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Chapter 12 — The Stakes

 

Roshan stared at a flight of stone stairs that gently rose to a plateau with a looming gate, a few dragons landing before it. Beyond that gate would be the mountain city of Wynn.

Beside the stairs was a ramp. Out of preference Roshan chose the latter, finding it easier to traverse for his hooves. An itch pervaded his goldish-orange mane, and with a sigh he activated the ring on his slender, spiraled horn. A psychic hand extended from it, scratching to his heart’s content.

“Stupid Purge of Anima,” the unicorn said. An event that happened eighty-six or seven years ago shouldn’t bother a youth like him, but knowing his kind once could conjure these mind hands without the use of talismans was infuriating. Almost as infuriating as the existence of those animalistic pegasi, always taunting him with their ability to fly and do stunts in the air. Getting to Wynn from the plains was a chore.

Well, it wasn’t as bad as traveling to the southern desert, or the swamps of the east. And knowing unicorns were amongst the fastest of myiths comforted him — two days of travel wasn’t that bad.

So here he was, on a mission by his father to speak with the Dragon Crown about a certain construct they supposedly recovered from Scal. The same city his people turned into a forbidden death zone by decimating the mana pool it held. And if possible, to get some clarity over the ethereals — wasn’t that what the dragons and dwarves started calling them? — they encountered at the same time.

All this amused Roshan as he galloped up the slope. How many messengers asking about these topics had the Dragon Crown dealt with so far?

With a final leap the unicorn was on top of the plateau, wincing as he stepped on a cluster of pebbles inconveniently placed in the way. Brushing them aside and muttering about pranksters under his breath, his gaze fell upon the nearby mountains towering over the wide, stubby elevation of land on which Wynn was situated. Cool winds brushed his mane as he trotted towards the grassier side of the plateau.

Before long he came upon a horny gate of steel, flanked by walls gleaming from splashes of sunlight. A group of dragon guards converged their emotionless faces at his approach, their brows raised by a hair for the teeniest second. After a customary inspection and iteration of his purpose for coming, Roshan strode past them and into the city.

Wynn itself had an airy, invigorating layout, obviously made for dragons but nearly as perfect for a unicorn. A color scheme of blue and white tiles made its major roads while the glazed buildings had a sheen and smoothness to them Roshan could’ve sworn was similar to some dwarven architecture. The two races probably had some influence on the other.

This wasn’t the first time he had been here, but Roshan couldn’t help but get absorbed into the moment. A quick romp around was tradition for a unicorn.

Making his way through a bustling marketplace, he kept a chuckle to himself as dragon after dragon gave him a glance or two, some with bitterness but none so stupid as to cause a ruckus. Rivalries of old, he thought, paying them no heed. First he would schedule an appointment with the Crown, then if time permitted, get some exercise and wander about.

The sound of rushing water attracted the unicorn as he stumbled across a plaza. The last time he had been here was long ago, but he still remembered the huge, weathered fountain taking up the center space. In true dragon-y narcissism, water sprayed out of the mouth of a dragon with a chipped off horn, waterfalling into four claw-shaped basins and slipping into the base below. Roshan managed to pick out a couple of non-dragon myiths amongst the bulk of dragons, including a gang of goblins, a phoenix whirring past in a hurry, and—

Roshan stopped as he saw a familiar looking fey walking out of the shadow of a dragon. The fey turned her head, saw Roshan, and stopped too. A flustered smile squirmed on her face.

What brought Roshan out of his trance was a shove at his rear. “Move it, horse,” a dragon growled at him.

Roshan snorted at the insolent myith before approaching the fey, who briefly floated in the air towards him. “Well met, Alaisa,” he said, recalling his previous encounters with the messenger girl.

“Well met, Sir Roshan. Do I presume our agendas here align?” the fey said, oblivious to the odd glances a few dragons gave her. The unicorn nodded, himself focused on her appearance.

Having seen some other fey recently, he was starting to really understand how overwhelmingly tall she was compared to her kind. A funny thing since she was still tiny compared to most myiths, with fey averaging four feet to begin with. With her unusual height came a pinched yet somehow elegant form complete with long limbs.

Other than that, though, she was like other feys with their luminous humanoid bodies and slender, curved back ears resting above their foreheads, plus their passive ability to levitate. Alaisa’s skin particularly radiated a pleasant shade of yellow complementing her personality and star-shaped green pupils. Her long hair was tied in a ponytail, and she dressed in a travelling dress with a short skirt and pants underneath.

