“Come on Takkla,” Sam grunted under the weight of the millipede’s corpse. The sharp ridges of its chitin biting into his scales as he plodded across the dark stone of the cavern.
Now that the adrenaline had faded from Sam’s system, the massive insect pressing down on his bony shoulders terrified him. Its oval torso was slightly bigger around than Dussok’s chest, large enough that Sam struggled to grip either edge of its shell with his skinny claws.
Silently he marveled that they’d managed to kill the creature. True, it had actually killed itself, thrashing about below the kobolds’ hiding spot until eventually it fell asleep from a lack of good air and expired on its own. The three of them had waited until the body began to cool in his heat vision before venturing down and dragging its corpse from the toxic room.
Sam was more than glad that they hadn’t seriously entertained the idea of fighting the millipede. The chitin covering its body wasn’t even scratched as Dussok and Sam struggled under its weight, scraping it across the sharp rocks of the deep caves. Even if the three of them had been armed with the sharp metal picks used by the tribe’s guards, he doubted that they would have done anything to the monster’s natural armor.
“It’s only a couple rats Takkla,” Dussok’s deeper voice rumbled from next to him. Luckily for Sam, Dussok was shouldering most of the giant millipede’s weight. Still, his back and arms ached as he staggered under its massive bulk.
Samazzar winced as the millipede slipped slightly, one of its sharpened legs digging into his spine. A warm trickle ran down his back as it dug through his scales and drew blood.
Exhaling, Sam pushed upward, lifting his half of the millipede up slightly in order to rearrange the body. Dussok grunted as Sam’s actions moved more of the animal’s weight onto him for a fraction of a second.
“But I’m tired,” Takkla whined from behind them. “The rats are really heavy. I’m going to need a break soon or I’ll just collapse onto the stones and lay there.”
Sam fought the urge to turn and stare at Takkla. Even the simple act of twisting his torso was beyond his aching muscles at the moment. They were almost back to Center Cave, but he’d carried just as many rats without a break or serious difficulty in his last expedition.
This time? The giant millipede was an order of magnitude heavier. Every breath rasped in his throat. It almost felt like he was back in the cave, clambering up the wall in an effort ot escape the bad air. As much as he heaved for breath it was never enough to lessen the dull burn of his aching muscles.
“If we don’t rest,” Dussok rumbled, irritation adding a slight hiss to his voice, “you don’t rest. The journey has been hard on everyone, but soon we’ll have merits and a chance to relax. You just need to bear with it for a couple minutes more.”
“I’m a growing kobold,” Takkla muttered in dissatisfaction. “Exposing me to stress like this will make my adult scales come in thin, dull and brittle.”
“Stress?” Samazzar asked. “It’s just a little bit of work after a fun adventure! Pretty soon we’ll be back in the creche telling the rest of the litter about all the fun we had getting chased by monsters before outsmarting them. Think of how great that’ll be!”
“I’m not sure I remember our ‘glorious triumph’ the same way you do Samazzar,” Dussok snorted. “I seem to recall us scurrying on our hands and knees through tunnels like vermin. We’re lucky we didn’t soil ourselves.”
“But think of how exciting that was!” Sam beamed at Dussok. “It was so much bigger and stronger than us that there was no way to fight it head on. We outsmarted it and triumphed. Now we’re returning to the tribe with a grand prize. Plus, it’s good practice.”
“I’m going to regret asking this,” Dussok sighed, “but what was fighting a horror that could probably wipe our entire tribe out good practice for?”
“For when we begin evolving into dragons!” Samazzar chirped, his tail wagging slightly behind him. “Everything carrying even a hint of a draconic bloodline is going to be bigger and scarier than us. Even baby wyverns eat the storm crows that terrorize our tribe when we leave the caves. We won’t be able to outfight them, so our only option is to trick and trap them.”
“Have you considered not antagonizing monsters that barely consider us a snack?” Dussok asked wearily. “You do realize that we could always choose to not do that, right?”
“Can I pick that?” Takkla called out from behind them. “I prefer it when someone else brings the food to me. I don’t actually enjoy having to run from my food. It’s unnatural and far too much work.”
“Come on you guys,” Sam shook his head as he struggled under the millipede’s weight. “If we spend our lives running and hiding, that’s all we’ll ever be. Timid scavengers.”
“We’re kobolds,” Dussok shrugged. “That’s what we are, timid scavengers.”
