Samazzar returned to the creche in a fog. Dussok walked next to him, a large claw on his shoulder gently steering him back on track every time he missed a turn on his way back.
The words from their guide flowed past him as Sam stumbled back. There was some sort of speech congratulating them on becoming adults. The speaker singled out the eight to ten hatchlings that had awakened their bloodlines by name to congratulate them. After that the guard leading them back to their cave admonished them that they would only be allowed to live in their creche for another two weeks. The next round of eggs would be leaving their incubation caves soon, and Samazzar’s brood would have to move out to make room.
It barely meant anything to him. The details of adulthood and his new responsibilities were distant concerns compared to the dismal failure of his bloodline.
Something must have gone wrong with the ritual, and Sam was going to find out what it was. Maybe Takkla was right. Lellasa certainly didn’t seem like she was up to any good. His eyes burned with shame as he remembered the way she’d dismissed him out of hand the minute his bloodline hadn’t awakened.
That was the only explanation. The shaman knew that he was Tazzaera’s apprentice and she had done something to the blood. Anger burned inside him, pounding with each beat of Sam’s heart.
His hand clenched on its own, the needles of his claws digging into the scales of his palm. Tazzaera and Takkla were right to warn him about Lellasa. If she was willing to go so far as to taint the awakening ritual to deny Samazzar his birthright, he would need to be wary of her in the future.
Sam missed a step. Dussok’s hand pushing him gently to the right as they rounded one of the passages toward the cave that had been his home for the entirety of Sam’s short life. Toward Crone Tazzaera who he’d have to leave alone.
His vision blurred, and Sam’s breaths came hot and short. In the back of his mind, an unwelcome voice whispered to him.
That he was making excuses. Dussok and Takkla unlocked their bloodlines and they were apprentices of the Crone as well. If Lellasa was going to sabotage Tazzaera’s disciples, it wouldn’t just be him.
There was no external reason for his failure. Sam didn’t awaken his bloodline because he wasn’t special. It was as simple as that. Whatever dragon blood he had running through his veins was so dilute that its presence was borderline meaningless.
Sam clenched his jaw, trying to use the dull pain to drown out the voice. It continued anyway, weaving its way insidiously from his subconscious until it thundered in his ears.
“Little dragon,” Dussok’s claw on his shoulder gently shook him.
Samazzar looked up, confusion in his eyes as his littermate’s grip pulled him from his introspection.
“We’re here,” Dussok’s voice was gentle. Sam hated that his brother had to speak to him like he was a fragile hatchling, barely out of the shell, but deep down he knew that at the moment, that’s exactly what he was.
“Is he all right?” Takkla whispered the question behind him, worry dripping from her voice as she addressed Dussok. “I don’t think I’ve seen him do anything but sleep and work. This just seems… wrong. It’s like Sam’s been replaced by someone else. This isn’t him.”
He shook his head, trying to clear the self pity and cobwebs. Takkla was right. This wasn’t him. He’d had setbacks before, but Samazzar was a dragon. A temporary convenience like the sabotaged ritual wouldn’t be enough to stop him.
Lellasa would need to do more than polish her scales and flash an alluring smile at him if she wanted to prevent him from seizing his destiny. Distracting him so that he wouldn’t notice her tainting the ritual would only slow him. Sam crushed the treasonous whispers with a clench of his tiny fast as his resolve returned.
One day, the name Samazzar would be whispered across the plains in tones of awe and dread. The shadow from his wings spread across peasants and emperors alike. Until then, Lellasa could laugh behind a manicured claw.
Sam knew who he was. What he was. It was only a matter of time and determination.
“Oh little dragon,” Sam looked up to see Crone Tazzaera perched on her ledge by the fire, the weathered scales around her eyes crinkled in concern. He hadn’t even noticed her approach.
“Dussok told me what happened,” she clicked her tongue. “You poor dear. I tried to warn you about the odds, but given the way you took to magic. Well-”
She smiled, her dull scales and chipped yellow teeth transforming the expression into something maternal and caring rather than predatory.
“I think even you had me convinced,” Tazzaera continued sadly. “I should have known better than to hope, but of all the hatchlings here, I was sure that you would be the one to awaken a truly great bloodline power.”
“If Lellasa hadn’t sabotaged the ritual,” Sam shook his head fiercely, his nostrils flaring.
Dussok shifted slightly, opening his muzzle to say something only to be silenced by Takkla’s claw on his bicep. Simultaneously, she shot a pointed glance at the Crone.
“Sabo-” Tazzaera paused, noticing Takkla’s intense glare. “Of course little dragon.”
