Mattariel

In Opposition - Act 2

Apr 3rd, 2020
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  1. This story contains formatting tweaks and functions that don't work on pastebin, so I recommend viewing on Sofurry, which you can access by clicking you're of age from here: https://www.sofurry.com/view/1563252
  2.  
  3. Furaffinity version: https://www.furaffinity.net/view/35743452/
  4.  
  5. In Opposition
  6. Act 2
  7.  
  8. Interlude
  9.  
  10. 4th Season, 1561
  11.  
  12. A thousand enemies lay beyond the door. That much had become obvious a day ago, if that; just hours would be more accurate.
  13. Irven stared at the barricade and his mind was buzzing. He had slept, although not as much as he would have liked, aware that the clan would have carved him to pieces were it not for Praevadi. Just as they may not have been hostile if she hadn't announced he was a 'scalecaster', a human imbued with dragon blood and flesh to awaken magic in a race that struggled to grasp the mysterious force. He didn't know where these traits were within him but they were there; everything about the last two days proved that beyond all doubt and kobolds detested him with good reason. He was an affront to them as a human benefiting from a dragon's pain or death, even if he never knew or had control of how it happened.
  14. Irven pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to make sense of his new reality. Praevadi, Clan Star-Sail's leader and a dragon nearing the end of her life, had both thrown him to the wolves yet constructed a plan to keep him safe. It was in some regards worse than his life back in Castle Jorsviek; there he was expected to succeed and the only real threat came when he stepped out of line or made mistakes. He'd learnt to become very proficient in whatever he was instructed, to keep himself safe barring the last year or so of his time at Jorsviek, where he would be drugged into unconsciousness, cut open and toyed with, and began to experience migraines and less intense but equally worrying aches all over his body. His mentor, Provost Brevshket, a full scalecaster who looked more dragon than human, had made Irven a test subject.
  15. Here though? Irven had no idea what to expect. At least in Jorsviek everything was reliant on his ability to adapt to a task and accomplish it. If Irven succeeded at his challenges he would eat, he would sleep, he would be able to have free run of the castle and engage in whatever activity he desired under the watchful eye of Brevshket's second, Caeris, who would both keep him from harm but also to maintain control.
  16.  
  17. A parallel came to mind that brought Irven a degree of calm; the only difference between then and now was that of perspective. He had to prove himself and turn this clan of kobolds into his new Jorsviek. Instead of one overbearing overseer, he had many. Instead of punishments being doled out for failure, he had already failed and had nothing but a path to redemption set before him. As bad as this all seemed, the positives were potent; compared to the cold and distant Caeris, his protector and onlooker was the partner of his bed; Exemplar Kayl.
  18. Beside a few colourful books he'd read, there were no accounts of human and kobold relationships. Perhaps Irven's view was skewed as he'd never had feelings for anyone anyone besides a few platonic friendships back in Jorsviek, but to stumble on Kayl, to have her save his life and grant him his freedom, and then for Irven to save Kayl's life in turn when she had resigned herself to a suicidal task to slay Brevshket, a task she succeeded yet still gave up when captured by monstrous spiders. A spark began between them when they met, and it had been kindled at astonishing speed with every trial and struggle.
  19.  
  20. So here he was, in bed, having enjoyed the pleasures of her flesh, second only to the joys of her adoration, both feelings he reciprocated. He admired her hard, light blue scales, the dark grey horns of her head and the curves of her form, the compact and muscular frame of a warrior, the wide hips of a mother, the thick thighs of a full figured woman, the exotic sway of her tail; all his. He was her mate by clan law, and she was the reason he now had a life to live.
  21. Irven once more stared at the door and realised that no matter what happened, with Kayl at his side and her beside him, they would make this work.
  22. Irven settled down again, and with a final look at Kayl's resting expression at such ease, drifted back off to sleep.
  23.  
  24. * * *
  25.  
  26. Part 5: Creation
  27.  
  28. Irven was walking blind as he shielded his eyes against the braziers; his darkvision continued to be slow to manifest and the light sources disturbed it, and for the fourth time that morning, he bumped into a kobold.
  29. “Damn it. I'm sorry!” Irven said, only to receive an indignant huff as the fellow walked away into the murk of Irven's vision. The giant of the populace stood to one side to let his eyes adjust again.