“For now maybe,” Samazzar winked at Dussok. “Fire runs through our veins. You can feel it Dussok, I know you can. The magic and dominance that was ours, hiding just out of our grasp. All we need to do is have the bravery to reach out and grab it.”
“You’re absolutely barking mad Sam,” Dussok shook his head, a hint of a smile on his muzzle. “I’m sure you know it, but I thought I would just reiterate it.”
“Everyone says that,” Sam chuckled, pep returning to his aching claws as the gates to Center Cave came into view. “It worked though. Heat magic let me see in the dark, and good air magic let me lure the millipede into a trap. Now we’re returning as champions with enough food to keep the stew pot full for weeks.”
“It worked,” Dussok agreed. “I’m not sure I share all of your enthusiasm toward hunting monsters that could kill us by accident before they even realized we were sneaking up on them, but you’ve certainly proven your point on learning magic. I plan on approaching Crone Tazzaera about learning some myself when we return to the creche.”
“Great!” Samazzar agreed cheerfully, “I was going to visit her too. We can study together, it’ll be a blast.”
“Fun,” Dussok intoned the word without any emotion or inflection as he slipped the millipede off his shoulders right in front of the gate.
“I’m coming too,” Takkla interjected from behind.
“I thought you said you wanted to take a nap as soon as we were back in the creche?” Sam cocked his head at her, still breathing heavily from dragging the giant abomination from the deep tunnels to the doors of Center Cave.
“Napping alone is boring,” she countered shyly, dropping the stick full of cave rats next to the millipede. “Learning magic sounds tiring, but at least we’d be doing it together.”
“That’s great!” Sam clapped his claws together in excitement. “We can all learn magic, hunt monsters, and advance our bloodlines together. In a year or two, no one will recognize us. We’ll be the most powerful trio of pups to come out of our creche.”
Dussok opened his mouth to respond, the ever present doubt and cynicism begging for release. He was interrupted by the gate opening. Paklen stepped outside, her eyes wide and her tail twitching nervously.
“Samazzar!” Sam’s head snapped to Paklen as she shouted. “What in the name of the one thousand and one mysteries is this?”
“Why did you single me out?” Sam’s ears drooped under her withering gaze. “Dussok and Takkla are with me too.”
“They’re sensible kobolds,” Paklen shook her head. “If they ran into something like a tunnel millipede, they’d know better than to try and put together some sort of half baked plan to kill it. This is your doing and we both know it!”
“But you don’t even know what happened!” Sam objected, wringing his claws together. “Maybe it was injured or already dead when we found it. For all you know, we put together an ingenious plan and brought the millipede down safely.”
“Did you?” Paklen arched her brow skeptically.
“Well-” Sam looked down, dragging one of his foot claws across the cavern floor.
“No,” Dussok responded dourly, crossing his arms. “The little dragon went out to check his traps. The next thing we knew he was yelling at us to run. We spent almost a half hour fleeing from the millipede before Samazzar led us into a cave filled with poisonous fumes. He helped us find a hiding spot away from the gas where we huddled until the millipede exhausted itself and eventually succumbed to the toxins.”
“Come on,” Sam pouted. “It was an ingenious plan even if I only came up with it while we were running away from the monster.”
“I’m sure,” Paklen rolled her eyes as she walked alongside the millipede, occasionally prodding it. Finally she stopped, rapping her claw on its chitinous hide before letting out a low whistle.
“Its armor, legs and venom sacs are all intact,” She nodded appreciatively. “Even if millipede meat tastes like crap, the rest of those materials are worth a fortune to the tribe’s alchemists and the Chief. As dumb as fighting a tunnel millipede might be, you struck it rich little dragon. You’ll be rolling in merits once the butcher gets around to processing this behemoth.”
“Roggsar!” Paklen shouted over her shoulder for her partner. “The little dragon brought back another haul. Grab a couple of the layabouts lounging around the cave. We’re going to need help dragging all of this to the butcher.”
About five minutes later, a quartet of adult Kobolds listlessly filed outside the Cave’s gates, their eyes nervously taking in the caverns beyond the Center Cave’s defenses. One of them spotted the dead millipede and yelped in distress before taking an instinctive step backwards.
The collection of new kobolds looked to Paklen with uncertainty. At least two of them tried to shy away from the giant corpse and towards the Cave’s giant wooden gates. She sighed, placing her forehead into a free claw.