“Even with Lellasa’s… actions,” the Crone’s voice was softer, almost tender. “There are still options. Bloodline awakening isn’t the only way to improve your physical body. For those species without bloodlines, there is always the path of the flesh.”
“Through the use of alchemy,” she continued gently. “A warrior can use potions to grow past their potential. The ingredients are expensive, but it allows much more control than the somewhat random evolutions caused by improving a bloodline. A user can target specific aspects of themselves such as strength, energy resistance, or agility in order to improve them.”
“How would I do that?” Samazzar asked, his head cocked to the side inquisitively.
“The same way human and elven warriors do,” Tazzaera responded. “By gathering ingredients and assisting me in brewing a potion to unlock your limits. After that it is a matter of pushing your body past what is possible. Each type of potion has its own training regime associated with it, and most of the higher tier recipes require dangerous and hard to acquire reagents, but there is a reason why their knights rule the plains.”
“Why don’t the powerful members of our tribe do this?” Sam frowned slightly. “It sounds like combining these improvements with their bloodline powers would make our warriors unstoppable.”
Crone Tazzaera shifted uncomfortably, almost embarrassed. She opened her mouth to say something, but caught herself.
“Because they can’t,” Dussok came to her rescue. “Only humans have the ability to follow the path of flesh and blood simultaneously, and even then only after they steal a bloodline from a race that has one.”
“No human has a blood legacy of their own.” Dussok shook his head. “Instead they are born with the adaptability to rob another species of its birthright. For the rest of us, as soon as you take the potion, your future with your bloodline is cut off forever. You will retain any powers you’ve already unlocked, but any attempts to purify your bloodline further will result in painful and abrupt death.”
Sam blinked, looking from Dussok to Tazzeara. The old kobold coughed nervously.
“So if I took this potion,” Tazzaera nodded slowly as Samazzar began speaking. “I would gain the ability to train myself to become stronger and faster, but I would lose the ability to unlock my heritage.”
“Yes Sam,” Tazzaera answered gently. “The potions are expensive. The materials are hard to source, brewing it is difficult, and even then not everyone survives using it. Worse, each potion after the first requires more esoteric ingredients. Many warriors spend months on quests to acquire the materials needed for an alchemist to improve their physique.”
“Past a certain point,” she continued, shrugging helplessly, “the alchemist has to customize the elixir to the person using it. The ingredients and methods needed for each dose make the higher tier concoctions unique, works of art. Despite all of that, most find them a small price for tangible increases in physical power.”
“No,” Sam shook his head.
“What do you mean no?” The Crone asked, confusion in her voice. “Even if the path of blood wasn’t all but closed off to you, the elixirs allow you to temper your body until it is stronger than most bloodlines. You would have to slay a truly formidable beast, one capable of wiping out our entire tribe in the blink of an eye, if you actually planned on improving your bloodline past the level of power offered by the potion.”
“Every kobold in our tribe that has access to an elixir uses one.” She shook her head. “It is good to dream of the potential in your blood, but the potions represent something more tangible. The power to actually make a difference here and now by giving you the strength to fight off stromcrows or goblin slavers.”
“She’s right,” Dussok chimed in, his steady voice as toneless and solid as ever. “Once I was awakened one of the tribal guards approached me. My ability gives me increased endurance and the ability to double my strength for a half hour or so. It makes me a perfect fit for the guards. They’ve already offered me an elixir and promised that I will be a sub officer within a year.”
“No,” Sam spoke the word again, this time with more force.
“Be reasonable Samazzar,” Tazzaera responded, a touch of sternness in her voice as she reacted to the fire in his tone. “I know that your failure to awaken your bloodline has been a shock to you, but there’s no reason to be like this. Not every kobold has access to the elixirs. I’m one three alchemists in the tribe with the skill and training to concoct it. This isn’t a small favor I’m offering you.”
Sam’s expression softened. Tazzaera, Dussok and Takkla all sat around him, concern on their muzzles. Even though Dussok and Takkla should have been celebrating their elevated status and the opportunities that came with it, instead they were here. Trying to pull him out of the funk that threatened to consume him.
“I understand that you’re trying to help me,” a smile flashed over Sam’s muzzle. “I appreciate the magnitude of the gift you’re offering me too, but I can’t afford to take it.”
“The elixir might be the most straightforward path toward power,” Samazzar clasped his claws together while he looked from face to face around the fire, “but that hardly matters. Becoming a dragon was never meant to be the easy path. So what if Lellasa tainted the ritual and I start my journey with one less bloodline power than I deserve? How many powers on the level of Dussok and Takkla’s would I need to evolve my heritage to the next tier?”
“About three,” Crone Tazzaera scratched herself behind an ear with a yellowed claw. “Maybe four if you’re a bit unlucky.”
