“Stand in line and wait your turn,” the kobold that spoke practically glistened in the firelight.
Her delicate red scales, free of any dirt or blemish, glowed like rubies. Sam’s eyes grew wide as they traveled over her body. Her tail was covered in stylish ribbons, laced up and down its sinuous length and ending in delicate bells that tinkled gently as she moved.
He gulped as her tail swished, the bells jingling slightly. In front of him, Dussok stiffened. Takkla looked back at the two of them, frowning, before she stomped on Dussok’s claw. He hissed, shifting to his other foot as he frowned at his littermate.
“You can close your jaw,” she pouted. “It’s not like you’re going to catch any rats by leaving it open.”
“What?” Dussok asked, leaning away from Takkla in an attempt to avoid any future reprisals.
“Her scales are polished anyway,” Takkla muttered, gritting her jaw as she stared up at Dussok. “It’s all artificial. She’s not even that pretty anyway.”
“But,” Sam interjected, still staring at the female kobold as she guided the first of their littermates up to drink a red liquid from a mug made of bone, “she jingles when she moves. It’s so-”
“Not you too,” Sam blinked as Takkla’s tail slapped him across the shins, an unexpectedly perturbed look on her face.
“Don’t either of you dare look at that hussy,” Takkla sniffed, raising her muzzle. “As your littermate, I have the right to veto any potential mates and both of you are far too good for that trollop.”
“Takkla,” Dussok responded carefully, “I’m not sure that’s how this works-”
“No,” she stomped her foot on the floor, eyes shooting sparks at Dussok, “the answer is no and that is FINAL.”
Wisely, Samazzar kept his opinion to himself. He’d never seen Takkla this angry, but he knew better than to put himself in the line of fire. Silently, he apologized to Dussok for abandoning him to her wrath. The bonds between littermates meant a lot, and the big kobold was probably his best friend outside of Crone Tazzaera, but it wasn’t worth drawing Takkla’s ire.
“I don’t want to mate with her,” Dussok continued, blithely unaware of his own peril, “but even you must admit that the lacing on her tail ribbons accents her scales nicely.”
“No,” Takkla shook her head, arms crossed in front of her torso. “I don’t have to admit that because I am a kobold of taste and breeding.”
“Quiet,” a guard walked by, rapping the butt of his spear onto the stone of the floor. “You have better things to do than ogle Lellasa and argue. The ceremony is about to begin.”
Takkla looked like she had more to say, but Sam put a claw on her shoulder and shook his head. She might be angry at him later, but he wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if he missed out on a bloodline ability because he didn’t hear all of the tribal shaman’s instructions.
“Hatchlings!” Lellasa shouted, silencing the crowd of whispering hatchlings. She sashayed to the stone table, placing a dainty claw next to a mug of red liquid. “Today is a monumental day in each of your lives. In his youth, our chief, Duromak, slew an elder salamander. The battle lasted hours, but eventually he single handedly slew the great beast of scale, fang and fire.
“In celebration, he crafted this very cup from the beast’s spine.” Triumphantly, Lellasa lifted the bone mug above her head, her tail jingling from the sudden action. “Now, on the six month anniversary of every kobold’s hatching, the tribe bequeaths that kobold a tiny amount of the salamander’s blood. For some, this will ignite the dormant dragon blood that lies within each of us.”
She waved a manicured claw theatrically. A burst of magic made the eight braziers placed about the chamber flare higher, drawing awed silence from the rest of the hatchlings.
“If your powers awaken,” Sam barely noticed the tremble in Lellasa’s claw as she placed it on the table to continue speaking. “Your standing in the tribe will swell. Mates will be plentiful, and merits will follow closely behind.”
“After all,” Lellasa smiled, her pink tongue darting between her teeth as she spread her arms wide. “What could be more attractive to a kobold than the blood of dragons running hot and thick through her mate’s veins.”
“For the rest of you?” She lifted the bone mug above her head. “This blood represents our tribe’s cohesion. For over a decade, each and every kobold has sipped from this cup. We all share the same blood and the same life. We live a hard life, but together we will thrive in these caves and make a better world for all of our eggs.”
