If you enjoyed the first sample of Revenge of the Overlords (previously titled The Great Council), I have some more for you!
Herein are early versions of the first three chapters. Just bear in mind that there may be factual and/or grammatical errors and the content of this text is likely to change before publication.
But without further ado, I bring you chapters one through three for your reading pleasure.
CHAPTER ONE BALHALUMUUT
“Brother!” Balhalumuut gasped as he jerked awake from the terrible nightmare. His breath came in heavy wheezes, his heart thundered behind his eyes. For a long while he lay where he was, unmoving, the shock of what he’d seen overwhelming him. The platinum wyrm could not have said how much time had passed before he moved again. Before his mind began working in a productive manner again. It felt to his befuddled mind as though an age had passed. But at last, a sliver of coherence entered his mind in the form of an argument against what he’d seen. It had to be only a dream. He gave a violent shake of his head in an effort to clear it. The dream couldn’t mean anything. The plan was to win all of the great dragons to their side before holding such a Council, so surely such a thing could never came to pass. With all the great dragons present, there wouldn’t be any dragons left with the arcane power to do such a thing, surely. Except… The nightmare had answered that already. It answered it with a power he had never heard of, but what did that really mean? Was it possible that such a power could actually exist? How would one go about tapping into the power housed in another wyrm’s a pet without their knowledge? But Graavvyynaustaiur was dead. He had died to save their sire and protect a garnet female— which, of course, was exactly the sort of foolishness he would expect of his brother —close to a dozen years ago, when he and sire had gone to that community of metallic dragons across the Strait from Balhamuut’s island home. He had heard the stories of what Chhry’stuulliound, the pyrite leader of the metallics his sire and brother, Ryujin rest his soul, had made contact with a dozen or so years ago. But what he’d seen in the dream was not that power. This had been a single ritual with no fore-planning that stole arcane energy. It was a far more devastating thing, if it was a real power that actually existed. He huffed a sigh. Who was he kidding? He lived in a world where the very arcane essence of a wyrm could be stolen and re-appropriated in whatever way one wished. What was unthinkable was the idea that such a power might not actually be possible. He breathed a deep sigh of frustration. Whether the power was possible was irrelevant. The single, unalterable fact was no matter how much he might wish it otherwise, his brother was dead. He had gone to visit the tomb where he had been perfectly preserved. No power on Earth could revive the dead, every hatchling knew that. Therefore, his dream had to be just that. A dream. His dreams had never been prophetic before, after all. But it wasn’t, said a deep, feminine voice in the back of his mind. He growled his irritation. “Just when I thought the lot of you were gone forever.” That is only wishful thinking, my son. We are part of you now, and you cannot change that. He breathed another deep sigh. “At least you’ve figured out who’s in charge.” She breathed a musical chuckle. Yes, my son. It took some doing, but all those angry souls have finally accepted my rule over them. Only you remain. He scoffed, though a breath of fear touched his nerves. “Your rule,” he said. “I think you might be a little confused about your situation, Dam.’’ She laughed again, though this time it carried a darker undertone. Is that so? And just what is my situation, my son? He struggled not to clench his teeth in annoyance. Was he truly standing in his lair arguing with himself? Her soul was now little more than an extension of his own, after all. Was she even real, or was this all just a figment of imagination created by his guilt? He moved toward the exit. He didn’t have time for this. While most of the unpleasantness his uncle had wrought was now settled, he still had much work to do here. I’m talking to you, Balhalumuut! He froze. She’d always been able to stop him in his tracks with that tone. How did she do it? “What do you want from me, Dam?” he asked stiffly. He could almost hear her grinding her teeth at him. What I want, she said in a voice tight with forced control and softness, is for you to answer my question. Balhalumuut sat back on his haunches and breathed a sharp, frustrated sigh. “What question?” What exactly is my situation? “How do I know you’re even real? Maybe you’re just a figment of my fevered mind.” Dauria cackled with glee. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Listen, my son. The battle between the multitude of consciousnesses residing in your soul is very real. I’m certain your uncle never told you, he himself was very good at keeping them quiet— not that it takes very much when they are acquired one at a time. In fact, most wyrms aren’t even aware of them until there are dozens. You see, it takes a lot of us to manifest in any obvious and recognizable way. Balhalumuut tried to take her words seriously. He tried to make it make sense in his mind. But it seemed so far fetched. If this was true, how could he have had no inkling of it before? Not only had he known dozens of wyrms in the last decade or so who had, at one point or another, used the power almost daily. None of which had ever suggested anything like this. But also, it wasn’t as though stealing his uncle’s multitudinous essence had been his first time. Knowing how it would affect him, that twisted wyrm had made regular essence feedings a part of his torture during the first year of his captivity. He still hadn’t regained