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    A great banner featuring a star with a hammer in the center had been mounted in the middle of the adventurer’s camp. The rank and file were gathered before it, and stood with hand over heart while the Probability Knight spoke the traditional words.

“...Blessed we are by the vigilance and radiance of Celestar. Some of us may die, but that is the sacrifice we are willing to make for the Builder and the Glory of the Empire,” With this, the Probability Knight concluded his chant and looked over the banner in mild annoyance. It was definitely lopsided. He’d adjusted it three times this morning to no avail. 

He looked at his assembled adventurers. They were a ragtag bunch. He didn’t need to consult his probability calculator to know that they were going to disappoint him in some manner. They were taking too long to organize and making far too much noise in their preparation. He had been trained to a higher standard. 

He turned towards the Guild Secretary, who’d attended the battle blessing in silence behind him. 

“Pitiful. Is this the best the Guild can give me?”

The secretary nodded. “Alas, your excellency. They’re little people from the vassal islands on the peripheries of the Empire. At least we can use this meat to test the defenses. They’re desperate. They’ve never come close to a thirty-thousand gold bounty before. But the high-stat adventurers will come. Slowly, but surely. It takes them longer because they’re scattered across the realm on epic quests. Anyone worth having isn’t just sitting around the Guild waiting for announcements.”

“There's a dragon down there,” the Probability Knight growled. “A red dragon that no adventurer has ever passed. A success rate of zero. That wizard was an utter imbecile to take the book here, and now it’s my problem.”

The Probability Knight’s fingers rapped gleaming metal buttons, inputting questions to his calculator as he spoke. 

According to its vague, one-word answers, the dragon wasn't even going to be a problem. Perhaps someone would get lucky and claim the title of dragonslayer, he figured. Presumably, it would even be him. After all, the probability calculator promised him

“E V E R Y T H I N G”

when he checked his own future. 

Clearly, he’d win big here and reap his rewards: riches, love, fame, glory. This was a world-saving quest. Sacrifices had to be made for the greater good of humanity. He was going to destroy the book, slay the dragon and stand surrounded by cheering crowds, while the Emperor bestowed upon him the legendary status "Hero of Humanity".

The Guild Secretary looked up from her clipboard and interrupted his daydream with some speculation.

“But what was the motive in bringing the book here? Maybe The Wizard was really desperate to… hide the book? If the book's real hidden, like… for example, guarded by a dragon beneath the seas, then nobody could use it to end the world. Maybe he saw himself as a hero, sacrificing his life for--”

"Don't be daft,” the Knight snorted. That malevolent book was probably controlling him. Driving him towards his doom. It’s trying to escape our judgement.” He looked back at the disorderly throng of adventurers. "I don’t expect this sad lot will survive, but at least they should clear out some of the kobolds.” 

Error woke up from her sleep in a pile of kobolds. She opened her eyes and looked out over a sea of bodies moving in the darkness. There were so many, all breathing and suffocatingly hot.

Arms reached up from the sleeping kobolds, tens, hundreds, thousands, forming a web of limbs intertwined in the air. Error lurched to her feet but they grabbed hold of her and dragged her down into the dark crush of bodies until her cheek was pressed into suffocating moss. Claws snapped together making faces with jagged teeth. They clattered and snapped. The rubbing and clicking of the thousands of claws against each other formed a ghastly voice.

“YOU FAILED IN YOUR DUTY, DRAGON! YOU SLEPT THROUGH THE ENDGAME!
FOR THIS, THE DEEP WILL JUDGE YOU.”

Error struggled, dragged down by countless arms into an ocean of moss. When she screamed, the moss rushed in, soaking up her blood and filling her lungs. She heard the fluttering of pages from somewhere, and the echo of laughter. 
 
“Not the moss!” she screamed. “Anything but the moss!” Her eyes flew open. The teeming thousands of bodies were gone. She was in a warm, dim, space. Other kobolds slept here, but there was no strange coordinated flailing, no grasping limbs. She realized that Agate’s little blue arms were wrapped around her quite snugly, with the former’s face nuzzling against Error’s neck. 

Error jolted at this unexpected closeness, an unprecedented intrusion into her personal dragon-space. She was bandaged up in wet moss, tight around her chest. In her panic, the dry moss she rested on seemed to wiggle threateningly, and she screamed again. 

Agate let go of Error, startled awake. “Wuh?” she mumbled, not knowing what to do. 
Other kobolds in the crowded cave growled at this unwanted wake-up call. A few nearby smacked at her without getting up. This only intensified the irritating noises Error was making.

A large yellow-green kobold heaved himself up and grabbed Error, hoisting her into the air by the armpits.

“You. Are. Waking. ‘Bolds. Up!” he told her, punctuating each word with a sharp shake.

Error’s scream petered off into a tea-kettle whine. Once the horrible racket died down, the other kobold paused to examine her more carefully.

“Hrmmmm,” he intoned. Greed glittered in his rusty brown eyes as he took in her deep-ruby horns and scales. “I haven't seen your face before. You new?”

Error blinked, still half in the nightmare and struggling to process this bile-colored specimen holding her up for appraisal.

“Loud, but tantalizing,” he continued without waiting for an answer from Error. “Not every Kobold can bear to eat just a certain colored moss to get these lavish colors. Almost as fine as our Mistress’. You even smell like her! Yes, I must make you mine.” 