  30. He looked around at the well hewn stone buildings built into the walls, the flag-stone covered streets with angular, sloped curbs on the edges; it reminded Irven of the nearest human city, Korstrad, and wondered which copied the other. The windows lacked glass and instead featured canvas blinds on thin wooden frames, with doors of brass-bracketed black wood. The darkness below and the illuminated banners overhead gave a great deal of import to the depictions of Praevadi reaching for the stars, as if she was above the people in all ways. Or perhaps the light showed her sacrifice for the people and a constant strive for betterment.
  31. Irven, while aware of the other residents, who looked at him with equal parts fear and disgust but none said a word, let his mind wander.
  32.  
  33. As much of an outsider as he was, Irven could still appreciate the industrious way they moved from place to place; it reminded him of the servants in Jorsviek against the listlessness that happened in human cities. He also couldn't help but remember how monstrous kobolds were depicted in his studies and on the opinions of the humans; savage slaves of greedy dragons, both of which would raid and destroy human villages and towns. These reptilian folk were different, true, but they were civilised folk of another stripe, a different nation rather than something to be feared.
  34. Irven chuckled as he realised that people treated other nations as monsters all the same; the conflict between Vliechov and Bralran, far to the west, was infamous as being long lasting and increasingly obscure in its justification; a territorial dispute lead to Goshev, now a vassal state of Vliechov, being taken over by Bralran when the country rebelled. At first, Vliechov wasn't interested; it would have been a hard fought battle in a time when the Oligarchy was still solidifying control elsewhere. When Bralran decided to quell the rebellion they took over the land and sought to use it as neutral ground for future dealings with Vliechov since it was the closest landmass, but instead, when negotiations turned sour over a fifty year period, Vliechov struck back and took back over, mustering their full might once the rest of their territory was stable.
  35. Many of Goshev's settlements were distinctly Bralric in name; Marfield, Whiteshore-on-Cliff and the like, but they were names that Vliechov kept to help smooth things over with the populace, which were largely Bralran nationals and non-combatants. Such was Vliechov's way; solidarity through force and a distinct mistrust of anyone outside their domain.
  36. Even the peaceful alliance between Vliechov and the Vhakram Republic to the north was filled with cutting barbs at their secretive ways and fear of their impenetrable defences. Famously reclusive, not dissimilar to kobold clans, to the point some suspected the republic, lead by humans, were secretly controlled by a type of dragon quite unlike the rest of the world had seen.
  37. The tangent sent Irven's attention back to his present situation: the conflict he was party to in his new home.
  38.  
  39. Clan Star-Sail was a full town built inside a mountain, and even featured some grand balconies that were exposed to the surface which had farms, growing beetroot, potatoes and other hardy vegetables, as well as launching platforms for the eponymous Star-Sails that kobolds would fly on the high winds or glide to ground level. The theatre he had passed when he first arrived was indeed a public speaking platform and they did occasionally feature entertainment, although Irven didn't know exactly what form; Kayl had never watched, as before her exile, she was almost always busy with training scout recruits or out on missions.
  40. The city proper was roughly halfway up the mountain, and they even had interior towers, both up and down, where the council members, as well as their direct subordinates, lived above whereas they had mines, water refineries and mushroom gardens below. The common kobold lived on the widest section of the city but, surprisingly, Praevadi's lair was here as well, connected to the outside.
  41.  
  42. Right now, though, Irven was in the records wing, and it was his first day as scribe. Now that he had calmed down and his eyes were better adjusted to the clash of light and dark, he once more weaved around the three feet tall crowd.
  43. The building was decorated with a banner, written in draconic; a flowing line that danced up, down, back and forth but they started and ended the same angled line moving up into and down out from each word.
  44. A lilac kobold smiled at him from the entrance, which was a welcome change of pace. A female that looked him over with mauve eyes, hidden behind a huge pair of spectacles with the arms modified to slot over her tiny horns.
  45.  
  46. “Welcome to the Star-Sail knowledge repository, Irven!” the kobold said. A female, a bit shorter than the three foot average and dressed in an oversized robe.
  47.  
  48. “Glad to be here. I don't know much else I can do, but if it involves books and writing, I'll gladly apply what I can.” Irven bowed to the kobold, who snickered and held out her hand, the sleeve flopping up her arm as she did. He held it with two fingers and a thumb and shook it.
  49.  
  50. “I'm Gren, the head archivist. Come on inside and I'll see what we can do for each other.”
  51.  
