“It’s really dark down here Sam,” Takkla whispered, stumbling as she reached out for him. He winced as her claws scraped noisily against the rocks of the lower tunnels.
“I still do not see how you plan on accomplishing anything without a torch little dragon,” Dussok blinked uncertainly as he peered into the darkness. “I understand your concerns regarding the smell of smoke, but it will hardly matter if we fall down some endless crevice first.”
“Crone Tazzaera taught me enough magic to find my way in the dark,” Sam replied cheerfully, the mystery of heat already infused into his vision, transforming the darkness of the cavern into a prism of reds, oranges and yellows. “Just grab onto my tail and I’ll guide us to where I’ve set the traps. Nothing to worry about!”
Takkla stopped walking, instead wringing her claws together as she squinted against the darkness. Her ears lay flush against her head while her twitching tail beat a nervous tattoo against the rock of the cavern floor.
“Crone Tazzaera says that I’m not supposed to trust boys who tell me to hold their tails in the dark,” Takkla mumbled the words, the heat of her blush clearly visible in Sam’s magical sight.
“What,” Sam jumped slightly, his throat bobbing fiercely. “No, I mean-”
“But it’s not like Dussok will see anything in the dark,” Takkla mused, tapping her clawed fingers nervously against each other. “Plus Crone Tazzaera said we should listen to you Sam. I guess I could hold onto your tail if you promise not to tell anyone.”
“No,” Sam could literally see his heat rushing to his cheeks as he shook his head furiously, ears flat against his skull. “I didn’t mean to suggest anything… bad. Here! You can just hold onto my rat stick! It’s more than long enough that two kobolds can grab onto it without any trouble.”
Triumphantly, Samazzar extended his stick. After his last trip to Center Cave he’d modified the implement, lashing a sharpened stone spearhead to it with straps of leather as well as using scraps of cave rat fur to pad the yoke so it wouldn’t bite into his scrawny shoulders nearly as much.
“We still can’t see it little dragon,” Dussok replied dourly, waving a hand blindly in front of his face. “It’s too dark down here for us to do much of anything unless you literally put the stick in our hands.”
“Please call me Sam,” Samazzar winced. “Everyone that calls me ‘little dragon’ acts like the nickname is a joke. I still don’t understand why more of us don’t try harder to pursue our birthrights.”
“Everyone just seems content to hide in our caves when monsters go by,” he continued, taking Dussok’s claw in his and placing it on the wooden rod. “Day in and day out, they hunt in the same spots, gather the same resources and make the same goods. It just doesn’t seem right for a race with the blood of dragons coursing through our veins to be so... passive.”
“Sam,” Dussok sighed, reaching up with his other claw to scratch himself behind his ear. “I’m bigger and stronger than you, right?’
Samazzar looked his litter mate up and down. There was no way he could deny it. Standing back to back, the tips of his ears would barely brush Dussok’s shoulders, and the larger kobold was already beginning to show an adult’s muscle and definition. Morosely, Samazzar noted that Dussok’s thighs were almost as large as his entire scrawny torso.
“Yes,” Sam agreed, unhappily glancing at his own stick like biceps. From the size of his muscles, Really, the only places he outshone his litter mate was in his agility and cunning.
“I might be the biggest in our litter,” Dussok continued, his voice growing quieter as he spoke, “but the other creche cave had a bigger kobold than me. Her name was Littok, and every time the caves would have a game of tug o’ war or cave spiders, she was always bigger, faster and stronger than me.”
“Then,” the big kobold pressed on grimly, “just before winter set in, she ventured out to try and kill a rabbit. She got one too. A big grey and black hare. I watched her running back to the caves, the proudest grin you’ve ever seen on her face and the rabbit over her shoulder.”
“A storm crow took her,” Dussok stopped speaking for a moment, struggling to find the right words. After a second or two of silence, he continued, his voice even more subdued. “It struck like a bolt of lightning. One moment Littok was hoisting her trophy over her head, within sight of the caves. Then there was a puff of black feathers and she was gone. It just… picked her up without even slowing down.”