Not to mention the handbag slung over her shoulder. Was that a trinket resembling a bejeweled dragon horn sticking out?

Alaisa pressed the trinket further into the bag with her fingers. “Uh, if you could give a lady some space please,” she said, pushing the bag behind her back. Roshan pulled his head back, keeping himself from laughing.

Clearly she was here for the same reason as him. Alaisa was a messenger bearer for the lord of a major fey city called Weg, which sat on the edge of the fey kingdom and the mountain ranges that housed dragons, dwarves, trolls, and golems alike. Often the closest in relative proximity to other myiths’ cities, it had been relied on for sending and receiving messages from the rest of Fantasmyth on behalf of the ruling government.

“I really shouldn’t waste time on trivialities,” Alaisa said, edging away for a moment. “Have you scheduled an appointment yet? Apparently the Dragon Crown insists on one set time today for addressing the rumors about their revered magic construct, owing to the influx of messengers, and if you don’t make haste they might force you to wait till tomorrow.”

Roshan sucked in a mouthful of air. Figures. “So there are others here?”

“Er, not to sound derogatory, but duh?”

Alaisa and her way of speaking. “Much appreciated, I’ll be on my way. Until then, good day to you.”

The fey gave a curt nod. “The same, Sir Roshan,” she said with a smile, her feet leaving the ground as she floated back into the crowd. With a jerk the unicorn moved on to another path. Now where was that palace those dragons convened at again?

 


 

Brimir stared in consternation at his basin-shaped throne of granite, its cresting adorned with the glitter of little diamonds. Two sturdy pillars each stood a good distance away from his side, the sky blue carpet under his feet a delight to sink into. Above lingered a collection of banners with Wynn’s insignia — dragon wings crossing paths with a fiery torch as the centerpiece — and higher still came the grand ceiling and skyline windows letting in dimming sunlight, enforced to the point where a dragon would have difficulty smashing them in.

Somehow word of Ismat had leaked further than should be possible, rumors reaching each and every corner of Fantasmyth. Messengers from the desert-dwelling ghouls and even sea-faring denizens like the kappas came using some form of teleportation and said as much. The dwarves couldn’t have spread them so fast, and no one else who knew of the construct had leaked anything. The Blodoggs?

Probably the Blodoggs. The two he had captured, though stubbornly silent otherwise, hinted they had been interested in Ismat for a while and that their comrades, seeking some form of vengeance, would willingly spread rumors and cause a disturbance.

Which they succeeded at, however they did it. Earlier today the Crown was in session, and among the matters they had to deal with included explaining to messengers and ambassadors what was up with Ismat. This subsequently led to a mention of their encounter with the ethereals, the stakes between Ismat and the Crown, and mentioning the construct’s correlation with a certain coairse dragon. Such a troublesome situation to explain to the rest of the Dragon Crown and the world, he lamented.

At least he could trust the other governments to not spread all this sensitive information. Letting commoners understand the construct’s predicament would lead to trouble, greedy hunters setting their sights after Ismat just one of many consequences. It’d be especially detrimental for the main body of Blodoggs, who didn’t know as much about Ismat as the two scouts they sent, to get word of this all. Though when Ismat chooses to reveal himself to the public, that’s his problem.

“My king, you are lost in thought.”

Brimir’s head rose as he took notice of the iron gray dragon entering the room. Solon gave him a sad smile, his wing itching his side.

“I thought you had left by now,” Brimir said. “Doesn’t Hornos need its leader’s attention?”

“It can wait a little longer. All these envoys and government-sent couriers have been quite nosy, haven’t they?” A tsk came out of Solon’s mouth. “I would have preferred us taking Ismat in while we could. Why didn’t you stop Ulm from pulling that stubborn coairse into this?”

Great, they were having this conversation. “Because I was sure she wouldn’t come anyway,” Brimir reminded him. “But the past is the past. If Ismat fails, and there’s a good chance he will, he’ll be ours to take and his protests will have no weight thereafter, and if he succeeds, we end up with a powerful group to call upon against troublemakers like the Blodoggs and even the Doomsknights’ Dusk.”

“Hmph.” Solon stared grimly at the pillars supporting the grand room, examining its etched patterns. When that bored him he turned to the walls, bricked and vibrant, and let his eyes skim through row after row.