all his memories from that time, but he strongly suspected the continued essence thefts were a major factor— if not the entirety —of the cause of his catatonia. A catatonia which, conveniently enough, had led to his reunion with his brother and the downfall of their uncle. And Graavvyynaustaiur’s death, he thought with a twinge of melancholy. Perhaps that, too, is my fault. But for all the times he had performed the ritual during that year, he had never had even the slightest inkling that anything remained of the consciousness of his victims. He shook his head in frustration. Either the madness of having absorbed so many essences at once was still with him, or it really was Dam talking to him, she was telling the truth, and he’d never been mad. “Is there anything you can do to prove what you’re saying is true?” he asked. Hmmm, she rumbled, the sound disconcertingly similar to the purring hum in the back of her throat that she’d used to soothe him to sleep as a wyrmling. Proof. Well, incontrovertible proof is quite hard to come by. I expect you’d want information. Information you couldn’t possibly know. But then, how will you verify that what I’m saying is true? Balhalumuut couldn’t help feeling as though he was being patronized. Clearly, Dam knew the obvious answer just as he did. Just as they both clearly knew that it was precisely the last thing he wanted to do. He and Sire had not spoken since shortly after Graavvyynaustaiur’s death. Owing largely to his distinct impression that he’d become an unwelcome reminder of his younger brother. He sighed. “You know as well as I do where this is going.” She gave a surprisingly accurate imitation of a sigh. I know, my son. And I’m sorry to be the impetus for an act that will cause pain to either of you. But if that is the only way you will trust me then what must be must be. Balhalumuut only just stopped himself grinding his teeth. “Okay, we’ll deal with that in a moment. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that I believe you. Why would you say that it wasn’t just a dream?” He had the oddest sensation. Dauria didn’t make a sound, but he felt her smile at him. The same way your uncle knew where to find you on that beach. The same way he knew your sire and I had found him. The same way he always knew everything before anyone else. All our lives. “No,” Bal breathed. “It can’t be.” She smiled again. Your intellect does you credit, my son. I assure that it can be and it is. Even I never guessed it, but all this time your uncle has possessed the gift of prophecy. And now that you’ve absorbed his essence, so do you. “B-but… how can that be? Prophecy was supposed to have been lost before the Long Sleep even began.” Dauria gave a mental shrug that he felt rather than saw. I can only surmise that either he delved into secrets long forgotten, at a very young age, or prophecy was not nearly as lost as we thought it was. Balhalumuut cleared his throat nervously. “Okay, disregarding that question for a moment, how can you be so certain that this dream was in truth a prophecy?” Again, the sensation of a smile that simultaneously warmed his blood and chilled his bones. Tell me, my son, how often do you remember what you dream of late? He opened his mouth to reply, then stopped as he thought about it. Did it matter? She had asked, so he supposed it must. But how? What difference would it make? “Not often,” he said cautiously. The ones you forget, are they vivid? “No,” he said slowly. “In those, I always know I’m dreaming. It’s almost like watching events through a haze of murky water.” An apt description, she said. And the dreams you remember, what are they like? He shivered and his scaled clicked softly. “If you’re inside my head, don’t you know this already?” Humor me. He sighed. “The dreams I remember are extremely vivid. They are more real than the real. I wake up feeling like I’ve lost a sense. Or become colorblind. Or lost all depth perception.” That strange smile again. And you never thought this odd? He scoffed. “Of course I did. But it isn’t as though there was anything I could do about it.” She tsked. Not true, my son. I think you knew you could have had another wyrm Delve you while you slept. You might have used your not inconsiderable arcane strength to explore your dreams. You might have found a wyrm talented in clairvoyance to discuss the matter with. There were a whole host of options, but you chose not to explore any of them. Balhalumuut flared his wings in irritation, then flapped once before folding them back around him. “I could do no such thing. Managing and restructuring this island has been difficult enough without revealing my own weaknesses. Allowing word of my struggles to go beyond my own mind would only have multiplied my opponents here. Dauria gave another mental shrug. There was always your sire. He sighed in exasperation and drew a breath to launch into his tirade, but she cut him off. Save it, my son. I understand your hesitation to speak with him. I know it is to save you both from pain. Please understand that I say this out of love. You haven’t been doing him or yourself any favors. Avoiding the pain will not make it go away. It only makes it harder to deal with when the day comes that you must face it. Balhalumuut turned away, momentarily blinded to the reality that turning away from a voice in his head was less than useless. “You don’t understand,” he muttered. Dauria’s presence in his mind flashed white-hot with rage. Don’t understand! she shrieked. Let me tell you about not understanding, pup! You are not the one who died! You are not the one who lost your fool mind! You are not the one who allowed your sanity and judgment to be clouded by terror, anguish, and fury! You are not the one, dear wyrmling, who let those emotions take root in your heart and fester to the point of driving