The crowd celebrated Error’s defeat. The old kobolds shook their mushroom necklaces and sang gutturally. The younger ones whistled, hooted, barked and beat rocks together, announcing the completion of the ceremony of claiming. The wiser ones simply crossed their fingers, silently observing that this was a dead bride walking. She would likely not bear them children now. She would not live among them long, unable to recover from these injuries. But that was alright because she had been claimed. Any kobold who stood outside the tribe was a threat. An insubordinate outsider could bring down Ognevika’s wrath and endanger them all. This outsider had been redeemed, and now all was well again. She had been made a blessed part of the tribe, however briefly.
Error wept. Her broken body could not stand. Her left eye had been blinded. She turned away from the grotesque sounds of the kobold celebration and dug through the gold. Even if her minions turned against her, her hoard would never betray her. Deep in the pile, her claw suddenly slipped against something unnaturally cold. She reached out and felt a chill of arcane power pulse against her scales.
The pulsing energy sang to her from a world long gone, from a time before the moon fell from the sky, before the Master Builder brought humanity down from the stars. It was something far older and more dangerous than even her dragon-self. A tool of absolute equalization, a device that called out to her with an unyielding, wicked desire. Injured as she was, Error still instantly knew its shape, its purpose, its curse, as she knew all the things she guarded in her hoard.
For a minute that lasted an eternity, she struggled to take control of it. To utilize the power of the Eldritch Gods would unmake her, peel apart her own mind, stain her very soul.
“You will respect and obey me now!” Screw spoke from far away.
She felt the collar memetically violating her mind, forcing her to crave submission to Screw. Blinding, all consuming rage burned her mind free of the collar’s influence. She was Ognevika the All-Powerful Dragon! How dare a mere kobold bind her will?
Her fear of the Inian weapon fell away. The sacrifice of sanity felt worth it now. Her hand wrapped around the icy handle, her own heartbeat resonating with the pulse of the primordial artifact, her desire for vengeance synchronizing with its ancient song.
She pulled at the handle and raised the weapon out of the pile. Golden coins clattered away, revealing a solid, black hexagonal barrel. She struggled to breathe, but, through the weight of the weapon and her ruined body, she forced out some choice words.
“This.... Inian artifact… is called a railgun. Mag-powered... induction... vectors anything inserted into it.” With one shaking hand she poured golden coins into the loading mechanism. The gun accepted them greedily with a dry metallic clatter.
Screw, looked at her, grinning, completely oblivious to what she held in her hands.
“Spin tales all you want, minx, you’re now mine by right of...”
Error pulled the trigger with pure hatred in her heart. The glow of nearby artifacts and her own horns dimmed as the gun drew their power, their energy and life into itself. The noise of the crowd turned to static in Error’s ears as she felt magic being drained away from the world. Unnoticed by Error, Agate finally fought her way through the cheering crowd, rushing towards her.
Error let the trigger go.
Screw’s head detonated with a thunderclap, showering Agate in kobold blood and brain matter. The cheering kobolds went silent as his limp body collapsed to the ground. Agate stood frozen, covered in blood and gore, bewildered by the sudden, deafening blast.
Error shivered. In a perfect circle all around her the hoard had lost its lustre, turned dull and gray. The gun had sucked the magic out of everything around her.
She didn’t feel any different. No tentacles emerged from the Deep. Her crystalline scales didn’t peel away. She didn’t grow a third eye. The collar didn’t announce any new affliction. This was reassuring. She smiled weakly. Truly, nothing could affect her mighty dragonself. She had worried for nothing. The gun was perfectly safe.
Suddenly, Error noticed the old, brown kobold with a necklace of mushrooms in front of the crowd. His tongue lolled out between his yellow teeth, his jaw hanging open. He had to die next! In fact, they all had to die for their treachery and she now had the means to void their duplicitous, wretched, little lives. Who was closest? Error moved the barrel of the gun, seeking a target. A gray-blue kobold covered in Screw’s blood was next. Yes. Perfect.
"Don’t you move now, you little wretch," she spat, finger tightening against the trigger.
“No handling my hoard!”
Ognevika’s deep, sleepy, voice broke the silence. It reverberated through the hoard cavern, resonated in Error’s skull, a divine command that could not be disobeyed.
Error’s hands felt numb, no longer her own, as invisible strings of control stretched from the thrall collar, hijacking her nerves and puppeteering her body. The gun clattered down on the gold beneath her feet and slid away from her. A great dragon tail rose up from the gleaming hoard, covered in titanic, crystalline spikes about to strike her down. She sat beneath it, shaking in fright, all her power torn away once more.
Screw had wanted to own her because he was big and she was small. And Ognevika… the other Ognevika… was bigger than them all. This was the society of the kobolds. Ognevika’s lethal tail, ever poised above them, was their charter, their founding law.
“Adventure party! At the entrance!” a shrill voice called out into the caver. A violet kobold ran down from the front of the cavern. His pupils were terrified narrow slits. Error’s mind cleared. Attackers at the gates: the ultimate insult to any dragon. The tail overhead twitched as if in contemplation.
“Very big party. Very bad!” the little violet kobold continued. “More humans than this!” He held up both paws and wiggled all his fingers. A worried gasp went through the cavern.
"They put up big, smelly iron walls!" He concluded, panting.