  52. Irven was led into a whole different world; it was quiet and calm, kobolds here were busy carrying stacks of books between rooms but rather than the rapid flow outside, it was measured, each kobold nodding to each other, or holding hushed conversations in little alcoves. They entered a smaller study and Gren rounded a large, ornate wooden desk, kept clean and well polished and only a couple of books obscured the immaculate, near reflective surface.
  53. Behind her was a magnificent array of tomes, both new and old. Irven even recognised a number of them; On the Magic of Saints by Herevik Jorat (High Priest of St. Zoeli), Draconic Flight Mechanics and Myths by Provost Keltrav and one of the books he knew with perfect recall, Spell Theory, Invocation and Application. Written by Provost Brevshket.
  54.  
  55. “This is my office,” Gren said as she rested her hands on the table, “you'll be working directly for me.”
  56.  
  57. Irven narrowed his eyes and said, “to keep an eye on me, right?”
  58.  
  59. Gren's smile was slow to build as her eyes darted side to side and a weak laugh barely escaped her before she said, “I guess it was pretty obvious, wasn't it?”
  60.  
  61. “It's fine,” Irven sighed, “I just want to prove myself and do my part. I want to form a body of trust of my own creation and prove to the clan that I'm here as an ally, an asset... a friend, even.”
  62.  
  63. “If it means anything, I trust the Exemplar beyond any doubt and I even voted against her exile. I truly believe you're not here to harm us.” Gren tapped a claw against her pointy teeth as she ran her other hand across a number of books on the shelves, before producing a tome, licked a fingertip and opened it. After she turned a few pages, she placed it on the desk, facing Irven.
  64.  
  65. He glanced over it; a study on scalecasters. Irven felt his face grow taut as he resisted the urge to grimace.
  66.  
  67. “You have to understand that your... condition,” she said but seemed unsure of the word, “may be under control for the moment, but many scalecasters have had good intentions that eventually turned against the draxae-kha.
  68. “Indeed one of the first scalecasters, Nestra Priwin, was a well respected scholar even by dragons. He even began a crusade against malicious drakes that was seen as favourable by other dragonlords who lived in peace with the humans, but he partook in their essence to empower his magic and eventually these standards of what one could deem 'evil' changed from 'malicious' to any that had lost their temper or struck back in self defence.
  69. “Therefore to be a scalecaster is an ongoing struggle as the ever-present ego manifests in the psyche, and the moment human and dragon pride merges and overrides their common decency is the moment a true monster is born.”
  70.  
  71. “Ego?” Irven tilted his head; beyond the conventional meanings, he knew there was a deeper use Gren called upon, but he struggled to recall it.
  72.  
  73. “All true dragons, and scalecasters as they grow more like them, struggle against an instinctual part of the self. We call it, in laymen's terms, the 'draconic ego'. It is what drives dragons to act by both instinct and even more complex actions in the name of the All-Dragon. This covers everything, such as the urge to mate, even if they usually lead isolated lives, all the way to ransacking man-kin settlements if left unchecked. It's also what grants them their combat prowess, their knowledge of flight and other crucial skills like manipulating magic, even if they don't truly learn to cast spells until later, but it allows them to breathe fire, ice and so forth without having to practice.”
  74.  
  75. “Surely their parents teach them these things, right? Even play fighting with siblings when dragons are young, like most species and races.”
  76.  
  77. Gren shook her head, and replied, “you need to understand that dragons are a primal entity in the world, as crucial to it as air or water, as they are the means by which all magic enters the world and permeates everything around them. They don't know this as hatchling, nor do they understand this blessing or how important they are, so they develop the ego to protect them and give them the strength of will befitting their importance.
  78. “So a hatchling may know much from birth; defending themselves, how to fly and such, but they do learn and hone their skills as they grow, often by learning from their parents or clutchmates as you mentioned. A scalecaster, once his ego develops, will start to crave more power, and it is my theory because they find the human form lacking, and through the paths they are aware of; few can fly or breathe magic, so the ego pulls harder on the avenues they do know, and the human psyche often cannot overcome it.”
  79.  
  80. “Can't it be stopped?” Irven asked as he studied the page; it was mostly the same information Gren was discussing, but he reinforced this new knowledge with the lecture, as he had back in Castle Jorsviek.
  81.  
  82. “That's what I'm hoping we can address. We have never had a fledgeling scalecaster in our midst, especially one so new to the power and influence inherent. I hope that with careful instruction, meditation and training, you can overcome these urges, just as Her Most Wise Praevadi does and unlike horrible, abusive masters like those that live elsewhere, like the monstrous tyrant Jaraesi the Huntress, or the late and infamously greedy Reyaerik the Vast (may the All-Dragon scatter his soul to petty magic).” Gren waved a hand as if to shake something off, then blew on her fingers.
