“I’m not a spy! I am merely a humble emissary…”
Lyca recited her introduction for the third time this day, pointing at her badge.
Error squinted at the badge, and with a touch of impatience Lyca wondered if this loud-mouthed troglodyte could even read.
“Are you here to demand late fees, Librarian? I’ll have you know, I own all the magic books in this hoard fair an’ square, by right of dragon-hoard law!” Lyca let all the blustering pass around her like a hot breeze. She was used to dragons, after all. One little kobold with a big attitude was not a problem for her.
“Do you have the Necronomicon?” she asked, keeping her voice pleasant and unassuming.
“What’s the Necronomicon?” Error demanded back at her. Lyca drew in a steadying breath and smoothed her face into a smile.
“It’s a very dangerous magic book made of human flesh,” she explained. “Look you can’t possibly know the name of every book in this… pile. Also… it’s not quite your hoard, now, is it? You are just a brave guardian, protecting the property of your esteemed Mistress, yes? May I speak with her?” Lyca struggled to find a polite, flattering way to get past this brash red kobold. There was just no good way to ask to speak to the manager.
The red kobold bristled, snarling. Her whiplike tail slashed through the air around her feet. Lyca almost took a step back.
“I’ll have you know I’m the dragon! I’m the Mistress! Me!” Error huffed. "...and this pile is… uhh… getting sorted, alright? It's work in progress!"
“You’re the dragon,” Lyca repeated. She let her skepticism show. She’d dealt with a lot already today.
“Are you questioning my dragon-ness?!” Error growled, hand twitching towards her gun.
At that moment, unable to take the tension of the standoff, Agate pulled the Necronomicon out of her breastplate. Her face flushed red with shame that she’d kept it hidden this long. Lyca turned towards Agate, scrutinizing the book’s title.
“...Adventure's Guide to Adventuring. Dungeons in Dragons,” she read incredulously.
“That’s… this is clearly the Necronomicon! I can almost see the original title beneath the new one. Why have you defaced it?”
Error looked at Agate, her hand falling away from the Inian railgun.
“You’ve had that dumb book on you all this time?” Error’s brow furrowed as if deep in thought, and then her face lit up with realization. “Oh, right. I did give it to a blue kobold to dispose of it. Gorefield, that feels like it was a millennium ago.”
“Well, Tundra the Enlightened is coming to retrieve it,” Lyca said firmly. “She’ll be very displeased with this damage. Tampering with book titles is a crime! And that’s not to mention the grammatical errors,” Lyca added, pointing at the book's title. "‘Adventure’ isn't a guide, it's a word referring to a dangerous experience! Dungeons in Dragons… is this supposed to be a lewd joke? Dungeons are inanimate objects and can’t possibly mate with dragons."
Agate’s cheeks turned redder. "I didn't deface it!” she whimpered. “I only... drew in it a little!"
Lyca's eyes widened and her mouth pressed into a thin line at this declaration. “That's a Library crime of the worst kind," she said gravely.
"It's my book to draw in, Mistress Ognevika gave it to me!" Agate protested, looking desperately towards Error for support.
“That is not your book,” Lyca told Agate in a tone that brooked no objections. “The Necronomicon belongs to Tundra’s library. It wasn’t even checked out properly. See the insert pocket on the last page for details!”
Agate flipped the book open and stared at the pocket within. The little card didn’t have a single stamp. For some reason Agate understood this, although she’d never heard of a library before meeting Lyca some minutes ago.
Error ignored the argument about book pockets.
“Is this library of yours in the world above?" she asked.
“Above,” Lyca said, turning back to Error. Agate sighed with relief. A librarian’s disapproval was a hard burden to bear. “More specifically, we reside on a secluded volcanic island. If you descend below the sea into the catacombs, it is a two week journey from here. Tundra is a pretty big dragon, and needs to use wider tunnels, so it takes her longer. She sent me ahead through the smaller crevasses.”
