Chapter 10 — Ismat’s Dream
The Dragon Crown stared at Ismat for so long Jakyra felt dust accumulating on her scales.
“Ismat,” Brimir said, “what balderdash?”
Jakyra thought the same way herself. What did Ismat just say?
The construct sighed, his shadow cast over the Crown’s disturbed figures. “Now I understand this is sudden and comes off as outrageous—”
“You’re serious.” Brimir shook himself, clutching his forehead. “It’s already been a long day, we just learned the ethereals are causing mayhem all over Fantasmyth, and you throw this at us?”
The dwarven chiefs backed out as tension gripped the air. Herod’s timid secretary (why was he still here?) practically flew to a corner, and Jakyra didn’t blame any of them. Ismat spitballing some desire to split away from the dragon government to create some band of mercenary myiths he would lead, it was an affront to the Crown. What was he thinking?
Her confusion dissolved into panic once she thought of the implications. Ismat wanted to make this team of criminal hunters, and she was Ismat’s intermediary.
Oh, come on. What was her luck?
“You imbecile,” the iron metallik said in a hushed tone. “Do you realize what you’re asking for? Do you even know how stupid that sounds?”
Ismat shrugged off the comment. “This isn’t me saying something on the spur of an opportune moment. I’ve spent a good couple of hours toying with the thought, and I realize this is my higher calling and purpose.”
“Pfft.” The dragon thrust a talon at Ismat’s chest, rows of dwarf heads turning over before looking the other way. “What else will you crave then, a city to rule over? Fie, rogue construct, you’re stepping out of line!”
“Have I broken the law?” Ismat smugly asked, making Jakyra choke up.
Ulm failed to suppress his obnoxious laughter as Fumnaya and Brimir covered their faces. The iron metallik fired twin beams of death at Jakyra, herself overrun by a vision of the face of Brimir’s father turning beet red as her past self uttered that exact line. Good times.
With some difficulty the metallik composed himself, using words similar to how the late king responded to her obstinacy. “Not yet, but it’s pathetic nonetheless!”
“Solon, you’re making a scene,” Ulm said while tapping on the seething metallik’s leg. Yeah, that was his name! “And Ismat, what you’re asking for is dangerous. Most artifacts asking for such freedom turn out to be reviled magic, causing destruction to Fantasmyth and being shut down for everyone’s sake. As far as I’m concerned, you’re going rogue.”
“And forcibly taking along one of my children, your intermediary,” Fumnaya added to Jakyra’s shock. The coairse wasn’t usually one to be this protective of her, that was Ulm’s thing. Should she overlook the ‘child’ thing this once?
Ismat’s unfazed expression cracked at the mention of Jakyra, but it instantly vanished. “I haven’t even explained my wish yet. You’re mentioning all these sources of unrest and insecurity amongst the common nations, and what I want is to use my unique abilities and my purpose of being a protector to do, not only for dragons, but all myiths a favor. And I hope to integrate like-minded people who can commit to this task into a team of defenders.
My liege, I ask for you to, if not support me, at least be accepting enough to let me pursue my dream. From the bottom of my magical heart, I’ve always harbored an interest in making the continent as a whole a safer place. I cannot do that with a government, not with its biased, nationalist interests and cumbersome politics enslaving me to its bidding.”
Yet another silence. Jakyra wasn’t sure what to make of this anymore. Ismat seemed to be seeing things too ideally, how could he possibly gather a team that could really protect the entire continent?
But then again, the construct had a few points there. Moreover, he did seem dedicated to this absurd idea and was certain he could pull it off, and he probably could with his skills. Jakyra kind of understood his perspective, and she couldn’t help but sympathize with Ismat’s want for freedom. Paradoxical as the idea of supporting something she was being conscripted into was, maybe it wouldn’t hurt for the Crown to give him a chance?
“Ismat, I must condemn your wish,” Brimir said, effectively dismissing the thought. “There is no merit in an amateur doing the job of Fantasmyth’s governments and experienced, independent parties. Even if you never turn on us at some point, your revered status makes you a huge target to greedy rivals and factions like the Blodoggs. You shall find yourself in a better position and with drastically more use by serving your king.”
Ismat harrumphed. “For your good, Brimir, I insist.”
Brimir raised his eyebrows as he gave a cursory glance to his dragon guards, who rose up with gripped polearms and stern faces. Jakyra twitched as the surrounding dwarves distanced themselves as much as possible, the situation teetering on the edge of violence.
Ismat’s indifference seemed to dim the lantern lights hanging in the room. “You’re threatening me.”