For a second, nothing happened, the crowd of hatchlings still enthralled by her brief speech, Then one cheered, triggering the others into action. Before long the line of kobolds devolved into unruly clamor as they excitedly whispered to each other.
“Calm down!” Another wave of Lellasa’s arm in time with her words dimmed the fires around the room. “We can only perform the awakening on one hatchling at a time and disruption will only slow things down.”
“You,” she pointed a sharpened and delicate claw at the kobold standing nearest to her. “Approach and embrace your destiny. Let us see if you have what it takes to awaken your bloodline.”
The indicated hatchling glanced back and forth quickly to ensure that the shaman was actually pointing at him. As soon as he realized that Lellasa could have no other target, a grin split his face and he ran toward her.
“Drink shallowly,” she smiled coquettishly as she handed the mug to him. “Too much of the salamander’s blood will kill you outright and there is no reason to believe that the amount you drink will increase your chances of awakening. Even a drop of the salamander’s blood will trigger your draconic bloodline if it is there. If it isn’t? More will simply waste an important resource of the tribe.”
The hatchling took the cup with both hands, tipping it up to his mouth and taking a narrow sip before returning it to her. He stepped away from the table, glancing around in confusion as Lellasa gazed at him expectantly.
Then he doubled over, clutching his stomach. Sam frowned slightly as his littermate shook and heaved. Lellasa clicked her tongue in disappointment, as the poor creature promptly threw up the blood it had just swallowed.
“Unfortunate,” Lellasa said sadly as she motioned with a hand toward a guard to usher the prone kobold aside. “Hopefully, the next hatchling’s bloodline will be purer.”
One by one, the hatchlings in front of Samazzar drank from the mug. Most immediately rejected the elder salamander blood, vomiting it back up onto the cavern cavern floor as they writhed in discomfort. The remainder stepped to the side, invigorated and chatting quietly amongst themselves.
Lellasa graced each of the successful kobolds with a smile and some private whispered comments. Despite Takkla standing next to him, Samazzar could feel his heart pattering at the prospect of speaking privately with the enthralling shaman.
The line dwindled until only Dussok and Takkla were between him and Lellasa. Sam shifted from foot to foot, his claws clicking against the stone floor as he tried to bleed off nervous energy. Everything was coming down to this moment.
He didn’t know what his bloodline ability would be. It might be a boost to his physical capabilities, or a hardening of his scales. Maybe he would gain some small magic, like the ability to sense treasure or create fear. It could be anything.
Dussok walked up to the table and accepted the mug handed to him. Sam couldn’t even focus. He wondered what the awakening would feel like. Would it be a tingle of energy running up and down his spine? Maybe it would be a rush of energy or a sudden epiphany.
Sam blinked as the entire line cheered. Dussok handed the mug back to Lellasa, his biceps veritably rippling as his bloodline activated. Sam smiled as his littermate joined the fortunate cluster, a rare grin splitting his muzzle. It was good to see Dussok so happy. The big kobold spent so much time fretting and assuming the worst. He deserved a lucky break.
“I can’t keep watching his back,” Takkla muttered, her claws balled up so tight that a few droplets of blood spattered on the cave floor. “I will catch up to him. I will grab him by the ears and force him to look at me.”
Before Samazzar could say anything, Takkla exited the line and approached the table, determination powering each and every step. Without a word, Lellasa extended the cup to Takkla.
Takkla glared at the older kobold as she gripped the mug in both hands. She put it to her lips and tipped back her head, letting a trickle of the blood drizzle down her throat before slamming it back down on the table.
Lellasa covered her muzzle, failing to hide a bemused smile as Takkla stared defiantly at her. After a couple of seconds, Takkla began blinking, her stubborn expression fading to confusion as she patted her face frantically.
Takkla stumbled, catching herself on the table. Lellasa cocked her head, watching the disoriented hatchling try to right herself with the same amused expression on her face.
With a frown, Sam rushed forward, grabbing her arm. Takkla’s claws dug slightly into his scales as she steadied herself.
“Are you all right?” Samazzar asked quietly, concern in his voice as Takkla kept blinking, her eyes unfocused while she hung on to him for dear life.
