I froze in indecision, staring at the dragon, deep in her lair, hearing the creeping sound of the Shluggoth slow right down as [Bullet Time] activated.
I blinked, realizing that I could see in spite of all my skills being turned off. I’d gotten used to the complete and totally pitch black darkness when I’d turned off the lights, the total blindness that came with the absolute absence of light. Lun’Kat’s lair had soft lighting coming from a dozen different directions.
I tried to swallow around the mango-sized lump in my throat.
Behind me was death. Slow, creeping, dissolved alive death.
In front of me was death. Violent, burning, possibly crunching death. Or clawed, or whipped by her tail, or crushed, or magicked, or… the possibilities were honestly endless.
I’ll just call it swift, screaming death and leave it at that.
To the side was a continuation of the tunnel, an escape route. It’d be a great escape route, continuing my cat-and-mouse game with the Inevitable Shluggoth.
If it wasn’t for my [Oath].
I’d sworn to heal everyone. I’d sworn to not discriminate, to not see injured people as anything other than a creature in pain that needed help.
There wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind that Lun’Kat, for all the violent tendencies I’d seen out of her, was incredibly intelligent.
There wasn’t a shred of doubt that she was badly injured, and in need of medical attention.
What gave me a moment’s hesitation, what had my feet frozen to the ground, amidst the ashes of the dwarves who’d tried to evict her, was her retaliation.
When the dwarves had tried to evict her, she hadn’t just killed the countless dwarves who’d bothered her in her own lair. No, she’d made an example of an entire country, burning and razing it to the ground. A reminder that she was not to be trifled with, and the penalty for doing so.
The distinction that she’d killed the innocent wood-based Nolgardian dwarves, and not the guilty metal-loving Khazadians, was either lost on her, or she didn’t care.
If I tried to leave, the penalty from [Oath] would cripple me, leaving me screaming on the floor. Either Lun’Kat would wake up and end my miserable screams interrupting her nap, or she’d sleep through it until the Shluggoth caught up to me and ate my unresisting body.
Behind me lay certain death.
To the side lay certain death.
In front of me lay extremely likely death, along with potentially getting a large number of humans killed in the process.
Once I’d spent some time I didn’t have thinking, the choice was obvious. I was too young to die, too attached to life. I’d designed an immortality skill for myself, for crying out loud. I was going to literally walk into the dragon’s lair just to have a small chance at living.
I immediately blew one of my two remaining [Invisibility with Eyeholes] gems, as well as [Tracks-be-gone] and [Muffle]. If there ever was a time to use every last tool in my arsenal, it was now.
I took a step forward, my legs seemingly dragging in water as [Bullet Time] was helpfully speeding my perception of time up to ludicrous extents, at the price that I got to watch everything I did in slow-motion.
Usually incredibly helpful. Right now? Yaaaaay.
[*ding!* [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] has leveled up! 315 -> 316]
I jumped at the notification, thanking every god and goddess in the great heavens above that I’d already activated [Muffle] before I’d rattled and clanked my armor against the stone. I disabled all my notifications, figuring that seeing them wouldn’t help, and them going off at the wrong moment could kill me.
Heck, for all I knew Lun’Kat would be able to hear them!
Invisibility for sight. Muffle for sound. Tracks to remove the last little bits of evidence. No smell, no footprints in the lair, nothing. I briefly considered that Lun’Kat could detect magic - she had noticed my [Identify] during the fight - but I was super dead either way. Might as well take my chances.
Night was going to totally kill me when I got back. The idea of meeting up with my family, then going into hiding was briefly considered, then filed away in the I AM SNEAKING INTO A DRAGON’S LAIR, DO NOT DISTURB section of my brain.
However, as I was walking into her lair, specifically as I was squeezing through the crack to get in, a brilliant thought popped into my head.
Lun’Kat had to have her own exit to the surface!
My poor heart was already going at high speed, and the added excitement was almost too much for it. The thought of an exit, of freedom, of being able to feel the sun on my face and wind in my hair almost caused me to make a mistake.
[Bullet Time] was making the world seem like it was slow enough that I could catch myself.
I finished entering Lun’Kat’s lair. I took a look around, repressing the urge to whistle.
What did an immortal dragon, the apex of the world, do in her spare time?
Well, according to the dwarves, according to what I saw in front of me, the answer was: Collect stuff.
Like the world’s richest, maddest [Collector of all Things], Lun’Kat had collections and series of everything in well-organized sections all throughout her lair.
