Murghal was spending a great deal of time in one of the side rooms of the drakes’ cave, and there were little prickles of magic coming out of his ears when left. So I had to check. “Murghal! What are you doing back there?”
“I’m tending to your treasures,” he said.
“What treasures? The drakes haven’t done much looting yet,” I said.
“There’s a blue bottle, looks like sapphire,” he said. “It needed polishing.”
“Oh, that’s Osoth’s pet god,” I said. “What’s he doing?”
“Doing? It is a bottle,” said Murghal. Just because he can’t perceive magic is only a mediocre excuse for him not perceiving magic.
So I waddled past him and stuck my head in the side cave. Xolgrohim’s little sapphire jar was tucked in a corner of the rock. “Hi there,” I said.
“And the greetings of the day and the century to you as well, child of conquerers,” said Xolgrohim. His voice was like ashes painted on the air. It wasn’t sound. I don’t know if Murghal could have heard it even if Xolgrohim had been talking to him.
I curled up on the floor of his cave. “I hope you’re enjoying the mating flight,” I said, mostly to be polite.
“It is an infinite improvement over being dead,” he said. “Beyond that, though … Please forgive me, for I intend not the slightest offense, but watching the children of my killers disport themselves is only a limited pleasure.”
“Would you like to tell me about how you died?” I asked. Osoth says that’s a polite question for the undead, nearly always.
“Yes, I would. Ztesofaum my master had a dozen assassins expert in the seven kinds of dagger and the seven kinds of venom. We had a hundred monks expert in the eleven subtle assaults and the eleven subtle defenses. We had ten thousand crusaders garbed in blessed steel. We had walls of concrete reinforced by iron bars and ancient prayers. We had harnessed the lightnings and the meteors as our weapons. Seven great armies of mhelvul and their gods had come upon the pyramid, and been broken, and receded forth from it. When Rankotherium came, all these things melted,” he said.
“Yes, Rankotherium is rather imposing even for a dragon,” I said.
“But before Rankotherium came, Ztesofaum told me and seven of my fellows to preserve Dolau his daughter, and Molau his son, and his tray of secrets. We fled by hidden ways to the Tumult Sands, the indigo desert, the furthest and most terrible of lands, and there we hid. In time, we hoped, the dragons would become weak and careless. In time, we hoped — and this, too, you must forgive me — we could free Mhel from your bitter talons and cruel breath.”
“We’re not that bad. The mhelvul are mostly happier with us than with you.”
“Unfortunately there is no pleasant way to express the situation. You are alien. You are no true part of Mhel. There is nothing natural with your dominion.”
“Well, of course not.”
“We burrowed deep beneath the Tumult Sands, in caves that were too small for dragons. We drank charnel water, and ate luminous cavern fungi, and suffered as we hid. But by mysterious means, Cterion and Uruunma discovered us. Uruunma burned green trees by the entrance, and filled our cave with a choking smoke. Molau died of it. The rest of us fled out the long passage. Cterion was waiting by the adit. I died under his flames, we all died under his flames.”
So, what do you to say to someone that your parents killed? “Well, my condolences on your death,” I said.
“Oh, think nothing of it,” he said politely. “It was sure to happen sooner or later. Our mhelvul enemies all had plentiful assassins too, and even without them, the risk of infection from my apotheosis was very great. Paingods rarely lasted more than twenty or thirty years.”
“Well, I do wish my parents had managed to arrange a more peaceful conquest,” I said. I hope that was polite.
“Which are your parents?”
“Cterion and Uruunma.”
“Then we are opposite-siblings,” he said. “They gave you life; they gave me death. Hence it is a singular sort of a pleasure — but undeniably a pleasure nonetheless! — to make your acquaintance, after so many centuries.”
“That’s relatives, of a sort, I suppose!” I said, quite politely.
“And tell me of yourself, O dragon,” he said, just as politely.
So I did, for a third of an hour. That was easy enough.
“I am pleased that Mhel endures. Your stewardship — and, I beg of you, please forgive me for the use of that word. Were I able to rewind time a few seconds, I would surely use the word, ‘empire’. Your empire seems a calm sort of empire, compared to ours,” said Xolgrohim.
“Oh, there’s still some fighting. Dragon against dragon, constantly. Even occasionally mhelvul against mhelvul until we stop them.”
The dead god considered that briefly. “I am pleased to hear that you have not squashed every last drop of virility from my erstwhile proud and glorious species. But I am given to understand that you, personally, were not involved in much of those events. So, if you will forgive me a unilateral declaration, I would proclaim that you and I are at peace and have no quarrel with each other,” he said.
I spread my ears. “I accept your declaration of non-war. And, in a wholly unrelated aside, I note that will make no attempt to destroy any small and quite fragile sapphire bottles.”
“Excellent! Then let there be a specific friendship between us now!” he said, truthfully.
“A specific one? What do you mean?”
“Well, I am a man of substantial experience. I gather your mating flight is not entirely to your satisfaction? And you have neither true allies nor pure friends anywhere to hand. My master’s destroyer’s son being a friend of sorts, but hardly disinterested. I should be glad to listen, to advise if you wish, to sympathize if you do not. Indeed, I have little else to do. In exchange … perhaps you could leave me in some civilized place on Hove when you depart? Without destroying me, I mean.”
“That should be fine!” I said. I’m sure I can get Osoth to give me the god somehow. Trade him for my virginity when I get the bravery to evict it, maybe.
So we chatted a bit longer, mostly about the other dragons, and then it was time for lunch.
[Since several days were omitted, the scores here don’t match the scores on the previous entry. -bb]
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