“This is Samazzar and as of this moment he is fairly wealthy,” Paklen waved her pick vaguely in Sam’s direction. “He is going to need help bringing the dead tunnel millipede here to the butcher. I suspect most of you haven’t earned an honest merit in months. This is your chance to actually earn some food without having to beg or steal from your neighbors and friends.”
“I don’t want to pick that up,” one of the new kobolds pointed a claw at the millipede. “It looks like it’s heavy and I can smell it from here. If he has merits, he should just give them to us. I’ve been living off of lichen and snow for weeks.”
“You know what?” Paklen shook her head. “I’m done here. Feel free to hire them or send them back little dragon. Just don’t give them anything if they won’t work. It seems like there’s more of this lot every year, just eating, sleeping, and complaining. It’s no wonder the tribe’s struggling this winter.”
Samazzar frowned at the gaggle of adults lazing about. Even Takkla, the most lethargic kobold in their litter, joined his expedition and helped drag back a brace of dead cave rats. Sure, she spent most of the journey complaining, but at the end of everything, she was here and so were the rats.
The rest of his litter risked starvation because there wasn’t enough food for everyone in the tribe. Sam had always thought that every kobold in the tribe was doing their best to fix the situation, but as he stared at the four half asleep adults, anger began to seep into him.
They scavenged for only themselves, leaving the rest of the tribe to fend for itself. Then, when Paklen offered them a chance to earn some food, they turned down the same work Sam had been doing for hours as ‘beneath them.’ Worse, they still had the temerity to demand merits despite having done nothing to earn them.
He closed his eyes, emptying his lungs before slowly breathing backing in. His magical sight tracked the dead air leaving his body and the good air flowing back toward him. Silently he counted to ten, trying to center himself before addressing the adults.
When he finally addressed the indolent adults, it was with a forced smile on his face.
“I will offer two merits to anyone that helps Dussok and I bring the millipede to the butcher. It’s a bit heavy, but Dussok and I managed to drag it for a couple of hours on our own, so another ten minutes of work shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”
“It’s gross and heavy,” the adult that had spoken before crossed his arms. “Look at all the extra food you have. Don’t you know that you’re supposed to honor your elders? We’re hungry and we’re more important to the tribe than a bunch of hatchlings. You don’t have to be a hardass like Paklen, just give us some merits.”
“How?” Samazzar crossed his arms, ire burning in his tiny yellow eyes.
“They’re wooden rings,” the older kobold responded in confusion. “All you have to do is take a couple of them off of the string and hand them to each of us. It shouldn’t be that hard for you to figure out.”
“No,” Samazzar waved a claw in frustration. “How are you more important than us? We worked hard and risked our life to bring food back for the tribe. I offered you two days worth of food for ten minutes of work. That’s probably ten times what the work is actually worth and you’re still refusing it? I honestly don’t see how you’re worth anything to the Tribe.”
“I told you that the millipede is gross,” the older kobold frowned. “Someone else can do the gross work. You have more meat than you can eat in two weeks. It’s just selfish of you not to share with us when we’re hungry.”
“Go chase your tail,” Sam spat the slur out, spine straight as he glared up at the adult.
Takkla gasped behind him and the older kobold’s eyes widened. Samazzar’s fangs flashed in the torchlight as a grin of satisfaction slid across his muzzle.
Then stars erupted in his vision as the adult’s clawed fist slammed into Sam’s cheek. The cold stone of the cavern floor rammed his bottom jaw upward, slashing open his tongue on a fang. He tried to blink away the woozieness as the taste of blood filled his mouth.
A foot thumped into his stomach. Samazzar curled into a ball as blows began to rain down on him. He blindly grabbed a nearby tail, earning a yelp as he pulled it to his muzzle and sank his fangs into it.
“The little shit bit me!” The voice was distant, almost like it was from the end of a tunnel. “Rip the runt’s ears off!”
Sam tried to squirm away, the world blurry and spinning around hims as a pair of claws grabbed either side of his head. He whipped his head back and forth, trying without any success to break the larger kobold’s grip on him. Another claw planted itself on the crest of his head as someone grabbed his right ear.
He clenched his jaw, anticipating unimaginable pain only to hear a dull thud followed by one of the sets of claws release him. Sam cracked his eyes open as the flurry of kicks stopped suddenly.
