“Come hatchlings,” Crone Tazzaera’s rheumy voice crackled, silencing the cave full of rambunctious youngsters. Their play fights wrapped up, leaving a pair of doglike kobold pups, their scales still tiny and soft from their recent hatching, snapping at each other over a piece of meat.
“Now,” she hissed, eliciting a stream of startled yips as she cracked her cane against the hard stone of the cavern floor. Quietly she hobbled over to the cave’s campfire, the clack of her bone cane against stone echoing over the crackle of flames.
“Gather round,” Tazzaera pushed herself up onto a stone ledge beside the fire, sighing as she finally got off of her arthritis twisted feet. “The nights run cold after First Snow and my joints ache more and more with each day.”
Claws scraped on the floor, and twenty pairs of yellow eyes trained themselves on her hunched form. With a huff of exertion, she pulled her aging body further up onto the granite shelf, curling her tail behind herself as she sought out a more comfortable position
The crone was far from young, her scales faded from the beautiful crimson of her youth to a dull ochre. Her yellow eyes were covered in the film of old age. She opened her mouth to pant from the exertion of crossing the cave, tongue lolling slightly, revealing a maw full of yellowed and chipped teeth.
“Come,” she motioned with her free hand, setting her walking stick into the alcove next to her. “Pull yourselves closer. My lungs aren’t what they used to be, and I’m not going to shout over you.”
Crone Tazzaera coughed, her dull orange scales glittering in the firelight as spasms rocked her frail and twisted body. The hatchlings watched on, one or two muzzles furrowing in concern.
“There, there,” she continued. “Now, it’s almost time for the lot of you to sleep. I don’t want to find Takkla sleeping in past noon again. But first, let me tell you a story.”
Eagerly, the tiny forms scampered on all fours to surround the fire. Their scales still tiny and soft, fresh from the egg, the hatchings sat on their haunches staring expectantly at Tazzaera as she shifted slightly.
“Let me tell you a story about who we were.” The crone motioned with her cane, pointing at one of the pups after another. “This is not all we were meant to be, scared and helpless as we cling to caves. No, our birthright is so much more than that.”
The tiny kobolds leaned near, whispering excitedly as their claws skittered against rock.
“Good, Good,” her muzzle bobbing contentedly as the crone squinted her dim eyes, trying to make out all of the younglings. “For almost twenty years I’ve told this story to every brood I rear for the Chief.”
“You’ll probably be my last,” she chuckled slightly, a wet and raspy noise. “Every morning, my body is slower to rouse itself and already I can feel Winter’s grasp upon my lungs. Still, I’ve lived longer than any Kobold has any right to. Soon, when food runs low it’ll be my turn to walk out into one of the snowstorms that clog the mountain pass every year.”
“Until then,” she smiled, chipped and worn teeth shining dully in the fire light. “You’re mine to rear and train.”
The hatchlings shifted uncertainly, not entirely sure what Tazzaera was speaking about. Outside of the cook that provided them with stew once a day, the Crone was the only other being they’d known since the moment they crawled out of their eggs. Usually she let them fend for themselves, exploring the mountainside outside of their cave or hunting rats for extra protein, but periodically she would round them up for a long winded speech full of words they didn’t quite understand.
“Kobold,” her voice washed over them. “What does it mean to be a Kobold? We are the weakest of the thinking races. Small and agile, we only survive through traps, stealth, guile and numbers.”
“In the Devil’s Teeth mountain range, we can only make a home for ourselves in the lowest of the foothills,” Tazzaera grabbed a stick and poked the fire forcefully as she spoke, the sharp, jabbing motions throwing up a cloud of sparks and a wave of heat. “Outside of a clawful of small woodland creatures such as rats, and cave lizards, everything is a threat to us. From the stormcrows that ride the clouds to the fox-spiders of the deep caves, every predator considers us prey.”
“But that is simply a description of the current state of affairs,” her filmy eyes gleamed in the firelight. “That is not how it always was. Once, thousands of years ago, our bloodline bubbled with power and magic. We ruled the skies over these mountains, monsters of myth, wings, and flame. Our people took what we wanted, our claws like scimitars as they sliced the thickest of armor, and our scales as large and hard as boulders. If any man or beast dared to stand against us, we would leave only ashes and lamentation in our wake.”
“Once, we were dragons.”
“We’ve fallen over the millenia,” the Crone sighed to herself. “With each generation our bloodlines thinned. Dragon became drake. Drake became wyrm. Wyrm became dragonkin. Dragonkin became lizardfolk. Finally, the lizardfolk with the weakest of blood became us. Kobolds.”
“Our cousins and relatives no longer recognize us,” she shook her head ruefully, shifting slightly on the uncomfortable rock. “To even the lizardfolk, we are an embarrassment. A stain on their name and honor. They kill us out of hand for what we represent. Failure, stagnancy and degeneracy.”
