Eilistraee.”
“I worship no one, master. No god protects slaves.”
“Eilistraee will. She protects and loves everyone. That’s why the Spider Queen’s priestesses try to keep everyone from learning about Eilistraee. Zilvra felt guilt because she worships Eilistraee, so it could be said that Eilistraee is why she brought you and the other dwarves to me.” He sat up. “You and the others can stay, but I will have to oath you as I do the kobolds. My rules for them will be the rules for you. Can you abide that?”
Solnys’ gave him a relieved smile. “We follow their rules as best we can now, master, and oathing us will make us yours without making us into slaves.”
“True. But there is one thing. I can’t seem to get the kobolds to stop calling me master. But I want you and the other dwarves to stop. If you have to use some kind of term of respect, sir works perfectly well. Of course, my name is Iain and it works perfectly too.”
Her smile faded. “You don’t want us to call you master?”
“Are you my slave?”
She lifted her chin defiantly. “I am not.”
“Are you a kobold?”
“You tell me you don’t want to be a slave. Slaves call people master. Since you don’t want to be a slave, stop calling me master.”
She looked uncertainly at him. “But the kobolds are not slaves and they call you master.”
Iain chuckled. “As you may have already figured out, kobolds do what I tell them to do in the important things. But I can’t get them to stop calling me master, and I’ve tried. I think it may have to do with how they came into existence.”
Solnys frowned. “What do you mean, master?”
“According to legend, kobolds were created by a dragon god to serve dragons, maybe from the blood he and Tiamat shed during a battle. Dragons are pretty arrogant and making their creations obey their whims would have made them extremely happy. Ingraining in their genetics that they were the slaves of dragons would be an obvious way to keep from having to teach the same lessons every generation.”
Shrewd eyes met his. “They tell us you’re a dragon. Is that true?”
Well, he hadn’t been keeping it a secret. “I am.”
“Does them calling you master make you happy?”
“On the contrary, it annoys the fuck out of me.”
Solnys blushed. “That word, master.”
“I use profanity. I’ll try to not use as much around you, but I am not going to stop.”
She nodded, her blush beginning to fade. “What I was trying to say, master, is that if you are a dragon they may not be able to call you anything but master, if they were created to serve dragons and be respectful while doing so.”
Iain nodded. “Yeah, I considered that too, which is why I haven’t been more assertive about them calling me things like that. However, dwarves were not created to serve dragons, and I’d like you stop calling me master.”
“There will be some who will forget.”
Iain grinned. “You’re very smart.” She blushed again. “And you’re right. I don’t expect this to stop overnight. What I want is an effort to stop, which may take months to complete.”
“We can call you sir instead?”
“We can do this, sir.”
“Thank you.” Iain thought for a second. “I presume there is a shift leader for each shift.”
“Yes, sir, there is.”
“Then what I’ll do is oath each group after they come off shift. That way I don’t steal one group’s sleeping time so they can watch everyone swear oaths to me. It’s not necessary and it’s inefficient.”
“But you will have to be awake to do this,” Solnys protested.
“I will but it won’t hurt me to miss a little bit of sleep.” He smiled. “I don’t sleep much.”
She leaned forward. “Nightmares?”
“You have them?”
She nodded. “In mine, the drow come and take me away from here. They take me back to Guallidurth in order to turn me back into being their slave.”
“We won’t let that happen,” Iain said reassuringly. He frowned. “I’ll need to find someone to make all of you more clothes if you’re staying. None of you is a tailor or seamstress, correct?”
“No, master. I mean, sir. Other than Malnar, we were all field workers, growing crops. The only clothes we have are what you’ve already given us.”
“I’ll figure something out. There are only twelve of you, so I didn’t expect every trade or industry to be represented.”
We have not yet extended our espionage program to the kingdoms of Shanatar, his twee noted.
I’m not done with everything I’m already working on, Iain replied irritably. But I guess if I’m going to Shanatar to get clothes or a seamstress I should start spying on them when I do. He refocused his attention on Solnys. “I’ll get back to you soon on when I’ll take your oaths.”
“I can give you mine now, sir,” she said. “Should I kneel?”
“I don’t plan on anything that formal,” Iain replied with a smile. “Just repeat what I tell you to.” He watched her for a second. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I am,” she said eagerly. “This is my home now.”
Iain nodded and started the process to make her clan.
“What is that?”
Iain turned and nodded to the sun elf with gold colored hair staring past him into the stable paddock. “Good afternoon, Laraxithious. How are you today?”