She tried to take an uncertain step forward before tilting sideways. Samazzar caught her as she stumbled again, this thin arms all that was stopping her from taking an unceremonious spill on the cavern floor. Worry filled his mind as Samazzar struggled to keep Takkla steady.
“Sam,” she whispered back, “I can see everything. The colors, your scales. There’s just so much more.”
His grip on her arm tightened as Samazzar finally looked into her eyes. The sight of it rocked him to the point that he almost released her.
The slit of her pupils had almost doubled in size. Sam felt himself falling into them. It was like Takkla knew everything about him. As if there was nothing he could hide from her gaze. He shivered as an almost instinctive fear gripped him.
Takkla released his arm and stepped aside, wobbling for a second before she flashed a quick grateful smile over her shoulder at Sam and joined the rest of the kobolds that had managed to absorb the blood’s potency.
“Come Samazzar,” Lellasa’s voice rubbed over his scales like the softest of rabbit fur.
He cocked his head at the shaman as she picked up the mug full of elder salamander blood. She smiled at him, the barest hint of her pink tongue darting between her sharp teeth.
“Of course I know who you are little dragon,” her words slithered around him, coiling and entangling him like snakes. “Why wouldn’t I keep track of my mistress’ new apprentice? I am your senior sister after all. I would be remiss if I didn’t know what my cute junior brother was up to.”
Sam stared at her, frozen. He hadn’t felt like this when the tunnel millipede chased him. He hadn’t felt like this when cave-ins had threatened to trap him. It was like a storm crow was swooping down at him and his only defense was to hide or run.
“Drink,” her whisper seemed to come from everywhere at once. “With your progress in the mysteries, I’m excited to see what your bloodline unlocks. Be careful though little dragon”
Her eyes flashed mischievously.
“You aren’t the only predator in this cave,” her tongue darted out once more. “If you don’t watch yourself, I might just snatch you up. Then, you'd be calling me mistress rather than Tazzaera.”
Sam shivered, unable to move as Lellasa gently put the mug in his hands.
“You’d like that wouldn’t you, little dragon,” the shaman leaned forward until her hot breath was brushing over his scales. “Mistress.”
Hastily, Samazzar brought the mug to his lips, tipping the cup back and letting a couple drops of the blood land on his tongue. It burned like molten copper, but Sam could tell through his magic that there was no actual heat.
His throat bobbed, and the liquid fire traced a line down his esophagus. His entire body grew warm, as if he were feverish. Despite the heat, he felt light, as if he could run for hours and then climb a cliff face at the end. Looking down at his hands, Sam’s mouth fell open in wonder.
Beneath his scales he could see the vessels, filled to the brim with hot blood as they pulsed with latent power. His heart began to thud in his chest, a steady drumbeat that marked surges of warmth and energy throughout Sam’s entire body.
Vistas opened up before him as the shackles of his tiny body fell away. He could do or be anything. He could climb any mountain or vanquish any foe. Finally, Sam was taking his first step toward claiming the body that was truly his. Euphoria filled him as the scalding blood rushed to his head.
Then, his stomach cramped.
Sam cocked his head, unable to comprehend what was happening through the heady mix of magic and pleasure pounding in his veins.
The back of his throat seized up, and a second later, Samazzar was on his hands and knees. His eyes couldn’t focus on the stone in front of him as he tried to make sense with the sudden pain coursing through his body.
Muscles spasmed and his entire body was wracked with pain as his mouth opened of its own accord. Another cramp shook his body and a trickle of blood welled up in the back of his throat, burning like white hot coals.
“No,” Sam whispered, trying to swallow down the bile and blood. “It can’t happen like-”
His body shook again. Stomach acid and blood splattered the stone.
He tried to take a breath only for his body to shudder once more as the contents of his dinner joined it.
The smell of bile stung Sam’s sensitive nose as his claw reached up instinctively to touch his throat. It was raw. His entire body hurt from the violence of his retching, and his eyes burned from the stomach acid he’d deposited on the cave floor.
“Disappointing,” Lellasa sighed from above him before she dismissed him with a glance.
Samazzar shuddered again, the world reeled and spun around him. He drew in a shaky breath and his vision blurred with unshed tears. It was probably the irritation from vomiting so violently. It must be.
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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