What blood remained inside Error's broken body was hot and quick now. Her terror and humiliation faded, sinking down to the bottom depths of her psyche. Her mind raced with plans. Her vast mental inventory of the hoard provided infinite opportunities. She ran her tongue over her teeth. Small teeth, yes, but sharp as skinning knives. She was still a red dragon, if only in mind, and she would make these invaders weep in sorrow that they’d ever even thought to rob the great Ognevika.
Error steadily regarded the massive dragon tail looming overhead. There were rules to this. For centuries Ognevika had plotted thousands of contingency plans between her naps on the pile. Her schemes were rarely needed, and the most exciting scenarios she’d prepared for would surely never come to pass. After all, no party greater than five humans had ever reached the hoard.
“Emergency Contingency 44!” Error shouted at the looming tail. “We’ve got a fireproof adventurer camp just outside the chamber!”
“Pfffineee…” Ognevika mumbled, sighing deeply through her nose. “Just put everything back when you’re done…”
The tail retreated. Error knew her dragon-self. She was far too lazy to actually act out her own strategies. Dragonfire was a base solution to all problems. If something wouldn't yield, there was always more dragonfire. If someone else took care of it, all the better.
“Hah! Yes!” said Error, raising a bloody, skinny arm in victory. Finally, her plans were springing to life. Even if she hadn’t quite figured on the cursed-to-a-kobold’s-body part. Even if she was enslaved, renamed, drowned, chilled, betrayed, humiliated, mauled, claimed, potentially cursed and clinging to life with negative nine hit points. Her mind was still sharp like dragon's claws, full of information that could set the world on fire.
Error looked around for her recent, somewhat reliable, handservant Agate. There were several blue kobolds in the crowd gaping stupidly at her and she wasn’t sure which one was Agate.
“By the power invested in me by Emergency Contingency 44, I declare myself Kobold Emergency Officer!” she announced in the most commanding tone she could muster.
“Take apart the hoard!” Error barked. The words rang through the air. The kobolds all stared at her. “Arm yourselves!” Error continued. A few kobolds looked out doubtfully at the hoard and back at her bleeding, battered body. Ognevika’s kobolds weren’t briefed on their mistress’s many contingencies; she had assumed she would always take up leadership herself. Error’s tail twitched and she tamped down her fury with these gaping idiots.
“Put on the armor,” she said slowly so the simpletons could keep up. “And take up the magical weapons that you guard. Protect me, you two-legged rats!” Her voice filled the room, and she felt much taller.
“Yes! I will protect you!” came a weak, shaky voice from the steel-blue kobold, covered in gore. Error wiped blood out of her one intact eye, blinking. It sounded like… no, it couldn't be…
“Agate?” Error asked, unable to make out the name on the golden collar.
Agate, stepped forward, azure color returning to her scales as the power of the hoard slowly filled the void in magic-space.
Error gasped in recognition and sudden realization. In her blind rage, she had almost obliterated the only kobold she could trust, the one who had helped her without prompting, the only worthy servant in this awful, deranged world.
"Error… negative nine... you’re not gonna make it... " Agate whispered, tears filling her eyes. She’d never seen a kobold last long after a beating like the one Error had received.
"Oh, that,” Error said distractedly. “Right. I should probably do something about that…"
With a particular type of item in mind, Error dug about in the hoard beside her and pulled out a gilded breastplate far broader than her own twiggy shoulders. She slid into it anyways, called by the brilliant white gemstones that studded it. She tottered slightly under it and had to groan as her injuries protested.
“I’ll grow into it,” she muttered, sarcastically.
“With Builder’s Blessings, heal thy Champion of Celestar!” she chanted at the armor.
The gemstones on the armor lit up as she spoke their words. They cracked, expending their arcane power. The release of healing magic lifted Error into the air. In a single moment of spectacular, crackling paladin lightning, the armor cleansed her body, stitched together the worst of her cuts, reassembled bones and healed her blinded eye.
The armor smoked, tarnishing and blackening, and then fell apart. Its power was spent.
As useless armor chunks fell around her, Error’s feet settled lightly back onto the pile of gold. Standing proud and restored to her usual smugness, she looked down on her minions as she always had.
The kobolds all around stared up at her in wonder. She had shown them her own death and resurrection. It was as if a kobold goddess had come into their midst and performed a miracle in front of them.
The kobolds one by one started to bow, accepting Error as their new tribal chief, as the old chief lay sprawled out, headless and forgotten, beside the hoard.
Error's triumphant posing was interrupted as Agate crashed into her and smothered her in a crushing hug.
"You… you're alright!" Agate snuffled, tears running down her cheeks. "I… I thought I'd lose you!"
"Kobolds cannot keep a dragon, so how can they lose it?" Error growled, trying to shove Agate off.
“You're right.” Agate smiled sappily, eyes still misty. “But… what’s an ossifer?”
“Me being an Officer means you jump when I say jump and kill when I say kill that adventurer,” said Error. “And that we may use the hoard to defend the hoard. Now take up armor for yourself so that you may best serve your mistress and not inconvenience me by dying immediately."
She regarded the mildly bewildered Agate for a moment.
"And if you come across a talking artifact, ignore it. Interacting with anything smarter than yourself without my supervision would likely end in disaster.”
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- Archbishop of Captania and sovereign territories
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.