Tultamaan stood on a hillock in Base Camp, and most of the dragons and small people stood or sprawled around to listen to him.
“We have had some Excellent Fortune in finding Cussa. It is precisely the sort of world that we are Looking for, or, in the Cussite idiom, Listening for. It is Populous. It is not overly Dangerous. It is Wealthy. It holds many Very Delightful Magic Items. The natives are Tasty. If I may be permitted an Uncharacteristically Brief Phrase, it is Just What We Wanted.
“Which makes it a particularly Unfortunate Matter that we have chosen to Ruin it.
“Allow me to repeat the Desired Result of this Expedition. I do not refer to the Gratification of Urning Bodily Desires, which I am given to understand is a Desired Result of Many of You. I refer to the Desired Result of the Exploring Company as a Whole.
“We are trying to find worlds which would be good for Other Parties of Dragons to Conquer and Colonize.
“Perhaps certain of you were under the impression that we are an Other Party of Dragons. Surprisingly, even oddly, we are Not. We are the Same Party of Dragons. We are scouts, we are explorers, we are researchers, we are preliminarians!
“This does not mean that we are Cowardly. I am, and I suspect Roroku may be as well, but the rest of you are Not. We are risking considerably more Danger and Other Excitement than the Other Party of Dragons who go to conquer Cussa, or worlds like Cussa if we happen to Stumble Upon Any.
“But the Thing that is the most Valuable to Us is a Pristine and Eminently Colonizable World.
“Cussa was, before we came here, quite Delightfully Pristine. They had no idea what a dragon was, much less what we could do or how to deal with us.
“Now, it is Considerably Less Pristine. The natives know that their Own Sorceries are able to contend with ours on an even basis. They know about our Preferred Tactics, our Favorite Weaponry, and our Particular Interests. Perhaps they will be able to Mount an Effective Defense next time. Surely they are Preparing One Right Now.”
Tultamaan paused to scowl at everyone, more intently than usual. “Not to put too fine a point on it, we have Ruined this World for the purposes of the expedition. We will get very little by way of Glory or Profit from revealing it.
“It is worth no more to us than an another Dull Glow or Dark Victory.”
“In the next useful world, we must take a Far More Circumspect Attitude. We must Explore. We are, if I may remind you, the Hoven Royal Exploring Company. We must not Exploit. We are not, if I may remind you, the Hoven Royal Exploiting Company. We must be secret, we must be sly, we must be scientific! We must not be greedy now; we must know that our greed will be appeased twelvefold upon Publication and Colonization.”
He sat down, which is always a troublesome matter for him. Osoth climbed to the top of the hillock for a few last words.
“As wise Tultamaan has said, we have lost a delicious opportunity in Cussa, for reasons that are entirely our own fault. Next time, we shall be far more circumspect and insidious! However, the world is not entirely useless to us. We shall use it as a pavilion of exercise. Let whoever wishes to ravage and destroy and loot, go to Cussa to ravage and destroy and loot! Get such urges out of your psyche; calm them down; render them satiated and sluggish.” He grinned, and held up the Staff of the Quiet Lord. “And beware! The natives are not entirely helpless.”
Four days later, a dozen cities of Cussa were aflame, their jewelry stores and treasuries emptied, their populations reduced by half or more. However ruined for colonization the world was before, it was twelve times as ruined now. The more bloodthirsty dragons, Hyxy and Vaareng and their ilk, were satiated. Every dragon who wanted an increment to the hoard had at least a nice pile of jewelry and gemstones and intricate art. (Ugly stuff — I saw a lot of it — but it is meant to be seen by echoes of sound, not by sight.)Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.