“I have matters to attend to,” Brimir said, walking past.

“As you please, my king,” Solon said.

But Brimir barely stepped out of the throne room when the metallik’s gruff voice started up again. “Your father, Brimir, I knew him well. King Garius wasn’t as well-tempered as you nor as well-liked by his subjects, and you deserve some applause for that.”

Footsteps sounded behind the stiff dragon king. “However, I know your assertiveness is but a facade behind a meek, anxious ruler,” Solon went on as his image came in the corner of Brimir’s eye. “One who likes to extend his claw too often to safer, kinder, and more merciful options. I will remind you, there is a time where you must put down that claw.”

The reddish-purple dragon snarled inwardly to himself, but his calm facade only nodded. “Thank you for the reminder. I know you are concerned about my choices making the Dragon Crown look weak, and that is understandable. Yet as I said before, I refuse to betray Ismat after setting firm the stakes between us, not unless he acts out first.”

“Brimir, listen to me. You know he’s a liability. Ismat winning the stakes would lead to complications—”

“Solon.”

“—and with that coairse at his side—”

“Solon, you are too concerned about the fragility of this kingdom.” Brimir put proper force into his voice this time. “Letting loose a revered construct on certain terms and openly telling the states what we did, no matter how unwise either decision seems or what backlash will result from it, will not be our undoing. Furthermore, your attitude strikes me as some zeal to take back Ismat through any means necessary, and I am perfectly willing to put my claw down against such measures. We will honor the agreement, and we will thrive with or without Ismat and all the formidable benefits he grants us. Do not quarrel with your king’s decision anymore.”

Solon furrowed his brows, clearly miffed with Brimir’s words, but at last he backed out. “I won’t even dream of it, Your Majesty.”

Brimir waited until the metallik left, releasing whatever air was left in his lungs. Garius’s favorite advisor indeed, he thought, counting to thirty seconds before finally leaving the throne room.

Off he went through his marble palace, the winds washing his fatigue and an eye on the reddening sky. Above flapped the tapestries of dragon history, as if begging his attention, but Brimir would not heed. Ismat’s abilities are potent and extremely useful to us, he admitted, having asked Ismat those questions the construct promised to answer and learning a great deal about his powers. But he is still a want, not a need. There are no unicorns storming our capital, and there is no need to defend ourselves.

With that, he embraced the contemplative mood his surroundings offered, willing his beating heart to settle down. Less than a year of holding the throne was enough to experience how rough it was being king. How did his father manage?

He had a lot more of Jakyra to deal with, you know, he reminded himself with a chuckle. Garius was not necessarily a tyrannical, unjust ruler, but he sported a temper and believed in rule with an iron fist. Naturally, his inability to handle a dragonet chiding him, his government, and his rules and laws in clever ways infuriated him.

Unfortunately for him, clever Jakyra could handle his guards from day one. She also paid sharp attention to the law so she wouldn’t fall afoul of it, and her youth at the time helped too. Worse, she struck a chord with Ulm, who not only liked her attitude but recognized her surprising wisdom and practicality.

The brash child always found some way to get on Garius’s nerves and give sound criticism at the same time. Like that one case where she happened to be in Wynn and ended up beating the scales off a criminal dragon the guards were pursuing, throwing remarks at how inefficient they were with their polearms. One of her nobler acts of defiance, but as usual, it put his father in a bad mood.

Honestly, why do we give them polearms if dragons are more suited to hand-to-hand combat? Brimir thought, scoffing at the old traditions which considered using the tail to hold stuff taboo. It seemed so absurd the more he thought of it. Something to look into.

Point was, Jakyra was trouble for his father. Meanwhile, his own tolerance and the coairse’s maturity made the situation between them more civilized, with her opting for less dramatic and law-bending methods. A small victory for his own way of doing things.

“Not to say Jakyra isn’t a pain in my neck too,” he said to himself as the winds picked up speed. “Goodness, she’s a brat who toys with the Dragon Crown itself! Ismat scooping her up feels like the welcome reprieve we’ve been waiting for.”

Saying the words made him feel like he had thrown up bile. His lips adjusted into a quivering smile as he let the sunset sky numb his scales, the tapestries majestically quivering in place behind him.

“No hard feelings, Ismat and Jakyra,” he slowly said. “Good luck. Try not to disappoint.”

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About the author

SaadTheConjurer

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Bio: 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.

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