The fourteenth world was of the form called “Boiling Stone”: an endless sea of lava. Perhaps it would congeal and cool down to something useful in a grand-grand of grand-years. Perhaps the universe’s physical laws prevent it from ever cooling down. Perhaps living creatures swam in the sea of stone: Gimuse thought she saw some. Perhaps not.
In any case, it was useless to dragons. They saved the reach-scale, in case someone wanted to study Gimuse’s rock-creatures.
The twenty-ninth world was useless in yet another way. “The sky is full of churning black clouds, with just a tiny bit of glow behind them. I do believe there is a working sun up there. The landscape is hideous. Not utterly so; at least there is a landscape. But the landscapers they have hired have the most … exotic … sense of style. We have here a vast plain of scoured and chiseled stone. Intentionally chiseled, for I can see the marks of the tools, and a few of the tools themselves. Here and there are low monuments, spiky things with a separate small-person skull or helm or shield impaled on each spike. Beautiful workmanship, the impaled weapons and tools have. In the distance a tower rears up, dull red magics dripping from its windows. Nothing seems to live here: I see the corpses of trees and shrubs, and the skeletons of what must have been the ugliest small people anywhere. It’s not entirely dead. I think there are stromatolites or biofilms, sheets of live bacteria and micro-organisms, especially around the pond.”
Itharieth gave a start, as one of his rarely-used senses twinged. “And there are gods! One in the tower, not terribly powerful: comparable to Ngassith, who is roughly the most dangerous of us. Six weaker ones, gods or angels, flying towards the cyclone and the minikin. Each of them is strong enough to care about: about 8/12 or 9/12 as dangerous as I am.”
Sjojarn shook his head. “Dark Victory, or I’ll spend the rest of the day as a turtle.” Several dragons pressed him for more details. “A box turtle with the runes of wrongness written on my shell, I think, would be appropriate as a penalty turtle shape. Oh, you want details of Dark Victory. On many worlds, a mighty god arises, with a dire and vengeful drive for conquest and destruction. Sometimes they win. Sometimes their armies of, let us say, hideous genetically-engineered shock warriors, their infernal smoke-belching war engines, their handful of flying and mighty servitors, defeat whatever forces are ranged against them.
“Now, when we conquer a world, we try to leave it as intact as possible. We rule benevolently(∂), we farm the world, we correct problems as they arise. Not so every Dark Lord! Often they wreck massive vengance first: killing everyone but their servants, chopping down the forests where the last remaining powers bright powers hide, spewing out poisons, and generally making sure that nothing could possibly survive to challenge them. Doing this carefully is not so easy. If it is the slightest bit overdone, the ecology of the world breaks. Poison the seas and destroy the forests, and there will be insuffient plant life to keep the air breathable. And then all things that need to breathe, will die.”
[(∂) From our point of view, it’s benevolent. We rarely ask the conquered small people’s point of view, and we rarely like the answer when we do. Ythac and I are trying to be actually benevolent, and less than rulerly, on Hove. We will see how this works. —Jʸ]
Itharieth frowned, a gesture of ears and wings. “As a biologist, I disapprove!”
“As a drake who wishes to rule a vast and wealthy territory, I disapprove!” roared Gyovanth.
By the time the news had spread around the camp and all the dragons gathered — for who would miss the first interesting thing that happened — the first pair of winged servitors had arrived at the portal. They were massive and hideous things, dozens of small-people skeletons welded together with heavy wrought-iron struts, and wings made of tanned skins. The first one pushed at the entrance to the cyclone, and was repelled by the powers in the hhejŝṧhyant. It moaned an intricate phrase.
Jaraswat was ready, though. With Wo Awo and Lovrian supporting his spells (for getting them to work at such a distance is a matter of very hard sorcery), he translated the servitor’s words: “This gate is closed; there is no escape by it.”
Osoth’s opinion of the living dead is rather more generous than that of most dragons. He had Jaraswat say, “Explain your situation. We may be sympathetic.”
The servitor moaned, “A thousand years have passed since our victory. All things have died who our master permits to die. We are forbidden that: we must fly all around this dead world, senses alert for any sign of success of the prophecy that will mark our master’s doom. No white flowers bloom; no flowers of any sort bloom; no plants remain. When we find a seed we give it to the dark flames. Our rule is absolute and unchallenged. Our rule is a useless and unending torment. Let us out, O visitors, and we will serve you forever and faithfully!”
Osoth was about to grant their petition, when Tultamaan, who knows him well, bit his tail quite hard. “Osoth! You are on the verge of making a Stupid and Elementary Mistake!”
Osoth turned to blink at his lieutenant. “I am? They seem quite useful, and quite unhappy.”
“You are Half right. They are unhappy. They are useful mainly for ruining worlds. Do you have a world that you wish ruined?” said Tultamaan in a snide tone. “Recall that the Primary purpose of our company is to find Valuable and Colonizable worlds. Once they have been ruined, they are no longer Valuable nor Colonizable.”
“I suppose there is some truth to that,” said Osoth. “But surely they will not ruin unless we bid them to.”
“As to the matter of their Obedience, observe how forever and faithfully they serve their first master. They beg to Betray and Leave, of the first minikin appearing at a portal. They know Nothing of us. True, the Dark Lord is probably a Mediocre and Annoying master, but they should at least conduct a Minimal Interview before betraying him. As we should before freeing them.”
”… true …” mumbled Osoth.
“We could not Trust them. We would have to work to Contain them. They would probably Betray us at some Inconvenient Time, and they are strong enough to be able to Do So with Considerable Vigor.”
“Oh, very well,” said Osoth. “But their design is impressive, and I would like to see more of it. I suppose I am here as party leader, not as necromancer, and I must be sensible. Tultamaan is right. Sjojarn, let this portal be closed, and let the scale be destroyed.”
Sjojarn said, “We cannot close it until Gimuse returns, another three minutes. She is hurrying back.”
Gyovanth snapped, “And we should not destroy the scale. I grant that we are not the party to rush over there, heal the lands and seas, and plant the white flower that will restore that miserable world. But let the scale be saved, and placed into an archive with the full story as we know it, so that some other unfortunate drakes can earn honor by reversing the Dark Victory.”
Osoth nodded. “Why, that is a generous and sensible idea. Evrath, when you write down the catalog of worlds we have found, do not simply write the worlds that married couples may conquer. Write worlds where single drakes may find glory, and place this one on the list!”
To the servitors he replied, “You may not come through this portal. Bide but a little longer, and a just and fitting rescue will come.”
The thirty-third world was not useless.