“That’s terrible!” Sam clapped a claw to his muzzle. “This happened right in front of the entire litter?”
“You were helping the Crone draw water from the stream,” Dussok shrugged unhappily. “Littok was an important lesson for all of us. We might all have the blood of dragons, but kobolds are small and weak. One of us might be able to grab a morsel of food or a small treasure from another predator by biding our time, but at the end of the day, kobolds aren’t meant to stand and fight. Our race is meant to skulk and hide, only striking when we hold an absolute advantage.”
“What!?” Sam asked, cocking his head to the side as his ears flicked upward in surprise. “How is that what you took from that awful story?”
“Clearly,” he continued, shaking his head in sharp, quick motions, “it illustrates a problem of planning. You’re right that the world is out to get us. We are smaller and weaker than almost every predator out there, but we are also smarter.”
“If you can’t come up with a plan to do what you want,” Samazzar finished, smacking one claw into the open palm of another. “That just means you need to work harder until you’re stronger than the storm crows. If we work together, I’m sure the three of us could become powerful enough to have entire cloaks made from the feathers of storm crows!”
“How?” Dussoks spread his claws apart. “I am not strong enough to fight one, and your magic, while interesting, is only useful for sneaking and tricks. The three of us would be nothing more than snacks.”
“But that won’t always be the case,” Samazzar chirped excitedly. “Come spring, we will all go through the bloodline awakening ceremony. I know that not every kobold awakens a bloodline power, but I’m sure that we’ll get something good. In the meantime, if I practice my magic enough, soon I’ll be able to do all kinds of things with it. After that, it’s only a matter of stealing the bloodline of monsters with dragon blood. Even if we’re small now, we don’t have to stay like this forever!”
“You’re not going to let the fact that we’re some of the weakest scavengers in these mountains deter you, are you?” Dussok asked, a hint of a smile on his muzzle.
“Nope!” Sam grinned back, extending the rat stick so that Dussok could grab onto it. “We might not look like dragons right now, but as long as we keep working, it’s only a matter of time.”
“I think you’re insane,” Dussok replied. “Whether you die in some easily preventable accident or somehow succeed, that doesn’t change things. Someone must have dropped your egg when they brought you to the creche.”
“Still,” Dussok smiled once more. “Your insanity is a bit refreshing even if it will probably get us all killed one day.”
“I’ll bet you ten merits that both of us survive,” Samazzar grinned back.
“If one of us died,” Dussok squinted at the darkness in Samazzar’s general direction, “it would be impossible to collect on the bet.”
“Sounds like you’re too much of a coward to take the bet to me,” Sam did his best to avoid giggling as he responded.
Before Dussok could respond, Takkla’s high pitched voice cut in. “I don’t suppose I’d mind too much if I got to hold Dussie’s tail.” She was blushing, her own tail curled around her body as she grasped its tip in both claws, swaying slightly back and forth. “He’s so big, and the scale patterns around his eyes are so nice I just…”
She stopped talking with a startled ‘eep’ jumping straight up when Takkla realized that both of her companions were paying attention to her idle mumbling.
“Dussie?” Sam asked Dussok, the scaled ridge above his left eye traveling upward of its own accord.
“I have absolutely no idea,” the larger kobold replied dryly. “Takkla barely even musters the energy to play ‘tunnel spiders’ with the rest of the litter. I don’t think we’ve talked more than five or six times before Crone Tazzaera sent us down here with you.”
Sam chuckled slightly as he reached out and put Takkla’s clawed hands on the rat stick. Her ears drooped in disappointment, but she gripped tightly nonetheless.
With a slight tug on the stick, Samazzar led the way, guiding his two companions in silence toward the pit traps. The going was slow, even with a guide Dussok and Takkla couldn’t see the uneven cavern floor, so tripping and stumbling was commonplace.
Finally they came upon the first trap, and Samazzar frowned. The stalk grubs were still in place, munching away on the various pieces of fungus that he’d suspended in the middle of the pit, but there were no signs of cave rats.