“Yeah, that’s probably why I don't know about it,” Error mused, nodding. “I haven't been in the world above in a… a thousand years?” Error scratched her head. “Why haven't I been above in this long? Huh. More questions I have no answers for.”
Error grabbed the Necronomicon from Agate.
"Look, librarian ‘bold. This book isn’t dangerous or magic. I had it evaluated - it's as dead as dirt. I ain’t got time to fight with a surface dragon over a defaced old book. I have a couple hundred homani with bad intentions amassed at my front door, in case you haven’t noticed."
Error shoved the book at Lyca, ignoring Agate’s whimper of yearning.
"Here you go. Now get out."
Lyca held the book cautiously, eyeing the cesspool trench.
“I, ah, might need a little help getting back out,” she said.
. . .
“The situation is this: we have too many dragon slayers and not enough gravity-beast slayers,” the Probability Knight declared to his assembled adventurers. The ranks were much thinner than they had been just a few days ago.
"I got top-shelf anti-dragon gear, but I ain't never heard of a gravity beast,” an adventurer near the front whined.
“Nobody told me there was gonna be gravities and excrements involved,” grumbled another. “The mission description was way wrong!”
Whispers and complaints spread through the assembled columns.
“Yes, yes. This is all weird and questionable,” The Knight said, cutting over the chatter. He paced back and forth in front of his troops. “But, remember, we are humans. Facing us are mere catacomb monsters ruled by bestial instincts!”
“Nobody told me there would be beastiality!” hissed a young fighter to his friend. “We gotta cut and run, man. This shit ain’t worth it.” The rogue he was talking to merely shrugged.
“I’ve done worse for money, probably,” said the rogue. “It all blurs together after a while.”
“I feel bad for you, I really do,” said the fighter.
“Adapt,” the Probability Knight commanded his weary group. “Improvise. Overcome!” A halfhearted cheer went up.
“That is a good line, though,” the fighter admitted. “The whole, adapt-improvise-whatever bit.”
“He probably heard it somewhere else,” the rogue said. “Motivating words don’t seem to be a natural talent--” the rest of his sentence was drowned out by the alarm horns blasting from the camp gates that faced the tunnels leading away from Ognevika’s lair.
The adventurers broke out of their assembly formation, rushing to their defense stations. The fighter reached for his sword and the rogue reached for his hip flask.
The Probability Knight marched through the camp to the gates, which he kicked open to reveal a massive dragon on the other side, her silvery-white fur gleaming in the bioluminescence of the cave.
“Are you in charge around here?” she asked in a rumbling voice that resonated in the Knight’s chest. She was accompanied by a dozen kobolds similar to the one who had passed through earlier.
“The dragon must have friends. She’s called in reinforcements and now we’re trapped!” yelped one of the adventurers who’d come running after the Knight. He could sense more of his troops starting to panic.
“Betwixt two dragons is no problem. This is fine. Most of us are fireproof,” the Knight said firmly, attempting to stamp out the fear. “Get behind the magisteel barricades. Ready your dragon-fighting spells!”
“So this is it, then,” the Guild Secretary whispered, her eyes wide.
The Knight was busy tapping into his probability calculator.
“Enough of that. You certainly know better. This is clearly an overland dragon, and as such is property of the Empire, blessed by the radiant light of Celestar. My calculations indicate that it’s not a threat.”
“Your watch said the dragon below wasn't going to be a problem! And we already lost more than half of our adventurers!” the Secretary shot back at him.
“I’m going to assume you’re in charge,” Tundra boomed, addressing the Knight. Her voice echoed through the entire chamber. The whole camp stopped and listened. “I am looking for the Necrono--”
“Down the hall! Follow the signs,” the Knight pointed towards the tunnel to Ognevika.
“Stand down! All adventurers, stand down. Let the dragon pass,” he called out to his forces. He eagerly seized the chance to spare his thinned ranks from another possibly disastrous fight. Perhaps the two dragons would take care of each other.