“So I need three to four minor awakenings before I could enter hibernation and transform into a higher order of being?” Sam asked rhetorically. “After that, I suspect that the next evolution would be even harder to achieve.”
Tazzaera nodded slowly across the crackling fire.
“Compared to what I intend to do,” Sam shrugged, cheerful smile on his muzzle. “This is nothing. It was literally one sip of diluted blood. If we are going to become dragons, it will be atop a mound of corpses. Never mind a sip of salamander essence, I will need barrels of blood, purified until it sings with power. This isn’t even a setback. This is starting a marathon one step further back than everyone else. A disappointment, but nothing that will even slow me.”
“I’m glad you’ve found your confidence,” Tazzaera chuckled. “I’m not entirely sure where you’re finding it, but it’s good to see that you’ve found your way out of your malaise.”
“Dussok,” Sam turned to his littermate, nodding his head in thanks. “Don’t take that elixir. It might make you more powerful, but it will cut you off from your destiny.”
“My destiny?” The big kobold raised a single eye ridge.
“I always understood the magnitude of my goals,” Samazzar chuckled sardonically. “It’s hard not to when everyone around me keeps dismissing them as unrealistic fantasies. What I didn’t understand before I met Takkla and you is that it was impossible to achieve them on my own. Not because I lacked the willpower or the capability, but because I would go mad without someone to share the journey with me.”
“Don’t you see,” Sam looked from Dussok to Takkla and back. “Becoming a dragon isn’t just my destiny. The two of you are going to join me. It might take decades or centuries for us to reach our full potential, but we’ll be together every step of the way.”
“Do we even know if our bloodlines are more powerful than the elixirs?” Dussok asked. “I know that theoretically, if we absorb enough purified draconic blood we can keep evolving into more and more powerful species until we become dragons, but I have no idea how powerful a dragon actually is. They’re legends. Exaggerations. I don’t know if they’re twice my size or as big as this chamber.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Samazzar answered, shaking his head curtly before Crone Tazzaera could respond to Dussok’s question. “We are dragons. Even if pills and potions could make us more powerful kobolds, that would be like eating willow bark to treat an open wound. It might deaden the pain, but the injury would still be there. Without transforming, I would never feel right in my own scales.”
“Takkla,” he looked to his littermate as she sat quietly, paying attention to Sam’s every word. “You understand right? We weren’t born to stay small, to skulk in the shadows. We were born to fly. To inspire awe. Anything less than that would be a fundamental betrayal of who we are.”
“Rather than teach us about the elixirs,” he finished, turning back to the Crone and gracing her with a bright smile. “I’d much rather you taught me how to extract and purify draconic blood. That’s a skill we will actually need.”
“I don’t know about the rest,” Tazzaera chuckled, “but Samazzar has the right of it on the relative power levels. There is a maximum number of elixirs that a being can take. It can make them fast enough that it’s hard to see them without magic. It can make them tough enough that arrows break on their bare skin. It can even make them strong enough that they can lift and throw boulders the way we play with kindling. Despite that, at the end of the day, an elixir can’t make a user anywhere near as strong as a dragon.”
“Still,” Dussok frowned slightly. “What are the chances that we can capture even one being with a draconic bloodline? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a kobold evolving even once outside of a campfire story.”
“Shush,” Takkla elbowed him, frowning. “We’ve gotten this far listening to Sam, and even without an awakened bloodline you’ve heard the whispers. He’s one of the greatest talents the tribe has ever seen. If anyone can do it, it’s him, and even if he doesn’t succeed completely, we’re likely to become campfire tales in the process ourselves.”
Dussok chewed on his lip for a second, the big kobold’s eyes flicking from Samazzar’s intense stare to where Crone Tazzaera could barely restrain herself from chuckling.
“Fine,” Dussok relented. “This is probably a mistake, but Takkla has the right of it. The little dragon has already taken us farther than we could ever have hoped. Without him, we probably would have starved to death halfway through the winter. For better or worse, let’s do it together. I just hope we end up as a campfire tale rather than roasting on some ogre’s spit over an open flame. I still think the second is more likely, but Samazzar has earned a chance.”
“Great!” Sam chirped, clapping his claws together excitedly as he practically hopped to his feet. “You may be dour, but you’re my brother. I couldn’t imagine fulfilling my destiny without Takkla and you.”
“It’s good to see that you’re completely back to your regular self little dragon,” Tazzaera’s dry laugh filled the cave. “Now, indulge an old kobold. How do you plan on going about becoming a legend?”
“Magic,” Sam grinned excitedly. “Then we’ll use that magic to hunt and capture the monsters we need, but the first step is still you teaching us a lot of magic.”
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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