  83.  
  84. Irven took a deep breath and nodded. “That would be for the best. Like I said, I want to be of use. I'll do anything for Kayl.”
  85.  
  86. Gren smirked and sighed, relieved, then plucked the book from the desk and returned it to its place. She then retrieved another one before holding it to him.
  87.  
  88. Irven read the cover; Favourite Stories for Children.
  89. “You're joking,” he balked but took it.
  90.  
  91. “You need simple words and sentences to begin building both the vocabulary and structure. This should give you a good understanding of the rudimentary form and flow as I've translated this already as well as made notes,“ she tapped the cover as Irven held it and continued, “several stories have repetitious sentences but the context changes, and you'll see that while they're largely similar in Vlieden, they have subtle structure changes in draconic. Take a seat at the desk there, I've already provided you with everything you'll need.”
  92.  
  93. Irven looked at the desk more suited to his height, although it was clearly two desks stacked on top of each other, and a large chair. Quills, fresh sheets of paper and inkwells decorated the tabletop, and a glass decanter was present, filled with a dark and murky liquid that was deeply familiar. Irven looked back at Gren with his eyebrow raised.
  94.  
  95. Gren smirked and said, “that's a little something to help with your migraines. A recipe I found in that vile Brevshket's books pertaining to magic built up in humans. Apparently it's designed to absorb mana from the blood and into your... uh,” she rolled her hand around and clicked her tongue, before she settled on, “leavings.”
  96.  
  97. Irven growled, pulled the stopper, and sniffed it with a frown. “Yep. That's the medicine I had to take back in Jorsviek to help with my migraines alright. Ugh, the more things change...” Irven started but refused to dignify himself or Gren by completing the phrase. Instead he sat down and felt more at ease; a desk, his medicine, a draconic lecturer. It was like he never left, although Irven doubted Gren could smack him anywhere near as hard as his late master.
  98.  
  99. “Well, if you need anything, you just let me know.” Gren sat at her desk and pulled up a far more interesting looking tome, and settled into her own reverie of reading and writing with a subtle smile on her muzzle.
  100.  
  101. Frustrating as this all was, it was still something new, and Irven attacked the challenge as he did everything in his life; with steadfast dedication and steely focus.
  102. As long as it took and no matter the challenge, he would create a new life for himself. Not just for himself, either, but for Kayl's sake.
  103.  
  104. * *
  105.  
  106. Kayl's foe was bigger, stronger and more aggressive. He was famous for striking hard and fast, seeking to end a fight before really knowing an opponent, just a flash of skill, experience and raw power. This time, though, he was as familiar with her as she was with him, but it had been so long that neither combatant knew how to proceed.
  107. Kayd and Kayl circled one another, their living weapons taut and ready as their wielders. Paet had crossed poles with Boez more time than could be remembered; Kayl's blade and spike cross-spear verses Kayd's horse-cutter; a large, single edged sword with a grip as long as the blade. His brutality against her precision. This was still full contact sparring, so Paet and Boez' weapon heads had been replaced with weighted wooden replicas. Kayl couldn't help but be touched that they had kept her practice blade as a sign they had faith in her return.
  108.  
  109. Movement broke Kayl's errant thoughts. Kayd had read her subtle distraction and charged in, weapon low and across to his left. A wide sweep ready that she wouldn't have time to avoid. A block would have to do, but she couldn't catch one of Kayd's full force swings dead on; she would have to improvise.
  110. Kayl readied Paet, angled to deflect the swing down. She lifted one leg, and at the moment of impact, threw her bodyweight up and over as Boez swept where her knees once were. Kayl flipped to roll over the swing and twisted, and mid-spin, slapped Kayd on the snout with her tail.
  111. Upon landing, and with the moment of hesitation from Kayd's reaction to the slap, Kayl's continued the spin on land, a wild swing with her spear. It wasn't going to hit Kayd as he swung Boez to block, but his mass would help push her back for distance. A clash of wood and she backflipped away as her brother attempted a late counter-swing yet met naught but air.
  112. With distance between them once more, they sized each other up again.
  113.  
  114. Kayd spat, “still fighting like a coward, egg-sister?”
  115.  
  116. Kayl sneered back and hissed, “still rushing headlong into the abyss, egg-brother? By Her Majesty Praevadi's gifted foresight, may I be struck dumb if that won't be your downfall.”