you beyond all sense and reason! You, my poor, darling hatchling, are not the one… She stopped, as though choked by emotion. When she continued, her voice was calm, almost subdued. You are not the one who allowed yourself to lose all sense of what was real and what was important until you found yourself insisting that your youngest hatchling, the defenseless one, the dependent one, the less intelligent one, had to die for crimes that only ever existed within your own warped and twisted mind. Balhalumuut’s jaw hung open in utter shock. His blood ran icy cold at the revelations she had just laid out. So don’t you tell me, she said, low and threatening, that I don’t understand your pain, Balhalumuut. Or your sire’s. I know pain only too well. Silence reigned, both within and without the Platinum Lord’s mind. While on some level of consciousness he had known that it must be something similar, to have her lay it all out for him to see was staggering. Whatever doubts he’d once had about her legitimacy or her identity had been laid to rest. Even if his expectation had been remarkably similar to her admission, he never could have imagined she’d spew it forth with such reckless rage. He never could have guessed she’d acknowledge it so bluntly. Nor that she would use it as an engine to put him so thoroughly in his place. A long time seemed to pass while Balhalumuut stood in his lair in utter silence, his mind as still and quiet as his body. Had sunlight reached this place, he might have been able to make a guess as to how long he stood there. But as it was, his only gauge for time lay in that obviously none of his advisors or underlings had come to call on him. Which could mean something, or nothing at all. Some days no one came to him, other days there were dozens. In more than a decade he had found no rhyme or reason to it, though the heavy traffic periods did seem to come in waves. “Alright, Dam,” he said, breaking the silence.” You said it wasn’t a dream, but a prophecy. That means either my brother is alive or someone is going to do a remarkable job of looking like him. But me being the one responsible for sire’s death… that has to he metaphorical, or something. Right? There’s no possible scenario in which I would ever kill sire. And speaking of which, what in Infernalis was that ability? How did that dragon siphon power from so many so quickly with no preparation?” Many questions, my son, she said stiffly. And too few answers. Unlike those given by humans, demons, or even angels, dragon prophecies are typically literal. It is extremely uncommon to find metaphor or symbolism in them. I cannot speak to the how or why or even when, but it seems likely at this juncture that your position concerning your sire may not be as firm as you’d like to believe. Balhalumuut clenched his jaw in frustration, but kept silent. His protestations wouldn’t change anything. As to the power, do you truly have no guesses? Although more advanced, more complex, and certainly requiring far greater power, it isn’t all that dissimilar from one you have at least heard about in years past. Balhalumuut narrowed his eyes. “I considered that, but discarded the idea. This can’t be an evolution of the very power Chhry’stuulliound was using, could it?” The very same, she said matter-of-factly. Based on a somewhat different mechanic, obviously. But the idea seems the same. I analyzed your memory of the dream and how the power worked, how it was activated, how it was powered, how it was targeted. It isn’t the same power. What the pyrite did was a time-consuming ritual that required, on at least some level, the victim’s consent. I had the distinct impression that the you in your dream was operating under no such restrictions. He latched onto every dragon present, including your sire, regardless of distance, and few even seemed aware of it, much less able to resist the effect. “Which means?” he asked, unable to mask his confusion. Dauria chuckled darkly. It means that we’re dealing with someone vastly more dangerous than Chhry’stuulliound. He nodded. “Obviously.” It means, my son, that we face someone who understands the principle behind the pyrite’s power but has the knowledge, skill, and raw power to a adapt it, to mould it to his purposes, and put it to use on a massive scale. “In short,” Bal said nervously, “someone like Sire.” For The first time in his life, he seemed to have left his dam speechless. She didn’t splutter. She didn’t sigh. She was utterly silent and he couldn’t tell if she was impressed, apalled, or something else entirely. While he waited for whatever she was going to say next, he considered his options. They were few, and left him not at all optimistic. Naturally, he could do nothing. He could continue working to improve his own domain and let the rest of the world take care of itself. Oh, who was he kidding. He couldn’t do that any more than he could stop blaming himself for Gravv’s death. Which left him with… abandon his domain to join his sire on the path to peace, or do what he could from here. Abandoning all the wyrms who had come to depend on him was no more within his capability than abandoning the world to its fate, which left him with only one viable option. He would help how he could from here. And the best way he could think of to do that was… The thing he had become most adept at over the years since he had taken over Lordship of his uncle’s domain: Research and analysis. Until such time as he had more information to go on, it seemed the best way he had to help against what was coming would be to go down to his new laboratory; the chambers that had once been dedicated to the physical torture of imprisoned dragons, and put his keen mind to the task of deciphering this terrible new power. Perhaps he could even find a defense against it. I approve, Dauria said at last.