First was the lair itself. It seemed dramatically larger on the inside than what was suggested as I was peeking in. Heck, given that four steps away there was a corridor leading back the way I’d come from, which should have overlapped the tunnel I’d come from but didn’t, suggested that powerful Spatial magic was at play. I was unsure if Lun’Kat was the origin of said magic, or if she’d found a spatially compressed cave to take over and claim for herself. Crystals of all sort were scattered through the cave, a number of them glowing. I recognized some as Arcanite, and glowing inscriptions were centered on each one, sprawling outwards and connecting with the rest of them.
One of the glowing crystals was near where I exited, and I was able to get a good look at it. A tiny winged figure was trapped, frozen inside the crystal, mouth twisted in a terrified scream. She had delicate features, with delicate clear wings, and she was the reason the crystal was glowing, Lun’Kat using nothing but one of the most dangerous creatures in existence to light her home.
She’d trapped a fairy, to use as a wall lamp.
Somehow, in spite of my invisibility, of using every trick I had to remove every trace of my passage, in spite of being in solid crystal, the fairy’s tortured eyes followed my every movement, begging for release that I could not grant.
That was only the beginning.
An angel was bound to the ceiling, hung like a chandelier. Cloth wrappings acted like chains, binding him, making it impossible for him to move. His sword was wrapped tight in his hand, trapped and captured, impossible to let go.
He still glowed with divine light, still had the occasional spark of divine fire ignite and sputter out. Nothing but the most expensive, deadly, premium lights for Lun’Kat.
I briefly eyed him, wondering if I was about to get trapped again. I practically breathed a sigh of relief when I saw he was entirely unhurt, and didn’t need medical attention.
[Oath]-trap number seven: Injured angel hanging from the ceiling. I didn’t expect it to be a common occurrence.
Murals stretched along the cave, primarily depicting Lun’Kat in various poses and figures of what I assumed must be draconic prowess. Occasionally, a second white dragon would join her in these pictures, a long, sinuous creature, with no wings, and long flowing whiskers. A few of the murals depicted Lun’Kat and the other dragon closely entwined with each other. Each mural was carefully lit by prisoners from another realm, with a few being lit by large glowing pillars. I squinted at one, only to realize it was Arcanite, as large as The Heart from the middle of Remus’s capital, and she had dozens of them casually scattered about as mood lighting.
Below that was the ground level, and just looking at it sent greedy pangs through my body. Autumn would’ve had an aneurysm seeing the place, and I could understand why the dwarves’ greed overcame their common sense. Just the main chamber alone would set me up for my eternal life - me, and my thousand closest friends would never want for a single thing for all eternity.
A huge pit dominated the center, loaded with furs, wool, cotton, and soft things of every type. It took a moment of looking at it with a puzzled look on my face for it to click.
It was her bed. Made comfortable with the furs of thousands of the most luxurious pelts Lun’Kat could find.
Which inevitably drew my eye to Lun’Kat, sleeping on what looked like a pile of metal and gems and other valuables, casually heaped together. I instantly dubbed the pile “Mt. Loot”, for the obvious reasons. Even as I watched, she shifted in her sleep, sending a cascade of ores and unrefined crystals cascading down.
I opened my mouth in a silent scream, sure that my end was here.
Ba-dum. My last heartbeat.
Ba-dum. My last heartbeat.
Ba-dum. My la-ok, she wasn’t waking up and murdering me dead.
I narrowed my eyes at her comfortable bed, and her significantly less comfortable sleeping spot, before noticing a streak of dark-red on some of the metal she was on.
She didn’t want to bleed all over her nice bed.
Was I really dealing with a dragon, and not some pampered princess?
Then again, if my claws were gigantic, and my furs tiny, I might not want to ruin a few dozen of them in one go.
I continued to look around the room, seeing collections of all sorts, literal thousands of years of Lun’Kat going forth and collecting, of her finding hobbies to entertain herself through life.
The art and the murals had been the most obvious, the highest up. I suspected most of what she had wasn’t in her main lair, a dozen side-passages on each side of the main room leading off to other collections. There was one passage directly across from me, and I could faintly see densely-packed dinosaur and monster heads, each one mounted on a plaque.
Gigantic cauldrons filled with all sorts of colored liquids, some still sparking, were neatly stacked on shelves in one part of the room. The next spot held thousands of gems, neatly sorted and organized by gem type, cut, color, and size. A number of them glowed, indicating that they held skills.
Next to that were metals of all types, each one forged into stacks of equal-sized ingots. They were stacked next to each other in color-gradient order, and some more common metals were significantly larger than some rarer metals.
Even as I watched, one of the piles arced lightning, while another one shimmered through the colors of the rainbow. A third was almost impossible to see, hiding in darkness, while a fourth was nearly transparent.
They weren’t mere metals. They were a vast hoard of magic metals. With the amount Lun’Kat had here, I could believe she was a significant factor in them being rare.