  117.  
  118. “Maybe when I'm old and decrepit. Many, many years until then. At least I didn't fuck up a simple mission.”
  119.  
  120. With a snarl, Kayl stepped in with a thrust to test his defences. Kayd slapped the blade away with ease and countered by reflex with a flurry of swings while advancing until Paet snagged Boez in the crosspiece hard enough to stop Kayd's swing dead. He was surprised at the firm, rigid defence, but he recovered in a snap as Kayl swung the spike of her spear at his chest in a rapid flick, but he hopped back, but his lack of stable footing let her press the advantage.
  121. Kayl pushed in with several thrusts that kept Kayd on the back foot, the clack of wood on wood echoing through the training hall and stopped him from recovering. It was a ruse, though to his credit, Kayl didn't see it coming as he stepped around and snagged a thrust beneath his arm and hefted Boez one-handed down to Kayl's neck. She ducked, released Paet and punched him in the belly hard enough to make him release the spear with a wheeze. Paet never touched the ground as Kayl caught him with her tail and foot then flicked him back into her hands in time to catch another swing in the cross.
  122. Once more at an impasse, they broke away and circled each other.
  123.  
  124. Kayl grinned and lowered herself as she turned Paet over in her hands. She set herself in place, pole raised by her head and point poised at the red eyed kobold before her, who sucked in a breath and readied himself once more, Boez across his chest, set to defend.
  125. No relation. Just a rival fighter. A target like any other. She kicked off the ground and leapt high and toward him. She would land short of her target, but Kayd flinched all the same, and Kayl let the pole slide in her hands until she only held it by the butt. A powerful, wide swing. The target wasn't Kayd but it would reach the end of his horse-cutter to be bashed aside, kill the momentum from her attack, set for a simple, if ungainly, thrust. It wouldn't be a killing blow, but that didn't matter in sparring.
  126. Yet Kayd was too skilled for such a simple ploy. He retracted Boez to prevent the clash and began hefting the long-gripped sword and the moment the spear tip swung past him, he leaned forward and began to chop at where Kayl would land.
  127.  
  128. She didn't land, though, as a second ploy began. Her legs raised and she landed heavily on her back then tugged Paet back above her body, catching his downward swing. Her legs kicked out, feet pressing on his belly, as she let his momentum carry him over her. Kayd gasped as he left the floor and landed on a heap on his back.
  129. Kayl kicked forward and flipped onto her feet, raised Paet over her head and with a savage cry, turned and swung in the same downward chop Kayd tried to inflict on her.
  130. He brought Boez up in time to receive the blow, but Kayl twisted the spear to lock Boez' and Paet's blades together, then lifted a leg and stomped on Paet's haft, throwing her full weight against his arm strength to bring the spike on Paet's crosspiece within an inch of Kayd's neck. He was a mighty kobold, but her full weight and strength and in his position, they were locked.
  131. But she was unbalanced.
  132. He shoved as hard as he could, and while Kayl staggered and dropped Paet, he grabbed and tugged her leg. She stumbled onto her back. Kayd turned onto his front, then crawled up and over her and brought Boez into a guillotine position over her neck and pushed down, only for Kayl to grip his arms, drag her legs up and wrapped them into the tangle of limbs, locking her legs and tail around his neck and squeezing.
  133. Kayd couldn't breathe, but his blade was getting closer to its mark, slow but steady. His strength would wane in moments, but only an inch remained between Boez and her neck.
  134.  
  135. “Enough.” The Speaker called out as she entered the training hall.
  136. Several onlooking soldiers and scouts returned to their duties as Kayl and Kayd both released each other and stood, breathing ragged.
  137. “The Wise Praevadi wishes to complete your naming, Exemplar.”
  138.  
  139. The siblings looked at each other and nodded, then collected each other's weapons and exchanged them. A few seconds passed as they caught their breaths, then Kayd pulled Kayl into a firm hug.
  140.  
  141. “It's good to have you back, sister. We need all the strength we can muster as Her Magnificence nears her end, All-Dragon brace for her return,” he closed his eyes in prayer, before he finished, “I can think of none better.”
  142.  
  143. “I'm sure you would have managed without me, brother. I was worried I had disgraced myself to you, the way you reacted to Her Grace naming me exemplar.”
  144.  
  145. “That was her call to make,” Kayd took a step back and Kayl saw his brow flicker as he sighed. “I shouldn't have argued and it's not your fault. We had been ready for the trials for months to name the clan exemplar, but she knows best.”
