Artillery Dance (Day 31)
We had spent the last several days in the desert. I was bored.
I had talked Nrararn into teaching me some basic grownup-style sky magic. (Talking a drake into doing something on a mating flight isn’t at all hard. He’s here to try to get my attention.) It started with soaring exercises to become one with the sky. Nrararn immediately got four assorted challenges from four assorted other drakes, and didn’t wind up having time to teach me anything else that day or the next. I was bored.
The drakes had done all the hunting. I was bored.
The drakes aren’t very good cooks, either. For one thing, Osoth had learned fire breath before he became a necromancer and got his exotic new breath weapon of graveyard dust. We learned this when he tried to roast a dead pointy desert herbivore and picked the wrong (dusty) breath at first. That wasn’t boring. The other drakes ganged up on him and made him eat the whole poisoned thing. Then they had to fly off in a hurry and be the first one to collect something to eat and offer it to Arilash. (I suppose to me too, but they only said Arilash, which I suppose is her advantage for twining with them all the time and me not.) This meant that we ended up with three pointy desert herbivores, one lumpy desert herbivore, and a bunch of obviously domesticated and very incompetant birds. I gorged on raw meat and slept half the night. Which was important. Arilash had been twining noisily with everyone but Tultamaan and me. It had been hard to sleep through that.
So about noontime, Osoth and Greshthanu were doing one of the tedious little contests that the drakes think will make us choose them. Osoth was raising masses of assorted quadruped skeletons and sending them at Greshthanu. Greshthanu was seeing if he could kill them faster than Osoth could raise them. The answer, of course, was that Greshthanu was ahead in terms of the challenge. But Osoth was secretly making a huge army of skeletal birds concealed behind himself, and was surely going to throw them all at Greshthanu as soon as the challenge was over. Osoth is a very devious necromancer.
I would think it was all very clever and interesting and important if I hadn’t had several days of variations on that theme. Am I supposed to put up with twelve years of this?
So when the skeletal birds attacked a very startled Greshthanu, I flew off the other way, towards the big Hove city.
The Road To Ghemel
I didn’t get to Ghemel immediately. We were some two-thirds of an hour’s flight from it. So I flew over the jaggy craggy mountains. I flew over the big scrubby desert mostly full of big browsing mammals, and hovens herding them who were probably just starting to get unhappy with the drakes. They looked rather unhappy about me flying overhead.
The countryside was rather in ruins. Roads and fields had small craters in them, and the occasional wrecked car or truck or tractor. The first car delayed me for a third of an hour: I landed and stared at it a long time. I couldn’t figure out how it worked. I’d studied a reasonable amount of science, but actually getting confronted with some dirty oily ruined science wasn’t the same as reading about it. I was pretty sure that the bullet holes shouldn’t actually have been there, though. All I really learned was that my fiancés hadn’t done it. They don’t use bullets.
And there were some small villages. Many buildings had walls scarred by bullets or rays. Some were broken or burnt or flung asunder, and abandoned. There were plenty of hovens around, working in the fields, tending herds of assorted mammals, managing smaller herds of children, sitting in the shade drinking tea from small glass cups, and standing guard with guns. As I flew overhead, they pointed the guns at me. Some of them shot at me. Their guns threw lots of bullets rather fast, but they fell quite short of me. Sometimes they scared herd animals. In a rather Zṥràsḫiọ źó Hrašśiǒ spirit, I decided that they were saluting me rather than attacking me, so I didn’t have to stop and kill them.
( Zṥràsḫiọ źó Hrašśiǒ might be translated as “politeness is lightness.” It’s about using polite fictions to relieve the heaviness of draconic honor, custom, and law. It’s not completely dignified, and definitely not completely honorable, but I don’t think anyone will complain.)
Some dragons were trying to find me by grown-up magic. I didn’t let them.
The devastation seemed worse as I got closer to Ghemel. It wasn’t really. The countryside was getting more crowded. The small villages gave way to towns, and then to cities. Hove is far more crowded than Mhelvul. The small subsidiary cities were bigger than Pdernuz. They were in far worse shape too, or at least their injuries were more dramatic. Here a fire had eaten two or three blocks. There, an explosion had scored a street — recently, for it smelled of blood and oily flame and torn iron no more than two days old. Small trucks of soldiers roamed the streets, menacing terrified un-uniformed hovens with guns. Some soldiers shot at me as I flew overhead. Their weapons were better than the villagers’, and a few bullets reached me. I healed myself a bit, and put on the Ulthana’s Targe and the Hoplonton. I was feeling somewhere between lazy and irresponsible, so I decided that was another salute.
I’m sure I’m going to regret that later. But we’re not going to conquer Hove, after all. So teaching the hovens proper manners and terrors will be someone else’s job. Though I imagine that the drakes will get a good start on terrifying them, at least.