CHAPTER TWO MALYYSTRAZZA
Malyystrazza breathed a deep, gusty sigh as she looked around the chamber. It was probably the largest underground chamber she had ever seen. Even the expanded meeting hall Graayyyavalll had formed after the death of… Chhry’stuulliound, she thought, forcing herself not to think of who else had been lost that day. But even that chamber seemed small compared to this one. She blinked back the crimson moisture touching her eyes. Even had it not been a dozen years ago, it should not be affecting her so. Savior or not, she’d hardly known the wyrm. She cleared her throat loudly and let her gaze fall on each of the dozens of dragons present. Stone dragons all, of every color in the rainbow and then some, they graced her with expressions ranging from mild curiosity to vague annoyance to downright hostility. It was made clear at the start that she was not welcome here, and the message she represented even less so. But she had to try. Though not the most powerful of wyrms, this was a large and disparate group of stone dragons. They came together over the last decade or two for mutual defense against the immense beasts calling themselves Overlords. Those immense wyrms who would destroy any dragon they encountered for no greater purpose than the theft of its arcane essence. These were exactly the sort of dragons the Council should have appealed to, and she struggled to understand why they were so opposed to it. “Charondronay,” she said, turning to face the thickly muscled agate to her left. Despite his youth, he seemed to be the official voice of the group. “I’m afraid I don’t understand your reticence. This accord would guarantee protection to wyrms like yourselves from the predators who pray on those of us who have chosen not to partake of the souls of others.” The midnight-scaled dragon blinked, the scales of his thick neck clicking together in apparent agitation. “We appreciate what you and yours seem to be attempting,” he said in his unnaturally deep voice. “But we do not believe you will be successful. We see no chance of the monstrous ones, those you term Overlords, capitulating to your demands. As such, we feel we would be safer on our own, in the shadows, beyond the sight of those who would do us harm.” Malyystrazza opened her mouth to reply automatically, but stopped herself. Clearly, these wyrms put a great deal of thought into their decision and her habit of shooting off with the first thing that entered her mind was unlikely to serve her well with them. She closed her mouth and delved deep for an argument that might have even the least impact on them. She gave a slow nod to the agate. “I applaud your efforts to keep your flight from harm. A question though, if I may. Although you have a sizable group here, none of you appear old enough to remember the dark years immediately after the power was discovered. Not one of you, nor, indeed, even all of you in concert, could repel an Overlord should one of them discover you.’’ The agate glowered, his gold-within-citrine eyes darkening. “Moreover, how, pray tell, do you intend to keep your existence secret from these magically superior Overlords when the total sum of Dragonkind is reduced to the hundreds? Or the dozens? What will you do when nearly all the arcane strength of our kind resides in a claw-full of individuals? How do you propose to continue hiding from that much arcane strength?” The agate’s lower jaw slipped open, exposing his glistening white teeth and deep red tongue. The scales on his face lost some of their luster and ceased glittering in the light. A glance around the huge chamber revealed similar reactions from many of the wyrms. She resisted the urge to flash a toothy smile or fan her wings. Gloating would not help her cause. Now was the time to thrust her point to their hearts and offer an alternative. “Understand that I’m not exaggerating when I say the reckless greed of these Overlords knows no bounds. If we do not stop the essence thefts then the world I described will come to pass.’’ If anything, the expressions of shock grew even more incredulous. Waves of muttering erupted in pockets throughout the chamber. The sharp, acrid scents of sulfur, ozone, and other less pleasant things came to her. “However,” she called emphatically, and waited. Her gaze roved about the chamber once more, touching the eyes of each wyrm. She waited for silence to overtake the chamber. “Lord Graayyyavalll and I have a plan. One that we are confident will bring most, if not all, of the greater wyrms around to our plans. We believe they will agree to our accord once we lay all the scales in front of them.’’ Char’s jaw closed with an audible snap. His eyes blazed with intensity. “I see what you are doing,” he growled, voice soft with menace. “You will not fool us with your terror tactics. You’ll not trick us with your false hope. We are not the foolish younglings you take us for. It is time for you to leave. Please give our regards to your lord Graayyyavalll with a message: do not come here again. You will not find peaceful reception a second time.” Malyystrazza’s jaw hung open in shock. How could he think she was trying to trick him? The agate rose from his haunches and flared his wings. “I’ve heard enough,” he growled as he moved toward the exit from the chamber. “Charondronay, please!” He didn’t even slow his steps. Huffing a frustrated sigh, Malyys rose and chased after the agate. She couldn’t let it end like this. She had to make him understand. Perhaps she would not be able to secure this group’s support for the Great Council. She could accept that. But she had to at least convince the agate of her sincerity. She had to show him that even if they declined, they would still have the protection of the Council. They would always be welcome. Behind her, as she raced after the agate, the mutterings of the other wyrms grew to a fever pitch. She forced the voices from her mind and increased her pace as she turned the corner at the entrance to the chamber. Ahead, the tip of a glossy black tail disappeared around the next corner. Was the agate running? With a shake of her head, she darted after the vanishing tail as swiftly as she could. She couldn’t afford to lose him in these labyrinthine tunnels. The stone walls were a whorling mix of dark brown and dull gray, the surfaces rough and jagged. She couldn’t imagine a natural cave system forming such wide, uniform tunnels, all of which had enough girth to allow for the passage of adult dragons. To say nothing if the immense chambers throughout, a few of which were large enough to house dozens of ancient wyrms. But then, if these caves were not natural then that made an entirely different statement about the nature of the dragon who built them. Who that might have been, however, she had not a guess. With all the dragons who had died in the varied conflicts since the awakening, it was entirely possible— likely, even —that the wyrm who constructed these caves was no longer part of the living world. Turning the next corner, Malyys saw the latter half of the glossy black tail turning yet another corner. Where was he going? She couldn’t fight back the feeling that he was intentionally leading her on a wild drake chase. “Charondronay!” she called. Again, if he heard, and she couldn’t see how he wouldn’t, he gave no sign of it. Huffing a sigh, she further increased her pace and continued after the agate. The pattern continued through three more turnings, each one moving her that much closer to catching up to the young dragon. Again, she wondered what he was doing. Surely, if he meant to escape her he could have. Between his initial lead and his shorter, more muscular body, he shouldn’t have struggled to lose her entirely. Which left… what, exactly? A part of her wanted to think that he meant her to catch up to him. But why would he want that? If he wanted to speak further, why wouldn’t he have done it in front of the group? Or, barring that, just outside the meeting chamber? Only two possibilities immediately occurred to her, each as unlikely as the other. Either he wanted to speak of something he didn’t wish for the others of his group to hear, or he was leading her into a trap. But why? What could possibly motivate him? What would he have to gain? After the eighth such turning, all of which seemed completely random and had the effect of turning her around so completely she no longer had any idea which direction would lead her to the exit, she turned the corner to find Char’s full form in her view. The golden eye in her view gleamed in the instant before his head vanished around another corner. She might have been mistaken, but for a moment she thought for certain he had winked at her in that last moment. What in Infernalis would that even mean? Why would the hulking agate wink at her? Frustration, confusion, and anger warred for dominance of her emotions. She couldn’t escape the thought that either he was toying with her or he was leading her into a trap. Yet she still struggled to wrap her mind around just what sort of trap that might be. She raced through the tunnel, determined to catch the agate before he turned another corner. She meant to catch up to him on her own terms rather than his. She needed to pre-empt whatever designs he was entertaining. Coming upon the corner, she twisted without slowing and her claws skidded across the rough stone floor for nearly a wingspan. She only narrowly avoided striking the wall of the tunnel. And she froze, as she came almost nose-to-nose with a grinning Charondronay. She skidded across the stone again, sliding to little more than a claw-width from the midnight-black snout. The agate dragon’s grin widened, his pearlescent, razor-sharp teeth shining in the sourceless arcane light that lit the entirety of the cave system. In shock, she stared. What in the name of the gods was he grinning about? He blinked his golden eyes, and a hurricane of arcane power surged forth from his Apex to permeate the small chamber. She was too shocked to initiate any sort of defense. Which ended up just as well. It was a power meant for the chamber, after all. Not directed at her at all. Forcing the shock and questions to the back of her mind, she analyzed the power pervading the room and couldn’t decide if she should be pleased or terrified. It was a magical defense that prevented scrying— clairaudience, clairvoyance, even telepathy —in or out. “I’m so pleased you could join me, Mistress Malyystrazza.”