“Oh, thank you!” Tundra bowed her massive head politely, and then stepped carefully over the magisteel barricades and into the encampment. Her kobolds leapt onto her long tail and scurried up to sit on her back as quick as squirrels in a tree. Once in the camp, Tundra stepped carefully around the tents, clotheslines, and firepits. Her belly cleared all the structures, and she lifted her tail to avoid demolishing half the encampment in a single swish.
The fighter simply sat down on the ground in astonishment as the dragon stepped over him, moving her massive paws with painstaking care.
In under a minute, she’d passed through the camp and into the dreaded tunnel covered in warning signs.
“I’ll drink to that,” said the rogue. He plunked down besides the fighter and downed half his flask in a single pull, and then offered it to the fighter, who accepted it as if in a daze.
“See. It's a polite overland dragon. Not like the beasts of the Undersea,” the Knight said to the Secretary. She could hear the relief in his voice that finally, something was behaving as it ought to.
“This could be the break we needed,” he continued. “I doubt both will survive if they fight for the book. The one that does live will be greatly weakened.” He nodded, confident in his assessment.
The Secretary had her doubts, but at least her boss was getting it together again.
. . .
"Noises! Something big comes!" The purple kobold scout shrieked from his perch overlooking the sewage moat. Error turned her attention away from Lyca.
"Oh, so they think they can send giants to us! We'll see about that,” growled Error. “Aim our biggest ballistas!"
"My Mistress comes!" Lyca cheered. She would give the book to Tundra and with her Mistress she would finally leave this wretched, disorderly hoard.
"Oh. Belay that order.” Error commanded. “It's the library Dragon, coming for the book. Maybe she'll wake me up and I'll be free!"
That last comment made no sense to Lyca, but Error was a strange kobold. A confident leader, yes, but perhaps a bit touched in the head.
Suddenly, on the back of the book, a lump like a pustule swelled and broke open to reveal a pink, squinting eye.
“No, you won't,” said a rasping, papery voice.
Error jumped in surprised, nearly smacking into Agate.
“You are an integral part of our fantastic Adventure,” the voice continued. “I won’t rest until I find a perfect dungeon mate for you!”
Error stared at the unpleasant-looking eye.
“You’re a talking magic book? But… but… How? I evaluated you and everything!”
Error recalled the Appraisal spell she cast back when the book had first arrived. It had shown her a blank window. Usually, the description would at least say "mundane book." She should have paid more attention to that! She looked at the ugly, mysterious eye and felt a sense of dread rising within her chest.
An artifact that could not be appraised was incredibly bad news-- it meant that this object was intelligent and had concealed its purpose. Whatever the book was, it was using an unknown, incredibly high-level type of magic that had been able to trick an immortal dragon that had practiced Appraising for more than a thousand years!
“No evaluation can grasp my true nature, for I am many things!” the book rasped.
Now Error found its voice terrifying. What sort of entity was speaking to her? What were its intentions?
“Don't listen to it!” Lyca commanded, trying to wrap the book in her dress.
For the first time in her millennia of life, Error was relieved to have someone else telling her what to do.
“This book is an extremely powerful memetic!” Lyca explained. “It will subjugate your will with mere words!”
Error stared at Lyca with wide eyes, struggling against a rising tide of panic. Dragons weren’t supposed to feel panic! She was already haunted by a ghost in her gun. She didn’t want to be cursed by a crazy book-shaped monstrocity too.
“A memetic I failed to evaluate… This is bad, very bad,” she eventually managed to say.
“I am--” the book began to say through Lyca’s dress.
“La la la la la LA LA!” yelled Lyca at the top of her lungs. “I AM NOT LISTENING TO YOU!”
“LA LA LA LA LA!” Error quickly began to shout along, covering her ears.
Agate stared silently at the furry and crystalline kobolds, now locked in a yelling battle of some sort. She didn’t understand what the problem was. The book spoke of no evil. It was actually very helpful, even if it was a little rude from time to time.
“LA LA LA LA LA!” Error and Lyca hollered at each other.
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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.