Error snapped out of her reverie abruptly at the word “mine”.

“A lowly kobold trying to claim a dragon? I’ll show you!” Error  attempted to kick her captor unsuccessfully. She settled for whipping his legs with her tail, which he didn’t seem to notice.

“Brash and feisty...” he said in a husky voice that made Error want to rip out his throat even more. The bile-green kobold tapped her collar to display her stats. “Error... Ha! What a dumb name.”

Agate had been unsure up until now whether Error needed her help. But she knew that it was no good to be called dumb.

“Hey! Leave her alone, Screw!” Agate shrilled, baring her little pointy teeth.

“Screw? Now, that’s a dumb name!” Error cackled. 

“It is not,” Screw responded, with the assuredness of the utterly dense. “It is a most holy item from the blessed hoard.” He glowered at Agate. “The big claim the small, frog-hands. Mind your place!” Agate winced, wringing her offending webbed hands, but she didn’t back away. 

“Put me down at once!” Error commanded. 

“Nah.” Screw grinned. “Who’s gonna come to your aid? You’re an outsider, not claimed by nobody, this one excluded.” He swung a lazy kick at Agate, knocking her away. “Once you’re mine, she won’t follow you around like a lost whelp,” he told Error, leering in the direction of Agate.

Error growled, furious. This kobold perceived her dragon-ness, but failed to obey her.  Evidently, minion intelligence has dropped over centuries. How was Agate the only kobold that recognized, respected and obeyed her?

Screw turned to address the crowd.

“I’m taking her to the hoard to claim her!” he announced, and the kobolds began to rise to follow him. He dragged Error out of the cuddle cavern. As she struggled he tightened his grip until she gasped for air.

The others had surrounded Agate, blocking her off from Error and Screw. Agate fought desperately to reach Error. She knew what was coming, but other kobolds held her back. Her high-pitched keening was drowned out in the clamor.

Soon, Screw reached the base of the mountain of gold in the hoard chamber, with Error struggling all the while. A crowd of kobolds quickly formed as witnesses to the ceremony.

"Aid me! I demand your assistance!" Error shouted at them. The gathered kobolds ignored her commands, delighting in her struggle. Rage and bewilderment filled Error as she looked around the gathered kobolds. Glee and indifferent malice was in their eyes. These creatures existed to serve her! Treasonous, insignificant vermin! How could they disregard her words? How could they all betray her? 

“Here, before the light of the sacred hoard, I claim Error the Kobold as mine,” Screw spoke, shoving Error face-first into the pile of sharp, shiny things. Error, for her part, was far too shocked to protest. 

“Accept the claim, and become a proper kobold,” he told her in a low, commanding voice.

“No!” Error growled, trying to bite him. 

"We will have to do this the hard way." Screw said with a tinge of genuine regret. The mood among the gathered kobolds shifted, sharpened. Error looked up warily just as a kobold fist, far bigger and harder than it should have been, collided with her head. 

The universe spun and stars ignited in her eyes. Fresh blood poured from the split skin; she was losing more and more by the hour. Agate shouted something from afar, being held back by several older kobolds. Screw's friends laughed and whooped. Agate's voice drowned in the roar of the crowd. Error made no move to capitulate. She stayed where he had thrown her down, staring into space. What else could she do? Screw hit Error again and again, putting more power into each swing. Her collar chimed again and again describing a wide variety of damage to her body.

When Error didn’t beg for mercy, Screw’s face darkened with frustration. She refused to submit and he had gone too far now to simply stop. An outsider could not be allowed to refuse the laws of Ognevika’s territory.

The crowd bayed and howled for more violence. Error looked out at them, and she saw the old brown kobold from the waterfall chamber with his garland of mushrooms. His face was lit up with glee, spittle slinging from his jaws. For a moment, real understanding pierced her dragonly ignorance, and she saw herself as these kobolds saw her. She had dared to call herself Ognevika in front of many. She had violated the rule of the big over the small. Screw had offered her a way to apologize, to accept her station. She had rejected him. She had to be punished.

Screw kicked her broken ribs. Error curled into the safety of the gold, sobbing in pain. For a thousand years she had been immortal, invincible, immutable, the top of the dungeon food chain. No creature, no magic weapon, no spell, no wizard or knight had ever managed to make her feel pain. Had she even known what pain was? Her whole body was shattered now, dying. She didn’t form any words between the screams, but she felt her will break. She only wished for this insane nightmare to end. 

“Status update: Error, The Kobold.”

The treacherous collar announced, reading her mind.

“Claimed: Concubine of Screw, the Kobold. Thrall of Ognevika, the Red. Minus nine health.”
“Affliction: Imminent death.”

“What? Dragons aren't supposed to die! I demand a recount!” A bleary thought crossed Error’s mind, as life slowly bled out of her broken body.

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About the author

Vitaly S Alexius

  • Canada
  • Archbishop of Captania and sovereign territories
  • https://www.rom.ac

Bio: I was born in the year 1984, in the 4th most polluted city of Soviet Union - Novokuznetsk of Siberian Russia.
On April 11/1997 fate has given me an unexpected twist and by means of aerial transportation I was thrown 5555 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Ontario, Canada, wherein I currently preside in an 1890 Presbyterian church and partake in writing and drawing things.

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