CHAPTER THREE GRAAYYYAVALLL
Graayyyavalll struggled not to grimace as he looked around the immense meeting hall. Why was he still here? Everywhere he looked was another testament to his failure to keep his son safe. The hall, the dragons, the cliffs and trees outside… and especially the monument out there. Most days, it seemed the only purpose they served was reminding him of the son he’d lost. That he’d lost on account of his own pride and ego. “Why do I remain here,” he said aloud for probably the thousandth time since Graavvyynaustaiur’s death. “Where would you go?” asked a soft voice, low and sultry. He scoffed, struggling to keep the disappointment from his face. For the tiniest fraction of an instant, he’d thought it was the voice of his beloved. His dear, sweet Dauria. “Anywhere but here,’’ he muttered. The silver wyrm’s face fell, her disappointment clear. “I understand your Pain, my lord, but surely being here isn’t so bad, is it? Surely you find some small measure of comfort or pleasantness here?’’ Graayyy sighed. Anndovvoora had been dancing around this for years and he wearied of it. He had no wish to hurt her, but neither could he offer her what she sought. In the centuries prior to the change that took place in the Antarctic, he had never thought to experience love. Oh, he’d loved, to be sure. In truth, the object of his affections had never changed. It was only the change in him that allowed Dauria to return his affections. The change that took place in the south had only enhanced what he felt for her. But now that he had known her affections, his heart would forever dwell with Kwallindauria. It was no longer his to give to anyone else. “Anndovvoora, you must understand that comfort and pleasure have little meaning in our lives right now. We’re facing the single greatest threat to the Earth and our species that has ever existed. This is my focus, ensuring our survival. I’ve no time for more than that. She whipped her tail and bared her teeth. “What was that old human adage about all work and no play?’’ Despite her agitation, her sapphire-within-tourmaline eyes glittered with mischief. He had no doubt of just what sort of play she had in mind. It was not that he wasn’t interested, exactly. He had found such diversions enjoyable in the past. It was merely that bereft of the type of emotional bond he had with Dauria he saw little point in the coupling unless it was for the express purpose of producing offspring. Which was, of course, impossible between a garnet and a silver. Such cross-breed couplings were only successful when one of the participants was a platinum. “Of course you would recall that silly adage,” he said, not unkindly. “Your kind were always closer to the humans than any other, were they not?” She breathed a dramatic sigh of frustration. “You know it is so, my lord. It must have been some cruel jest of the gods that many of my brethren find stronger connections with humans than with our own kind. To say nothing of other dragon breeds.” Graayyy offered the silver a gentle smile. “I used to be convinced that Noble Ryujin did nothing out of spite or cruelty. Alas, I am no longer so certain of that. I do still believe, however, that the actions of the gods are never frivolous. Even if we can’t understand the motivations, there is always a reason one the three considers important.” “No matter who they hurt in the process,’’ Voora said, her voice almost cracking with emotion. Fighting back his own crimson tears at the reminder, Graayyyavalll nodded. “I continually remind myself that we mustn’t judge them too harshly. After all, do we not do similar things to the life forms that dwell beneath us.’’ She scoffed. “Not at all the same thing.” He shrugged his wings. “I imagine they see things a bit differently than we do.” Though she huffed a sigh, she seemed to concede the point. “So, what will you do?” He resisted the urge to chuckle. He knew what she was really asking, and mirth was not a response she would appreciate. “This place has been the center of the movement for a long time. Too long, I think, for my leaving and forcing our prospective allies to find me elsewhere to be feasible. I have to stay here for as long as it takes to make the dream into reality. I will suffer through it for as long as I must. That is as it must be.” she nodded, a small smile tugging at the corners of her lips. “How goes the construction project in the west?’’ he asked, desperate for a change in subject. Her lid curled in apparent disdain. “Slowly. Don’t you think you’re being just a bit over-ambitious—” “Not at all,” he said, cutting her off. “You must remember that the plan is for that chamber to house every living dragon on Earth, even those who have used the essence of others to grow to truly monstrous size. The space needed for that must utterly dwarf even our most optimistic views of what defines an immense space.” “A chamber, he calls it,” she said as she turned away from him, “A whole underground ecosystem would be more accurate.’’ Graayyy smiled. “You are not wrong. How many do we have working to complete it?’’ She gave a stiff shrug, still looking away. “A dozen, give or take. Some obviously more skilled than others.” He nodded. “What’s your estimate on completion?” She barked a bitter laugh. “Honestly? As it is at present, an optimistic guess is probably a century.” Frowning, he nodded. Though not unexpected, the answer was disappointing. “Although I admit it certainly could take that long, present progress considered, I would rather we weren’t working on such a long timetable. Apart from more claws to share in the work, is there anything I can do to speed things along?” She sighed. “Unless you can give them more hours in the day, I don’t think so. What we need are more wyrms working on it. Not young dragons, but wyrms.’’ He’d been certain that would be her answer, but it was worth asking. She knew as well as he that bringing more dragons onto the project increased their risk, which was something he was loath to do. The risk of such a massive undertaking was already considerable. Few dragons knew of his plan to put every dragon on Earth in a cavern together for a Great Council to decide all their futures. And the reality was the fewer who knew ahead of time the better. Tensions would run high enough at the Council itself. Knowing about it ahead of time would be too much for most to deal with. Of course, he hadn’t told any of them the true reason for the enclosed space. He hadn’t even trusted Dauria or their sons with that information. It was anathema to everything Dauria stood for, but it was an essential part of his plan. He had to force them all into placing themselves under Heart-Bond to follow every law they were laying down. Future generations would not be required to do so, as they would grow up respecting the laws, but the unbreakable bond was the only way to ensure those who had lived through the Great War, the Purge, and the Age of Extinction would obey the laws he meant to lay down. The more devious of the dragons could justify almost anything when they wanted something badly enough. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said. “I’m expecting an influx of new dragons soon, and with luck there will be some that we can trust to take part in the work. Particularly if Malyys proves successful with that group of reclusive stones.” The Silver nodded, though he thought he caught the slightest hint of a sneer on her lips. “I know it is difficult, Voora, but do try to recall that I am, in fact, a stone dragon. Not all of us are the bloodthirsty beasts you grew up believing us to be. Also remember the actions of the pyrite who once led your group.” She lowered her eyes and gave a chagrined smile. “I know, my Lord. I know, intellectually, that if there are differences between us they are much more slight than most would like to believe. I know that metallics are every bit as capable of evil as the stones are. But… I don’t know, I just can’t help the general unease I feel whenever I’m faced with having to meet a new stone dragon.” Graayyyavalll nodded. “It’s a visceral response not at all dissimilar to that Malyystrazza feels at the prospect of having dealings with your kind.” That seemed to pull her up short. She’d known that before, of course. This was not the first time they’d had this discussion. But on the heels of discussing her own feelings, it seemed to put things into perspective for her. Voora took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I do not blame her for her feelings toward we metallics. After what Chrys did to her, and the way her family was terrorized by metallics in general, the only thing that’s surprising is that she has the control to not explode into violence any time she sees one of us.” Graayyy chuckled. “Trust me, that is not by her choice. I made it clear to her that in order to remain under my influence, polite cordiality was the minimum acceptable response.’’ She nodded, but kept silent. Graayyy smiled. “I note you have yet to ask how things are progressing with the Overlords.” She looked up, her expression a mix of surprise, annoyance, and distrust. “I’d just assume not talk about them.” Frowning, he breathed a deep sigh. “More unresolved prejudices?” “Prejudices?” she asked, wide-eyed. “Tell me that is meant as a poor jest!” Graayyy closed his eyes, lamenting his choice of words. “That was a poor way to phrase it—” “I don’t care how you phrase it,” she cut him off. “What would make you think I would ever care how things go with them? Those foul creatures should not be allowed to live! Much less benefit from this peace you intend to create. This is not me making judgments based on erroneous assumptions from my youth. This is because the so-called Overlords are monsters who care not a whit for Dragonkind. They’ll do anything and everything they can to further their own ends. Not one of them would hesitate to torture or kill any one of us for whatever fancy strikes them on any given day. You know it’s true, don’t try to deny it.” Graayyyavalll pulled in a deep breath and let it out slowly, the air whistling between his teeth. “I’m sorry, Anndovvoora. I understand how you, and many others, feel about them. And I don’t blame you in the slightest. Unfortunately, you must understand that the peace must include them. Please try to see the whole picture here—” “Why?” “Why?” he repeated dumbly. “Why should I look at the whole picture?” she asked with a stomp of her foreleg. Graayyy sighed. “The peace is not to protect innocent dragons from other innocent dragons. It’s not to eliminate petty conflicts. It’s not to stop the infighting. By Infernalis, it isn’t even to protect you from the dragons who’ve stolen half a dozen essences. No, this peace is to protect you from the monsters. The predators. The Overlords. The plain and simple fact is the peace cannot protect you from the Overlords if those immense wyrms are not part of it. To keep you safe, it has to also protect the very monsters it defends you from.” “But why! “she wailed tearfully as the turned away from him, then jerked back around to face him with blue fire in her eyes. “Why can’t we just destroy these Overlords and make peace with the rest?” Graayyyavalll’s expression softened and crimson tears clouded his eyes. “Is it not obvious?” She stared at him, eyes wide and confused. “Because we cannot.” She snarled. “Of course we can! It would be…” she trailed off, and from her expression of shocked disbelief he saw she finally understood. He nodded. She shook her head vigorously. “Yes,” he said as he continued to nod. “No,” she said in a breathy whisper. “It can’t be.” “It can, I assure you. And it is.” “But how?” The desperation in her voice broke his heart. He hated having to dash her hopes like this. “Quite simply,” he said with all the paternal gentleness he could muster. “I’m afraid it’s a matter of simple math. You see, each of those who has stolen enough strength to be termed an Overlord has taken the arcane essence from hundreds, if not thousands of dragons. Each has the arcane strength to rival at least one-hundred ordinary Great Wyrms, and at least triple the physical size and strength. Against just one of them, it would take hundreds of us to overcome. If even two were to unite, all the rest of us together would not be able to overcome them.” “Not even you?” she whispered in shock. “I can only speculate, as I have not been tested against a true Overlord. But I suspect not. While it is true that I have been gifted with strength far beyond that of an ordinary wyrm, I do not believe it would be sufficient. Against even Balhamuut, with the assistance of my mate, we would not have prevailed if not for… unexpected developments.” It was to her credit that she did not ask for specifics. Her wide eyes were all the evidence he needed that she either hadn’t understood the extent of the Overlords’ power or had never considered what it might mean in the larger scheme of things. “How can they be so powerful?” she breathed. He shook his head. “In truth, Voora, we should count ourselves lucky they aren’t vastly more so. These wyrms have absorbed the essence of so many dragons that, if one gained the total sum of his victim’s Apex then they would have power far beyond that of the gods themselves.” He made the symbol of Ryujin before his snout with his claws and murmured, “No disrespect intended, Lord.” He cleared his throat. “Again, we must count ourselves grateful for whatever quirk of that power causes it to provide smaller and smaller portions of a victim’s power to its practitioners each time they use it.” The silver gave a vague nod, her jaw slack. Graayyy felt certain she was in a state of shock. After a few moments, she shook her head and the glaze over her eyes dissipated. She looked into his eyes, her own icy-blue orbs shining. Her voice came out as a rusty rasp. “Whatever it takes, Lord. I will do whatever is needed to keep our people safe. If that means allying with the Overlords then so be it. I will do what needs be done.” The sudden shift left him momentarily speechless. He hoped it was the truth. “Good. We have much to do.’’
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