Above him, an adult kobold blinked stupidly at the spiked tip of one of the millipede’s legs as it jutted out of his chest. Blood trickled from the kobolds mouth. A second later, he fell to his knees, claws grasping at the improvised weapon thrust through its chest.
Sam propped himself up onto his elbows, blinking dizzily. The adult kobold that had started the fight lay at the ground at Takkla’s feet, another of the millipede’s legs shoved through his bicep. Closer to Sam himself, Dussok ducked under a claw swipe from one of the two standing adults before cracking the kobold across the jaw with a counter punch of his own.
The adult hit the ground with a thud, limbs flopping bonelessly. Their other assailant took advantage of the moment to land his own blow on Dussok’s ribs. Sam’s big littermate grunted as the blow twisted him off balance. Dussok stumbled to the side, wobbling as he tried to right himself.
His assailant lunged forward, trying to take advantage of the moment of disorientation only to collapse screaming as Takkla slammed into him, digging her fangs into the kobold’s hamstring and ripping.
The strange kobold collapsed screaming as he clawed at the raw meat of his mangled leg. Sam spat out glob of blood and spit. Deep inside him, something feral spread its wings and hissed in delight at the adrenaline and savagery of the moment.
Whoever that adult was, they’d walk with a limp for the rest of their life, but that was only if they made it through the winter. It didn’t matter. They’d laid their hands on him in anger. They’d tried to steal from Samazzar’s horde.
Never again. He’d been too weak to fight the tunnel millipede, but that was only to be expected. Almost losing a fight to a bunch of layabouts and thugs? That was a different story.
He was a dragon. Despite his tiny claws, thin scales, and narrow limbs, Samazzar knew in his heart of hearts that he was more than the body he was hatched into. It might take years of planning and artifice, but he would fulfill his birthright, if for no other reason than to never be the prey of this lot ever again.
The scratching thump of claws on stone and the jingle of armor heralded Paklen and Roggsar as the two guards came running. Sam pulled himself unsteadily to his claws just as the two kobolds pulled up short.
“By the stones themselves,” Roggsar muttered, his eyes wide. “This is a bloodbath.”
“Roggsar!” the kobold with the spike through his arm shrieked. “Arrest these vermin! They killed Donnas and crippled Kastlan.”
Roggsar stepped forward hesitantly, his pick pointed loosely in Sam’s direction, but his eyes locked on the kobold dying on the cavern floor, a millipede’s leg rammed through his chest.
“Stand down Roggsar,” Paklen practically growled as she slammed the handle of her pick into other guard’s chest. “Iksos and his gang tried to rob these hatchlings. I watched it all through the viewport. Despite outnumbering the hatchlings and launching a surprise attack, they got the absolute tar beaten out of them.”
“But Donnas is about to die,” Roggsar frowned, pointing at the kobold bleeding out on the cavern floor with his spear. “That’s murder. We can’t just let that go unpunished.”
“You mindless fool,” Paklen slapped his pick aside. “The punishment for using force to rob a member of the Tribe is death or exile, and as we both know, exile might as well be a death sentence. They just saved us the trouble.”
“You can’t do this,” Iksos grunted as he pulled the millipede’s leg from his bicep, blood spurting from Sam’s tooth marks in his tail.
“Get out,” Paklen pointed into the deep tunnels with her spear. “Start running now, and don’t stop. If you return to the Tribe there will be a trial and you will be sentenced to death. Exile gives you a chance you don’t deserve.”
Wordlessly, the bleeding kobold grabbed the companion Dussok had knocked out with a punch to the chin. Iksos glanced at his dying and crippled friends with a snarl before limping down the tunnel away from Center Cave.
Sam walked over to where Dussok lay on the cave floor, breathing heavily. He extended a claw to his littermate grinning madly despite his left eye beginning to swell shut.
“Thanks Dussok,” Samazzar grunted as he struggled to help the heavier kobold to his feet. “I didn’t know what to expect when they attacked me. You’re a good kobold to have at your back.”
“You’re crazy,” Dussok shook his head, the barest of smiles on his muzzle as he massaged his injured ribs. “If you didn’t know what to expect, why would you ever antagonize four full grown adults? Are you sure they didn’t drop your egg before you hatched?”
Sam spit out a mouthful of blood before grinning at Dussok again. “When have you ever heard of a dragon voluntarily surrendering its prey?” He asked, the rhetorical question drawing another pained groan from Dussok.
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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