The gold dragon was in his elf form. “I’m doing well.” He glanced at Iain before going back to staring at the pasture. “What is that?”
“Those are silver dragon horse foals.”
The gold dragon looked at him suspiciously. “Where did they come from?”
Iain smiled amusedly. “As you have guessed, I made them.”
Laraxithious leaned on the fence and looked over the half dragon horses. “You bred a horse?” He grinned for a second. “I realize that all you have around here is kobolds and your half dragons, but there are elves not that far away that you can sate your hungers on. They can be a lot of fun.”
Iain decided to ignore the second part of his comment. All the various true dragon breeds had what Iain thought was a disturbing tendency to be a bit arrogant about the lesser races and their utility as animals. He managed not to smile since the People were just as arrogant and considered the true dragons to be only a step or two above the humanoid races and just as primitive. “Technically, yes, I did. However, I didn’t do it with my dick or sperm.”
“Could you explain?” Iain glanced at him and the gold shrugged. “We’re friends but I worry about you sometimes. You’re not evil but,” he trailed off and shrugged again. “And other good dragons ask me about you since they know we’re friends and you frighten more than one of them.”
“I’ve been told that I’m a good bad man,” Iain supplied helpfully. “It means that I have the capacity for evil but I do not give in to those impulses.”
“That actually sounds like it’s more apt than not.” Laraxithious folded his arms. “So tell me how you’re not being bad now.”
“We found a dead silver drake several months ago and harvested the corpse. I preserved the reproductive organs and used his sperm to inseminate some of my horses.” The silver had been dead after it attacked Iain during a flight and he’d killed it. He wasn’t sure why it had attacked him, but it had. After processing his memories they’d looted his lair. The memories suggested that the silver drake had just been having a bad day and had decided to take it out on Iain, the elf he saw doing something on a mountainside. Iain had been in the middle of planting some samples of great grape and had been rather surprised when the silver had attacked him without warning. He’d defended himself and the silver had ended up as trade goods. Except, of course, for the reproductive organs, which Iain had needed for the horse project.
“What in the name of Bahamut for?”
“These mountains are pretty rugged and I don’t want to be traipsing all over them on horseback. That just doesn’t sound like fun. I also want a way to visit communities that will allow me to fly there so I can still fly there without having to worry about them discovering that I’m a dragon and panicking when all I want to do is have some clothes made. I’ll train these to carry a rider and as pack animals and use them for that. While they’ll cause some excitement, it won’t be anything like what would happen if a dragon circled overhead and landed in front of their community even if I then immediately changed into a humanoid form. My other option is to land and change shape so far away that nobody local can discover I’m a dragon and that would mean a hell of a walk. Not a fan of that idea since it’s my boots I’d be wearing out and I don’t know how to resole boots yet.”
“Did it occur to you that this drake would not have wanted to have half dragon horse offspring?”
Iain flashed a grin. “He didn’t say anything against it. And none of the silver dragons I’m friends with thought it worth their time to complain about this.” They both knew that Iain hadn’t met any silver dragons since settling into his cave. He’d seen a couple but they weren’t sure what kind of dragon he was and were too busy with their own things to be immediately curious about a strange dragon that didn’t attack them on sight. That and he was huge compared to most of the local dragons, which also made them cautious around him since all dragons, both metallic and chromatic, could be fiercely territorial against all other dragons. As far as Laraxithious knew, he was Iain’s only dragon friend. They weren’t really friends in Iain’s eyes, but the gold wasn’t terrible company and didn’t come around all that often.
“You are a madman, sir.” Laraxithious shook his head. “Why do I associate with you?”
“You’re trying to court Tagiss, I live a lot closer to her than you do, I’m willing to let you win at chess and you really like gingersnaps and peanut brittle.” Tagiss was a gold dragoness who lived about a day’s flight to the south of Iain’s valley. Iain knew about her and had seen her flying a few times but had never met her. She’d avoided him whenever she’d seen him and he could appreciate such caution. She was well within the outer band of the territory Iain hunted, but he wasn’t bothering the metallics so long as they left him alone in return unless they tried to hunt inside his inner territory. His kattle and other animals were still getting established and he wasn’t letting anyone slow that down.
“I am not trying to court Tagiss,” Laraxithious grumped loudly. One of the dragon horse colts spread its wings to shine bluish gray in the sunlight and raised its head to make itself bigger before baring its teeth and bugling a warning at the tone of his voice. Fangs gleamed in the sunlight as it snapped its jaws at them in a threat display.
Iain glanced at him with just a hint of a smile. “Is the noble and majestic gold dragon lying to me? I thought you golds can’t do that.”