A dragon-size bookshelf tempted me, weathered scrolls as thick as I was tall stacked on top of each other. They were behind glass, and I had a feeling that this was only the “rare and valuable” collection, and that a full library waited in one of the passageways off the main lair. Terrible, terrible ideas were running through my head.
Surely, one scroll wouldn’t be missed? Right…?
Right next to her bed, in a seeming place of honor, were a number of knick-knacks I couldn’t quite see the point of. A rock. A broken eggshell. Half a bone. A melted helmet. A pair of dragon-sized boots. What dragon needed boots? A half-dozen scales, only one that looked like hers. A half-shredded giant stuffed toy, stitched like a dragon. It was well-loved, and missing an eye. A crudely carved statue, covered in clawmarks from an unskilled craftsman, depicting Lun’Kat and two small dragons. A few other pieces that didn’t look particularly valuable.
The only thing I could think of was they were each imbued with powerful magic - or were mementos, tokens of emotional significance. Memories of loved ones. Her kids, making her a mother’s century present.
There was an egg collection. Looking at it, I realized it wasn’t just eggs, and I would’ve felt a surge of avarice if I didn’t already have liquid greed running through my body. They were arranged in tiers on the floor, with the lowest tiers being large, but mundane-looking eggs against the wall. Then more fantastical eggs caught my eye. One medium-sized one had sparks coming off it, while another’s shell seemed to be made out of shifting sand. A third one I literally couldn’t keep my eyes on - it hurt just to look at it - while a fourth one had a slow, lazy trickle of smoke coming off of it. Some had bumps all over the place, while at least three were cubes.
Some needed some special containment. One was in a clearly-defined magical containment field, with a second being in an aquarium. Dozens more were around, each more fantastical than the next.
In front of the collection, clearly in a place of pride, were nine… well, calling them eggs was a bit of a stretch, not all were.
The first egg was waist-high on me, and so thin I could see the long jaw, sharp teeth, and closed eyes of the dinosaur inside. The juvenile status, the haze from the shell not being transparent, and the twisted contortion to stay inside the egg meant I couldn’t tell which dinosaur, exactly, it was. Not that my dinosaur knowledge outside of Remus was that good in the first place.
Next to it was a sapling. In a pot. A potted plant somehow had made the list of “most valuable eggs”, and yeah. I didn’t know what to make of that.
A clutch of small chicken-sized red eggs with golden lines snaking through them like cracks was next to the sapling. It was one of the only sets of eggs that had multiples, instead of one big egg.
Next to that was a sight that made my eyes sparkle, and the urge to go squeeeeee was overwhelming. I bit down on my tongue to stop myself.
Next to the eggs, frozen in stasis, one hoof up, was the most adorable white pony! Eyeing it a little closer, noticing the silver mane and golden hooves, it had clicked, and was the reason for my completely over-the-top reaction.
No, not a pony. It was the most adorable baby unicorn! Oh my god oh my god I wanted it! It was frozen here, being used as decoration. It should be free! Out in the world, running wild… with me on its back.
It better be alive. It better be alive! Ooooh, I’d…
The blasphemous thought of what I’d do to whoever hurt the baby unicorn, and who, exactly, that was, was like a bucket of ice cold water over me.
Right. Dragon’s lair. Sleep-deprivation was getting to me, causing me to be distracted, make bad mistakes.
I checked on the unicorn’s level, and just got back a white [Foal]. Interesting - the System considered it intelligent. Otherwise it would’ve come back as [Unicorn], instead of the child equivalent.
In the center, in the place of glory, the only one on a pedestal, was what looked like a perfectly round portal to the night sky. It seemed to be panning through the stars and galaxies, a burning star here, a constellation there. The glittering night sky and a wheeling spiral galaxy. Dozens of Celestial images slowly showed on the shell. The only hint it was an egg, and not a portal to space, was its location among all the other eggs.
Moving my head around, I noticed it was perfectly spherical. What manner of fantastical creature could hatch from this? Also. It was totally Celestial, and that seemed to be exactly me!
A leathery, rainbow-colored egg was next, knee-high on me. Green lightning occasionally sparked up from it, only for it to crash against a cage made out of magic, briefly flaring into visibility as it stopped the lightning.
An aquarium held a pair of eggs. One was a standard-looking monstrous egg, with swirling stripes in dark blue against the dark green egg. The second was a whole cluster of tiny eggs, each the size of my thumbnail. Tiny tentacles were all over the place, visible through the dark exterior.
Lastly, there was a small, fist-sized white, leathery egg, with what looked like a second egg merged into it. It was like Lun’Kat had taken two eggs, chopped one in half, and glued it onto the second one.
I started to carefully walk towards Lun’Kat, cursing as I was going in slow-motion thanks to [Bullet Time]. Gave me plenty of time to keep looking around.