  146.  
  147. “I'm sure she has her reasons. Mysterious guidance from her endless wisdom is the clan's creed, as always.”
  148.  
  149. The Speaker growled, and said, “hurry up! Her Majesty should not strain herself whilst you exchange platitudes.”
  150.  
  151. “Yes, Speaker,” Kayl said and exchanged bows with Kayd before following the elder kobold.
  152. Kayl tugged at the practice head of her spear and Paet released it, then coiled around her like a bandoleer as she followed The Speaker out. They passed through the streets of the soldiers district, returning the respectful nods given to the high ranked pair as they passed.
  153.  
  154. Kayl still couldn't quite believe she had not only returned home, but she had been blessed with the rank of exemplar. She was now the clan champion, deemed worthy of such respect that if she came across another dragon, she wouldn't even need to make a full bow, but merely bend the knee and such was the way drake-kin society was structured, other dragons would be compelled to give respect in turn. Even vile drakes like Karajan the Cowardly, famed for his illusory powers, would have to afford an exemplar an audience, should she ever sully herself with such a visit; the infamous 'Master of the Southern Goshev Slopes' was uncaring to the plight of kobolds, and unworthy of worship, but the thought that he would be forced to respect her made her consider the trip and force him to feel some humility.
  155. Kayl was now a hero under the eyes of the All-Dragon. Her failure was great but it was all water beneath the mountain now. Brevshket had been an enemy of the clan for two centuries, let alone the hundred and fifty years since that monster had murdered Praevadi's mate Kraerivan while he hunted. Despite Kayl's success she still felt uneasy; she expected to be welcomed back, as slaying Brevshket superseded her failure, but being given this position was a strategic move by Praevadi. That was obvious, otherwise the ancient drake wouldn't have then announced Irven's condition so candidly.
  156. Something was afoot. Kayl didn't know what but Praevadi was hatching some scheme. The exemplar position, as with any of Star-Sail's number, was to protect the clan, and thus Irven. Therefore she had no objections, but what did the future hold?
  157.  
  158. The Speaker led Kayl into Praevadi's chamber, the council members in attendance once more, shy of Kayd and a couple of others. The dragon, herself, looked in good spirits as she stripped a yak's skeleton, one of three carcasses, to the bone, then crunched them as well.
  159. Kayl walked to the central dais and knelt, placing her face to the floor.
  160.  
  161. “Your Magnificence-”
  162.  
  163. “Rise, Exemplar Kayl. You are above such etiquette.” Praevadi's soothing voice made Kayl feel warm; to be in this dragon's presence was always nourishing to the soul, and she always respected her kobolds, but now even more so.
  164. With an embarrassed grin, Kayl rose to one knee, but still kept her gaze downward.
  165. “You may look upon me, my champion. Please.” Praevadi smiled as Kayl did so, then continued, “we are here to give you a true title, as befitting your deeds and talents. I can only apologise for letting you be exiled; it was the will of the clan, not mine.”
  166.  
  167. “I can't blame them, Your Grace,” Kayl said and closed her eyes as the memories returned. Such bitter memories. “My exile was of my own creation. I can only apologise in return; I should have been better.”
  168.  
  169. “A failure that has only strengthened you. Your aura is more potent, exemplar, and I cannot understate how impossible slaying Brevshket seemed; that he was able to murder my most adored mate was proof of his threat. His genius of weaponry had kept us at bay, and his insidious influence even turned the humans from respectful neighbours to untrusting onlookers. Your act has ushered in a better age, glorious and new, and all of you shall thrive when I take my final rest.”
  170.  
  171. The Speaker turned and asked, “Your Grace. With the threat eliminated and Kayl dubbed exemplar, when do you plan to be sent to the All-Dragon?”
  172.  
  173. Praevadi's white eyes narrowed and she looked sullen, and after an uncomfortable few moments, announced, “I shall remain for a few more years. I must witness for myself the development of Kayl's mate, the human, Irven.”
  174.  
  175. “As you will, Your Majesty,” The Speaker bowed, and resumed her position facing Kayl.
  176.  
  177. Praevadi nodded to herself, then said “yes, his development may be more crucial than you all know. Even you, my champion. Once he has learned our language and way of life, I want him to be trained in combat and magic.”
  178.  
  179. “Oh Wise Praevadi,” Kayl said and lowered her gaze again. “Forgive my insubordinate doubts, but why did you announce his 'condition'?”