His eyes itched as Samazzar pushed almost all of his willpower into them. The dull colors of the ambient heat around him exploded into a tapestry of red, orange and gold as he looked for anything that might give him a clue as to the cave rats’ location. The magical vision wouldn’t reveal the scratches of their claw on stone, but it should have been sufficient to reveal the heat trails of any animals that scurried through the cavern in the last day or so.
The roost of albino bats on the ceiling erupted into a bouquet of colors as Sam looked up. The blind sleeping mammals huddled together, a cluster of oranges and reds safely out of his reach. On the ground, a handful of trails denoting individual scavengers wove through the cave. Most were likely attributable to the waist high beetles that collected the albino bats’ droppings, but at least one large and sinuous line of residual heat could only come from a snake or a similar elongated predator.
Samazzar sighed. Nowhere in the cavern could he see the broad strokes of color from a rat colony swarming by. Similarly, he couldn’t find even a hint of the slowly cooling midden heaps that the rats usually left in their wake. A colony would consume anything in sight, stripping it to the bone in a matter of minutes. If the cave rats had come through the cave recently, there would have been something. Droppings, scraps of bone and flesh, or maybe even a smear of blood.
“Why did we stop Sam?” Dussok asked, looming behind him, shuffling slightly to avoid running into Samazzar.
Behind Dussok, Takkla crashed into his back, unable to stop in time. Sam bit back a grin, as she took advantage of the situation, running her claws briefly over Dussok’s scales. The big kobold shifted uncomfortably but said nothing as Takkla extricated herself from him.
“The traps are empty,” Samizzar responded simply. “It doesn’t look like the cave rats have come through this tunnel complex in the last couple of days.”
“Then we wait,” Dussok replied, shrugging as he tried to shift himself away from Takkla. “It might be best to set up a base camp where we can start a fire. That way Takkla and I can have some light while we wait for the traps to do their work.”
“That makes sense,” Sam nodded thoughtfully. “I’m starting to get a headache from keeping my magic active anyway.”
“Then lead on,” Dussok nodded, his expression as grave as always. “Once we have the fire lit, Takkla and I will be able to set up our camp while you scout out the nearby area.”
“Don’t wanna…” Takkla mumbled, but both Samizzar and Dussok simply ignored her as Sam carefully guided them out of the main cavern with the traps and toward a more secluded side tunnel.
Before long, they arrived in a small cave, just off of the tunnel Sam had found. Takkla clung a little closer than necessary to Dussok as the responsibility to collect firemoss fell to Sam, the only kobold currently capable of sight.
Efficiently, he made a circle of smaller stones and filled it with the flammable vegetation. A couple clicks of rocks snapping together later, the dry moss ignited, casting a warm red glow all about the room.
Sam glanced around their campsite. The ceiling was maybe twice as high as Dussok was tall without the usual stalactites. The walls were rounded, leaving a chamber shaped like an egg on its side. At the far end, there was a tunnel about halfway up the wall, bored into the rock by a small stream that trickled past their campsite and into the main cave.
Dussok went to gather water using a small cup made of hardened fungus while Sam tended the fire. Takkla placed their three bedrolls in a pile and promptly lay down on them, soaking in the warmth from their campfire.
Sam opened his mouth to point out that she was supposed to be setting up camp, but stopped. Her nose was already under her tail, gentle whirring snores complimenting the crackle of the burning firemoss. Instead he just smiled, unpacking some of the dried rat jerky he’d packed for the trip.
Dussok returned, glancing at Takkla before sitting down on a rock near the fire. He placed skin full of water between the two of them before grabbing his ration of jerky. They sat for almost a minute before Sam began to grow antsy. First his tail started twitching, thwapping against the rock floor, but before long he couldn’t keep biting his tongue.
“You know she likes you?” He asked, grinning madly at the bigger kobold.
“Yes,” Dussok replied, closing his yellow eyes as he leaned closer to the fire, trying to ward off the chill of the deep caves.
“I can smell that you have different sires,” Sam was practically bouncing. “There would be no rules against your mating. Do you plan to pair off with her?”