“Strike out and you threaten all of us.” Of the two, Brimir seemed tenser. “I won’t risk the chance of leaving you unchained, lest you either go reviled or end up taken advantage of by enemies. I know you’re incapable of fighting back, so I will ask you once to stand down.”
That still didn’t disturb the construct, as if he knew a way around this disability. It was at this critical juncture that Jakyra’s mind went into a whir. This wasn’t necessary! There were civil ways to settle this problem, and this wasn’t one of them.
Looking for help, however, she found none. Even Ulm was giving Ismat a warning look, showing no reservations for combat breaking out. Never mind the dwarves either, the chiefs themselves chose to stay as bystanders and do no more than gawk. Of course I have to do it myself, she thought with a grumble, consolidating what to say to stop this before stepping in between Brimir and Ismat.
Jakyra, this is not your—” Brimir hissed when Jakyra bared her teeth at him. When Ismat made a cocky grunt, she moved short of a pounce towards him with the same expression.
“Enough.” The emphasis with which she said that one word pressured a few guards and Brimir to move back, while Ismat seemed to blank out. Ironic, having to use force to calm things down. “This better be the two of you kidding with each other, because a kid in your ranks shouldn’t have to scold you both for being more child than adult.”
A pause. “Look, Ismat is rash to ask for his release and this independent team and chose a poor time and way to say it, and I won’t argue against the headache rampaging magic causes. But at the same time, what does anyone get by antagonizing him? Hasn’t Ismat proven himself to be cooperative, and didn’t he already express his intention to serve the Crown in a different way?”
“That different way is scandalous!” the iron metallik — Solon was his name — protested.
“And his cooperation might be part of an elaborate scheme to go free,” Brimir added, making Jakyra internally facepalm at his obstinacy. “If he really is on our side, then how about he captures Iye on our behalf and gives him up to us? Or, since he believes he can purify the continent with a ragtag band of rookies, how about he gathers groundbreaking information on the ethereals and their maker for everyone’s sake, or cripples those pesky Blodogg bandits whom no one can get a firm hold over?”
Jakyra had a response ready when Brimir’s words crashed over her like a wave. All she wanted was both parties to work this out peacefully, but now, revelation had descended upon her. A beautiful, cheeky revelation. This’ll be priceless, she thought.
Ismat was first to notice her smile, insignificant but mischievous, and just as quick to derive its meaning. His looming, cold aura shredded into pieces, a comical one in its place as he gave the Dragon a mirthful stare.
As expected, no gold could be worth Brimir’s lost expression. “Sounds like a good wager to show Ismat his place,” Jakyra wryly clarified. “Not what I had in mind, but it’s a suitable compromise. You two going to lay ground rules?”
Brimir lost all the color in his face and exhaled a long moan as what he had done finally hit him, doubling the amusement. Ulm made a clicking sound with his teeth while Solon’s reaction consisted of mindless sputtering, a few seconds passing before he whispered to his king.
“I know that, Solon,” he muttered, getting over his blunder. “Father would curse his heart out if he was here. Three months?”
Ismat agreed. “Three months in which my team and I complete any one of the implausible tasks you just assigned me. I permanently gain freedom if I succeed, otherwise I must conform to your beck and call.”
The twosome looked at Jakyra, one annoyed and the other pleased, both giving her a reminding look. About her still being bound to Ismat and all? Meh, It beats being stuck at Wynn with both Brimir and Ismat hovering over me, she thought with a shrug.
Not that she really wanted to be part of this team and be involved in the very wager she just devised. No, she’d rather get back to her quiet life wandering the mountains, enjoying simple pleasures, and messing with the powerful dragon government. Monotonous as it was, that was perfect.
But alas, how long could a young dragon live that way? If she was getting coerced into some Fantasmyth’s Adventurous Protection Squadron or whatever Ismat would call it, fine. She had the combat prowess and the will to rise to whatever task came at her. And if we try going after that sly Iye, she thought with fires twirling in her dark red eyes, why, I’ll be more than happy to oblige.
Envisioning Brimir’s shock if she and Ismat actually won this bet provided the final push she needed. Yeah, she would do this! As unrealistic as completing the silly challenge she shot herself in the foot with, never mind protecting the entire continent, why not? It was only a step up from running circles around the Dragon Crown.
Wow, she was joining a magic construct’s peacekeeping team. Today was the craziest day of her life, no contest. Was she really doing this?
“You know you don’t have to.”