  180.  
  181. Praevadi tittered to herself as she looked down and off to the side, at nothing but the smooth, stone floor then said, “if you had known you would fail your first attempt on Brevshket's life, would you still have attempted it?”
  182.  
  183. “I-I... I don't...” Kayl stammered and her eyeridges creased. “Yes, I suppose I would have. It was an order by the council, and thus requested by the will of the All-Dragon.”
  184.  
  185. “And yet you would have still lost the lives of the other scouts that came with you. You never would have grown as much as you have. You never would have met Irven, of whom I can tell means a great deal to you, yes?”
  186.  
  187. “More than anything, Oh Wise One.” Kayl felt warm at the thought of him and her hand went to her chest as her heart fluttered. “I suppose if I knew the path that would lead me to him, then I may have still undertaken that ill fated mission. But what of the lives lost? If I knew the result, could I have avoided those deaths?”
  188.  
  189. “Life is an unfair balance, most honoured Kayl, and knowing what is to pass has lost its sting to me, but do not question that what I choose to reveal and keep hidden is no fleeting, passing fancy.
  190. “Would a human merchant send a caravan e'er again if he knew that a bandit raid would have his supplies stolen, and his guards killed? Would he send a caravan, knowing that his losses would bolster the bandits into hiring mercenaries and becoming stronger? Would a merchant ever send a caravan if he understood that this group would rise up and sack a city, having grown both bolder and in greater need to supply themselves and slaying thousands?
  191. “Yet without taking this risk, he may lose his livelihood and suffer great personal loss as he and his family are thrown from their homes. One caravan may instigate a chain of events that will lead to calamity, but the truth is, most actions do the same in some way. To ponder the implications of this quandary could drive most beings mad. And you now ask why I cannot tell you what may come to pass? Things are as they should be, Exemplar Kayl, and to interfere as you suggest would be disastrous.”
  192. Praevadi's tone turned both angry and desperate, “this is why you should spend your time with your mate well, and make every moment count as if it is your last, whether he lives to his fullest beside you or passes tomorrow. The two of you are the culmination of the path I have guided Star-Sail towards. It is the uncertainty which makes it worth living. The greatest pain I have felt was not knowing that Kraerivan would be taken from me, yet I had foreseen we would be together in the end. I wish...”
  193. Praevadi closed her eyes and bared her teeth and her breathing grew ragged. The Speaker turned and approached and several of the council members muttered amongst themselves.
  194.  
  195. “Forgive me! I spoke out of turn,” Kayl begged and bowed lower, only for Praevadi to raise a hand.
  196.  
  197. “I am fine, and worry not. I... still mourn for Kraerivan. I feel as if he is...” the dragon grew sullen and looked away.
  198.  
  199. Silence pervaded the hall for minutes. Nobody dared move, before Praevadi once more turned to Kayl and bowed her head.
  200. “I dub thee 'Kayl of the Mists'. That, from here on out, is your name, Exemplar. Now go. I believe Irven is done with his duties for the day and he is in need of comfort. I must rest.”
  201.  
  202. The kobolds all watched but remained still. Praevadi seemed to shrink as she lowered herself to sleep. Her power so frail and her expression pained. The dragon was unconscious not a moment after her head touched the ground.
  203. The Speaker, after placing a gentle hand on their master's muzzle, turned to the others and said, “this meeting is adjourned.”
  204. Everyone left in silence.
  205.  
  206. * *
  207.  
  208. Irven had a headache. He still hadn't grown used to relying on his darkvision, the books were smaller than he was used to, with tiny print as befitting a species half his size and doubly so on their focus on efficient use of paper. Gren had told him that when it came to his offerings to the clan, he would be expected to write 'just as efficiently', and he had suffered two migraines while studying draconic. The medicine worked, it was inferior in all aspects to Kayl's gentle, caring hands.
  209. He walked back through the streets and pinched the bridge of his nose to try and stave off the worst of the pulsing and throbbing but the sooner he could get back home, the better. Irven had been given a modest sized meal during his only break of the ten hour study, suitable for a lunch, but it dawned on him that it was his only meal.
  210.  
  211. The kobold handing him the meal told him, “no special treatment. You're twice as big as us, so twice the food.” As much as Irven wanted to invoke the fact he was closer to eight times their mass, he was afraid to try and push his luck; he needed to get on the good graces of the clan, after all. He already grew weary of being looked at with disdain. It was ingratiating to have Gren at least respect him, but everywhere else felt hostile.