“Maybe,” Dussok didn’t open his eyes.
“She’s asleep,” Samazzar’s tail twitch impatiently. “You can say whatever you want without her hearing you.”
“She does that a lot,” Dussok agreed, his eyes still closed. The fire crackled as a pocket of moisture in the fire moss snapped under the heat. Sam could feel the damp spot absorbing the fire’s energy before it spat sparks into the air.
“It’s not like she’s your sister Dussok,” Samazzar placed his elbows on his scaly knees, resting his muzzle in the palms of both hands. “We might be litter mates, but hardly anyone cares about that sort of thing anymore. Really, it’s just like being neighbors that are about the same age.”
“She is young and I am young,” Dussok replied, opening his eyes to briefly look at Samazzar, “and right now I am tired. You should go to sleep soon as well litt-”
The bigger kobold caught himself. “Samazzar,” he continued speaking, his momentum slightly thrown off. “You’ll need to check the traps first thing tomorrow morning. You might feel at home in the deep tunnels, but I’d prefer to be back in the creche as soon as possible. I’ve heard too many tales about what awaits our kind down here.”
The bigger kobold stood up and walked next to the fire, eschewing the pile of bedrolls that Takkla was hogging, he curled up next to the fire, the tip of his tail obscuring his eyes. Samazzar stared at him for a minute or two, trying to decide whether it was worth the hassle to wake his larger litter mate to pester him with more questions.
Finally, Sam gave up. He quickly finished his jerky, and left Takkla’s share out by the bedrolls before putting more firemoss on the blaze. A couple minutes later, he was curled up next to the fire himself. The ground was hard, but the warmth more than made up for it, swiftly speeding him into dreams where he swooped through the sky, hunting the hated stormcrows.
His eyes blinked open. The fire was nothing more than embers and his tiny limbs were sore from inactivity. Takkla’s jerky was gone and she lay atop two of the bedrolls with the third draped over her. Dussok was still asleep, but Sam really didn’t see any point in waking him. He placed some more firemoss on the coals, blowing on the embers to spark the blaze once more.
Satisfied that his companions would wake to warmth and light, he exited their sub cavern humming quietly to himself. Soon, the twists of the tunnel drew him away from the fire’s light and he activated his magical sight once again.
A smile erupted on his face as the world transformed into a palette of orange and red with occasional puffs of dead air hanging around Sam’s ankles. Once he was a fair distance from the camping chamber, he doused himself with water from a hollowed out gourd before rubbing himself down with moss and dirt from his satchel to minimize the smell of smoke on his scales.
Nodding to himself, Samazzar continued to the main chamber, rat stick over his shoulder. Ten minutes of cautious prowling later, he drew close enough to one of his traps to make out the squirming hot forms of six plump cave rats filling the bottom. A smile split Sam’s muzzle. Even from a distance, he could hear their delicious, frenzied squeaking.
Samazzar scurried closer, his eyes fixed on the writhing bodies trapped in the spike-rimmed hole. He lifted the stick off of his shoulder, preparing to thrust it down into the pit when suddenly, the rats all stopped moving at once. Icewater trickled down Samazzar’s spine something small and feral deep inside of him, the instinct that warned him to freeze when a storm crow flew overhead, made the scales behind his ears itch and tingle.
He froze, rat stick held tightly in his claws. Glancing furtively from side to side, Sam saw nothing except the fading heat trails from the rat colony that deposited the six tender morsels into his trap. A drop of something viscous splattered onto the rocks near Sam, hissing as it began to erode the stone.
Fear dulling his movements, Sam looked up. Twisting between the stalactites that lined the ceiling was the dull warmth of a colossal sinuous shape. He lost count of its hundreds of sharp legs, hooked into the very rock of the ceiling, as his eyes widened. Sam’s mind quaked in terror. All he could process was the massive lengths of chitin and mandibles as its beady eyes made contact with him.
It chittered loudly, a harsh and angry hissing sound. Sam’s stomach jumped into its throat as the giant bug dropped from the ceiling towards him.
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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