Ulm shuffled beside Jakyra, full-hearted concern illuminating his face. That was the thing about old Ulm, he was always there to give her support and wasn’t afraid to show it. Though judging from how Fumnaya was peering at them—
“Oh, she is worried,” Ulm said, noticing where Jakyra had turned. “But you know Fumnaya, very strict in showing obedience and respect to the law. That she hasn’t turned me away from you yet is eye-catching.”
“I sure hope we do some Iye-catching,” Jakyra said.
Ulm snorted at the play on words, listening to Jakyra explain her tacit choice to follow Ismat. “I admit, I don’t know what I’m getting myself into,” she said, “but I know I can handle myself.”
“Tough as steel, coairses are.” Ulm flashed her a smile. “Be careful then, especially with your construct. Thinking magic, even without their tendency to become reviled and all, is the sort of thing to be on edge with.”
Touching, but Jakyra wasn’t worried. In her short time with Ismat, something cemented in her mind that he wasn’t as bad as she first thought. An occasional hothead and maybe too stubborn, but not malicious. But just in case, she’d watch her back.
Brimir was explaining the agreed stakes to the dwarven chiefs at this point, apparently having worked out the specifics with Ismat. The construct had three months, starting this instant, to organize a squadron through which he either brought Iye to justice, landed a heavy blow to the Blodoggs, or learned something critical no one else knew about the ethereals. The dragons would stay neutral and provide no assistance, and the same was expected from The Dwarven Circle of Elders — meaning Ismat couldn’t request supplies of mana or magic items directly from them.
If one of these tasks was successfully performed, the Dragon Crown would recognize the legitimacy of Ismat’s freedom and leadership over his team. Otherwise, he was permanently subservient to them, and his team would go on without him. Team members had to understand the challenge in its entirety before joining.
The rules finalized, Brimir shook Ismat’s claw to seal the deal and as a friendly gesture, one contrasting with his following words. “You realize you’re going to need all the luck you can get, right? I can’t believe you chose to agree to such unfavorable terms. This only buys you time, time to understand the foolishness you’re worming yourself into.”
Ismat scoffed. “You referring to me now having to negotiate for my psychic magic with the unicorns if I wish to complete my mana, or the difficulty of the three tasks you asked of me?”
“I’m surprised to hear you’d dare negotiate with those prideful, horned horses.”
Both sides exchanged knowing looks at each other. “Old wounds stay in the past,” Ismat said. “Remind me to answer those questions I promised you long ago for my fire mana before we part ways, I need a moment with my intermediary.”
Brimir’s brows rose as Ismat lumbered over to Jakyra. Ah, time for her to follow instructions! She really shouldn’t be this pumped about this.
“It perplexes me that you haven’t even made a face at the thought of being forced into my team,” the construct instead said to her bafflement. “I certainly would have reservations in your place.”
Jakyra shrugged. “Do you want to reserve my services or not?”
“I’m not complaining,” Ismat said with a grumble. “When I called you an incompetent child earlier, I wasn’t aware the role of intermediary fitted you. I saw firsthand that you have an inner strength to match your bewitched tongue, and despite your brash attitude I’m certain it’ll be a pleasure having you at my side. Any chance you know anyone who’d be handy and willing to come along?”
Actually, there was someone. Sauda, Jakyra thought.
The moon elf did do freelance mercenary work after all. The more upright ones anyway, like protecting caravans, serving as a bodyguard, and bringing in fugitives. She always did express some interest in joining one of those independent groups for capturing criminals and neutralizing reviled magic. Once she even asked her about forming a group together.
This would be perfect for her.
But before she could mention this, Ismat’s head turned to the side, and she followed suit. A hiccup jumped out of her throat.
Their gazes settled on a young but solid-looking dwarf whose face was white as snow. He turned his head down, trying to avoid the construct’s eyes while his older brother looked between both sides with puzzlement. A nudge jabbed Jakyra centimeters from one of her wounds, the shock coincidentally pushing her forward.
“You know, that kid’s something special,” Ismat said, ignoring the glare coming from the older dwarf. “Brave lad, personally going against Iye and damaging his artifact. Besides, I doubt I can recruit professionals anytime soon, and it doesn’t hurt to have options. Did you catch his name and some tidbits about him?”
Jakyra held herself from smacking the construct. Poor Gunnar.
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Peace be upon you.
You've met a madman with a fondness for ducks, striving to write high-quality stories.
Currently writing a Pokemon Mystery Dungeon fanfic on fanfiction.net and AO3 (not posting it on Royal Road just yet). Needs to write more original work sooner or later.