Ghemel is a huge city. It used to be huger, and beautiful. It still is beautiful in spots. It’s also blown up in spots. And covered with garbage. I didn’t want to land. The artillery wasn’t enough to drive me off, but the stench was. I kept breathing little gouts of fire to try to burn my tongue clean, but it didn’t help for long.
Ghemel is a river town. There’s a huge stinking river more or less cutting it in half, and a smaller but still rather big and rather smelly river cutting one half in half. One quarter looks pretty rich. The other parts are gigantic slums. We didn’t let mhelvul make slums like that on Mhel. But nobody has civilized Hove yet — that’s why we picked Hove in the first place.
The nice quarter had a big palace in it, surrounded by all sorts of very small fortifications. I’m used to massive stoneworks. My parents’ castle isn’t very big by Mhelvul standards, and it’s got walls eight feet thick and forty feet high. That’s no good against dragons. My parents just flew over it and killed some mhelvul and a god or two, and that was that.
The hovens’ fortifications were even punier. They had big rolls of wire. They had tall wire fences that I could have walked through without any effort. They had walls, maybe twelve feet tall, but they were just thin slabs of some powdery grey stone. They were pretty tough as thin slabs of powdery stone go, but one rock from a catapult would have knocked them over.
About that point, Ythac wrote words on my mind from afar. «Jyothky, what happened to you?»
«I got bored of watching Osoth outwit Greshthanu. So I flew off to be a tourist,» I wrote back.
«Are you all right?»
«I will shred your liver if you ask me that again,» I wrote, quite reasonably.
«I didn’t mean it like that. I mean, could you make sure you’re not injured?», he wrote.
That was probably a good idea, since hovens had been shooting at me for an hour. «Not a scratch. I’m wearing your father’s favorite defensive spells,» I wrote back.
«Good, good. One minute…» he wrote, and then a minute later, «Very well. Three officially-lovestruck drakes are placated.»
«I am officially glad to hear that,» I wrote. «I’ll be back by nightfall.»
«By dinnertime!» he wrote.
«Well, yes.» He knows me pretty well.
«What’s it like? I haven’t gone very far that way yet,» he asked.
«Big and stinky, damaged all over, and very poorly defended.» I described the puny stone walls around the rich areas, since I had just been staring at them.
«You should throw a rock at them and show them how weak their fortifications are!»
«I don’t want to land, Ythac. It’s that smelly.»
«Actually, I think that they’re not worried about massive assaults by heavily-armed warriors from another country. It sounds like they’re mostly trying to keep their own countryhovens out. I’ll bet that that wire is sharp and poisoned, or run through with lightning, or something,» Ythac wrote.
«I’ll check …» I answered, and peered around with dangersense. «No poison or lightning, but it’s very sharp.»
«Speaking of poison and lightning, Osoth and Nrararn are flying out there to protect you.» he warned me.
«From what?» I asked.
«Each other, I suppose.»
«How about from the artillery barrage?» The hovens had given up with the little guns. A dozen boxy trucks were coming, with gun muzzles the length of my neck, and the soldiers were getting out any number of other smaller guns. Well, “smaller” mostly meaning “bigger than one hoven could carry.”
«Artillery barrage? Are you serious? I’m going to fly out there to protect you!»
«Sure, if you want. I’m going to have to protect Osoth and Nrararn, though. They don’t have good armor spells. You can be a very very drake drake and take that as scoring some points with me.» Some soldiers started shooting tiny little ray guns at me. I don’t think they would have injured a hoven, even, but they were quite bright. I flew in circles, and they tried to keep the rays on me.
«I think I’ll score more points by staying away,» he answered.
«I think Osoth and Nrararn would too. If you really want some points from me, tell them.»
«I can’t. Only you and Llredh have given me permission for the Horizonal Quill.»
The soldiers started shooting their artillery at me. I circled around a bit, flying near the paths that their shells would take. «Oh, this is fun!» I told Ythac.
«You and your fun! Do you have a spell to tell you if you do get hurt?»
«No.» I cast one. «Now yes.»
«OK, I claim some fiancé points. Before you and Arilash shit on the points and do whatever you want.»
The tiny bright ray guns were back on my chest, and the cannons fired their second barrage. I dived a bit, spread my wings, swooped this way, swooped that way, trying to fly a circle around each shell’s path before they all hit the ground. I only missed one. «Ooh, this is fun!» It would probably be more fun if I could feel the rush of wind on my wings, but vision and kineception and dangersense made it pretty exciting anyways.
«It sounds it! Can I come out?»
«Sure. There’s Osoth and Nrararn now, riding a wizard-wind.» I thought that Nrararn must be actually worried if he was willing to bring another drake along.
«Well. Maybe next time.»</p>