“I can lie with the best of them but I’m not. I am failing at courting Tagiss, not trying to court her. I believe you said it was the not do part of trying.”
“She is substantially older than you are,” Iain pointed out. When Laraxithious just grunted sourly, Iain shrugged. “You could bring her here and give her cookies.”
“She says the size of my hoard is too small for her to seriously consider me as a potential mate. Then she continued to insult me by saying that my hunting ability is not as good as she wants in someone to have offspring with.” Laraxithious said. “If she ever saw the size of your hoard she just might court you.”
Laraxithious had never been near Iain’s treasure room. “I’m not showing anyone my hoard,” Iain pointed out. “In a perfect world, which, granted, we don’t live in, she’d never ever find out I’m a dragon. Besides, I’m not a gold. And I’m not interested in some experimental breeding with a gold dragoness if it comes with what you’ve told me about her personality.” He stretched. “Want to help me kill a black dragon that’s been harassing some elves about two hundred miles from here? I understand he might be able to help you with your prospective mate and her issues with being a hoard size queen. After all, your hoard was probably a lot larger before you got captured and it stolen.”
“You’d give me part of his hoard?”
Iain shook his head. “I’d give you the chance to earn a share of his hoard by participating in the kill and the subsequent looting. You take some of the risk and you get some of the treasure.”
Laraxithious unfolded his arms and sat down on a nearby boulder. “Do you really need my help to kill this drake?”
“Need? No. Want? Yes.”
“Why do you want my help?”
“I want you to take the credit for the kill so I don’t.”
“Why don’t you want the credit?”
“I’ve been systematically wiping out the chromatics in my mountains. This black is a fair distance outside my normal hunting ground. While I’m still not well known, and I’m happy with that, killing dragons in what I would see as my land is one thing. All dragons agree that you don’t let enemies stay in your territory and, if you’re powerful enough to claim a large territory, you’d damned well better do so. If I get a reputation for being expansionist, eventually I’ll have chromatics banding together to hunt me in self defense. I’ll also have some metallics worrying that they’re next on the list.” He smiled. “I like being able to pick the battlefield and I don’t want them thinking they can ambush me here and destroy what I’m building until I’m ready for them to come here.” His smile widened until it was all teeth. “And when I’m ready for them to come here, this valley will just be one big trap for dragons I don’t want visiting.”
Laraxithious leaned back on the boulder. “Who else knows you’re the one killing the chromatics?”
“I haven’t told anyone about this except you.”
“I thought you wanted this to serve as a warning to them to stay out of your area.”
Iain shrugged. “Originally, I did, but then I realized that draconic arrogance means they’ll never believe I can be that much of a threat. The weaker ones might, but the strongest ones will see it as a challenge and then we’re right back to them thinking they can ambush me here or wipe out the people living here with me when I’m off somewhere else in the hopes it’ll frighten me away or anger me enough to become careless. I don’t want that, so it means I don’t intend to announce my activities at all. I’ll just keep killing them as they enter what I say is my territory. Eventually they’ll learn there’s a black hole for chromatics here and avoid the area.”
“What’s a black hole?”
“It’s a much bigger version of a sphere of annihilation.”
“I know what that is.” Laraxithious looked thoughtful for a moment. “In that situation the strongest dragons will want to avoid tempting fate since they have nothing to prove and they’ll drive the weaker dragons into the void you’re creating. That will make your job easier.”
Iain nodded. “It will. And they will still have hoards that I can seize. And the hoards of a dozen young adult dragons will total up to more than the individual hoard of many of the oldest ones, making it both safer and profitable.”
“What about metallic dragons living in this region that you’re claiming?”
“It depends. We both know they can go a little treasure crazy too and some of them can rampage with the best of the chromatics. Those I will also kill since they’ll threaten my holdings here in the valley and elsewhere in my territory. Any who are willing to be reasonable,” he grinned for a second, “I actually prefer to live and let live.”
“You have holdings elsewhere?”
“There’s a village called Ilhar Mrimm. It’s a village of elves, mostly drow, who worship Eilistraee. As a priestess of Eilistraee, I will protect or avenge that village.”
Laraxithious sat up. “Drow? Those black elves? They’re real?” His eyes lit up. “Can I see one?”
“I can rearrange my schedule and go to the village tomorrow. You could accompany me.”
The gold male rubbed his hands together excitedly. “Great!” His excitement faded. “So, do you have any cookies?”
“I’ve got some new ones, oatmeal raisin. Care to try something new?”
Laraxithious grinned. “Always!”
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)