“Of course,” Tazzaera pulled a long, thin bone pipe from her satchel and began filling it with smoke leaf. “Even with everything we’ve lost, there are some things that time and fate didn’t see fit to take from us.”
The pipe filled, Tazzaera extended a claw and squinted at it. For a second, nothing happened, but quickly a dull glow built up around the claw. Finally, after a second or two of intense concentration, anemic blue flame sprang forth from the tip of her talon.
Eagerly, she placed the pipe in her mouth, using the flame to set the smoke leaf alight.
“Even if we no longer have the strength and majesty of our ancestors,” she coughed, expelling the thick blue smoke from her lungs. The Crone grinned triumphantly at her wards, pipe in hand as she panted from the exertion of lighting it. “We still have their intelligence, and with that intelligence comes the ability to learn.”
“Kobolds may not live as long as Humans,” she snorted and brought the pipe to her muzzle once more. “We may not even live as long as goblins, but in the time we have, we can learn the deep truths. Our tribe remains free because our magi have long confounded the goblin war bands with their spells and traps.”
“The goblin tribes of the plains may be larger and stronger than us,” she tapped the ash from her pipe before continuing. “But even if our flesh is tender and weak, our blood does not forget.”
“Each and every one of you bears the faintest of draconic hints of draconic blood.” Tazzaera gestured expansively around the circle of hatchlings with her pipe. “No matter where the winds of fate take you, you must not forget your birthright. As Kobolds, we can learn magic, but more importantly, we possess a noble bloodline.”
“It’s true that our bloodline is weak,” she shrugged indifferently. “Barely a trace really, but that doesn’t mean that our tribe doesn’t see impressive manifestations from time to time. Our Chief, Duromak, can breath a gout of flame once per day. Others are stronger or have better senses than the average Kobold.”
“We may barely be a coal compared to the inferno that is a real dragon,” Tazzaera took another puff from the pipe before doubling over into a wet hacking cough. “But an ember and a fire have the same origin. Each of you has the ability to absorb the blood essence of other creatures that bear a draconic bloodline.”
“Of course it isn’t easy.” She waved a claw dismissively. “To be absorbed, blood essence would need to be extracted from that creature’s heart and purified into an elixir before it could be absorbed, but it is not beyond any of you to earn your own draconic manifestations.”
“Naturally,” she continued. “It’d be incredibly foolish to try this. As the weakest creature in these mountains, you’d need to find and subdue a creature with a stronger blood than you. More importantly, you’d need to capture them alive and hold them still for long enough to withdraw their heartsblood.”
“But all other thinking races call us foolish,” Tazzaera chuckled darkly. “What is one more risk? Living as a Kobold is a hard life. We survive on the scraps that larger creatures won’t stoop to taking. Each year disease and hunger claim almost as many of us as predators and goblin slavers.”
“At some point,” the Crone shrugged indifferently, “it makes sense to take a foolish chance. Our race is adept at living in the dark. We know how to set traps, skulk and hide. Who is to say that we cannot trap a creature with a proper draconic bloodline. Is it so impossible that our tribe could revitalize itself in the blood of our kin?”
She spat on the ground, the pipe forgotten in her hand. A chipped claw reached up to her scaly cheek, tracing a poorly healed scar.
“Who is to say that our kind need skulk in the dark, forever hiding from our relatives,” she stared off into the night, the hatchlings surrounding her forgotten. “We are only one successful hunt, one turn of luck away from turning everything around. With the right bloodline and legacy, we could return once again to our rightful places. Lords of the sky.”
She stopped speaking for a moment. Her eyes almost fully clouded as she stared past the fire at the mouth of the cave. Nothing moved outside, the night black as pitch beneath an overcast sky.”
“We could be so much more,” Tazzaera hissed. “Predators rather than prey. Masters of wing and flame.”
Her monologue was interrupted by a snort. The Crone’s eyes returned to the present as she looked around the fire. Nineteen of the twenty hatchlings lay, muzzle to tail, curled up in tight circles around the warmth of the fire, snoring gently. Apparently, her story had enthralled them straight to sleep.
The twentieth stared back at her, his eyes shining with excitement. His muzzle fixed into an affable smile as his tail quivered with barely contained energy.
“Oh Samazzar,” the Crone laughed at the enthusiastic hatchling. “It would be you that stayed up for the entire story. Look at you, all of your brothers and sisters are already asleep.”
The young kobold’s eyes didn’t move from Tazzaera’s hunched form, filled with an intensity that belied his age.
“You didn’t finish Crone Tazzaera,” his voice was thin and reedy, with just a hint of a childish lisp. “What happens next? How do we reclaim our bloodline and become lords of the sky once again?”
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Bio: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the streets at dawn looking for an angry fix of machine translated light novels, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night