A grand suit of draconic armor had its own stand, the night-black fierce-looking armor covered in dizzying arrays of glowing red runes. A number of weapons were behind it, each scaled up for a dragon to use. A large glaive seemed to be a favored weapon
I did not want to think what would’ve happened if Lun’Kat had decided to arm herself before going on her berserk rampage across the dwarven lands. Would the guardians have even been able to beat her back?
Thinking about that led me to look at Lun’Kat herself. Large, scabbed-over wounds crossed her body, some of them still slowly leaking pus. Her left wing was tattered and broken, awkwardly laid out instead of neatly folded back like her other wing. She was missing a claw from her right foreleg, and coal-black streaks of lightning scars were visible against her night time scales. A long scar was covering her eye, and a chunk of her snout was missing. A few bloody teeth were scattered around Mt. Loot.
I couldn’t see behind her to see what other injuries she had, but what I saw was significant.
As I continued walking towards Lun’Kat, I got to see inside the side-passages, the chambers full of secrets and loot that didn’t quite make the cut to the main lair.
Three whole chambers seemed to be zoos, animals frozen in stasis within carefully built and maintained habitats. Tigers and lions, triceratops and brontosaurus, heck, there was even a rat and an otter, frozen in playful poses!
The number of stasis fields scattered around Lun’Kat’s lair had me deeply concerned. I could easily screw up, put my foot down in the wrong place, and BOOM! I’d be frozen in one of the stasis fields, completely unaware of the world around me. Heck, assuming Lun’Kat kept me, and didn’t burn me or something, I could be in stasis for dozens of years.
Hundreds of years.
Tens of thousands of years.
I’d be trapped until she got bored of me, or somehow, by some miracle, someone unfroze me. Heck, for all I knew I’d turn into some sort of trading figurine!
“Yeah, I’ve got one human, which is worth at least four goblins.”
I hoped I was worth more than four goblins.
The chamber next to the rare scroll collection did indeed lead to a dragon-sized library, with endless shelves filled to the ceiling with scrolls, books, clay tablets, and all other manner of methods to record text.
I almost took a detour to investigate.
Surely, Lun’Kat would have some duplicated books that she wouldn’t mind lending out?
A room with a garden, all manner of exotic plants and herbs being grown.
A room that I could only think was a giant fridge, carcasses of animals hung all over, cool air blowing out. Refrigeration by magic. I’d tried to give the idea to Origen, and it hadn’t quite worked out. It was refreshing to see someone else had properly figured it out!
I almost expected to see a kitchen, before remembering that dragons had their own built-in stove.
One room was filled with altars, and sculpted statues of various dragon deities were on each one. A religious dragon? That was new.
Another room was filled with trees, fruit heavy on the limbs. More than a few were broken on the ground, having ripened until breaking point. I did stop here for a moment in indecision, having spotted the most elusive of prey hidden behind a dozen other trees, the bright colors unmistakable for anything else - mango. I took a step towards the side-passage, hunger, months of eating the denizens of the tunnels, and plain old desire mixing with sleep deprivation distracting me enough for a moment that I took a wrong step.
Good common sense reasserted itself quickly enough, and I was back on the move towards Lun’Kat. As I got closer to her, a few more things revealed themselves. What I had to guess was a portal, a massive pitch-black void surrounded by the densest, most complicated Inscriptions I could ever imagine. They were written in at least 24 different colors, layered and overlapping with one another.
Another major item, which had me rubbing my eyes and cursing Lun’Kat’s deceiving ways, and her love of illusions, was an honest-to-god Victorian-era ghost pirate ship. The entire cave and situation was surreal, and if it wasn’t for my healing prowess I’d assume I’d been caught in some illusion or hallucination gas. The ghost pirate ship, that seemed to have a thriving jungle ecosystem on deck, poking through the cannon holes instead of cannons?
Yeah, that had me pinching myself. Either Lun’Kat had an overly active imagination, or the Flying Dutchman-cross-jungle was a real thing.
How peculiar. How odd. Maybe that’s why it was here?
They were just a fraction of the wonders, a small slice of the marvels I saw. Dragon-sized baths, both water and lava, mystical fountains that sang music, wonders large and small were dotted around the cave, glimpsed through dragon-sized side passages. Literal millennia of collected wealth.
Still, as I was on final approach to Lun’Kat, two more things caught my eye, causing me to have a sharp intake of breath as I gazed upon her majestic, sleeping, injured form.
An exit. Freedom to the skies above. In it lay an opportunity, as Lun’Kat was sleeping roughly underneath it.
And the greatest of prizes, the most priceless treasure I could believe existed on Pallos - a clutch of dragon eggs, protectively nestled in her grasp.