  212. Besides, the meal was nice, some sort of poultry cooked in a mellow and savoury sauce with rice and a little glass of vodka, but it left him craving Kayl's curry. Or just Kayl in general, the spot of warmth in the cold clan. He couldn't help but feel like a lovesick puppy, but he supposed after being shown such kindness, the humdrum of his life felt lacking. He had only read about such topics as people falling head over heels for another person, comparing them to the sweetest wines or headiest flowers, but Kayl was his opiate.
  213. Irven couldn't forget the bloodlust from the council meeting just the other day and the glares he got when the kobolds thought he wasn't looking. Tales spun in his mind of assassinations, even those performed by kobolds that he'd read about. One of the Goshev royal family was slain in turn by a pair of kobolds, in his own, well guarded bedroom, after he had their dragon killed. A member of royalty in the middle of a guarded room in the depths of the castle, killed by what are considered vermin to some. Irven knew otherwise, that they were far more capable than that, which made the sensation he was being followed even more of a concern.
  214.  
  215. He turned into the hall of history, the display area of which Kayl's room resided, when he felt a shiver run down his spine, as if he was being watched. He turned about once more, yet saw nothing but the stands. Each housed a trinket or broken piece of equipment from previous exemplars or targets. Irven even saw Brevshket's teeth and horns on a platform, but he couldn't get distracted with memories.
  216. A click of stone to his left. He spun, hand raised and aglow with magic. Nothing.
  217. Something grabbed his leg and climbed on him before he could call for help.
  218. Claws dug into his back.
  219. Teeth nipped on his shoulder.
  220. A tongue lapped at his throat.
  221.  
  222. “Got you, man-kin!” A familiar and comforting cackle.
  223.  
  224. “Kayl? By The Six, don't do that to me!” Irven sighed and relaxed as his mate climbed onto his shoulder. He wrapped a hand around her leg to support her. The feel of her scales, like an ocean of little shields, was a comfort in the hardness of them and she flexed her legs. Irven felt a little shiver run down his back as her luscious thigh swelled against his fingers and she pecked the side of his head with the littlest dab of her tongue.
  225.  
  226. “I figured you might need some excitement after a day reading books. That would bore me to tears.”
  227.  
  228. “Never besmirch and understate the importance of books, Kayl,” Irven said with a grin.
  229.  
  230. “Bes-what?”
  231.  
  232. “Exactly,” he chuckled and walked into their home.
  233. The simple space relaxed Irven a great deal, and he felt Kayl fidget about so he let her down again and sat on the bed, then rubbed his eyes with a sigh; the day was over. His mate hopped on the bed, pulled him down onto his back and climbed onto his chest. She pressed her muzzle against his lips and their tongues met. This difficult day may as well have been years ago as all that mattered now were these moments once more.
  234. Irven didn't even feel a need to take her like last night. He just kissed her deeply and squeezed her shoulders as her hands stroked his arms, then roamed his chest and up to his cheeks. To see her golden eyes up close, shining and bright. She melted to his attentions, dropping her body onto his. The feel of her body on his invigorated him like no sleep ever could.
  235. He didn't need to take her like last night, but he wanted to.
  236.  
  237. Irven lifted Kayl off of his chest and held her close as he sat up and flipped over, then removed his clothes and Kayl slipped out of hers. Her tongue wriggled from her mouth and licked her lips. The long, pointed tip eager and hungry, and Irven was only further enticed as she moaned. A quick flick of his gaze and he saw her cloacal vent pry open as her arousal sprung to the fore, and Kayl wriggled as he smirked and brought his mouth towards it for an even more intimate kiss.
  238. A twitch and a flicker of a headache flared and his efforts were stopped dead. Kayl's lustful expression turned to concern and she pulled herself from beneath him as his hands clutched his head.
  239.  
  240. “Oh, Irven. Sit back and relax,” Kayl cooed with a sympathetic smile and began massaging his temples. “We need to find a way to deal with this longer term.”
  241.  
  242. Irven's headache abated with her caring touch, and he slowly shuffled up the bed until his back rested against the wall, with Kayl standing over his legs to continue flexing her tender but firm fingers and palms.
  243. “Magic poisoning, yeah?” Irven mumbled. “I don't suppose kobolds suffer from it?”
  244.  
  245. “Actually, we do. It flows through us so we always have some inside, but it only stops and builds up when we use it since we have to direct it, so if we cast a lot of spells quickly, we start getting sick. A little boost, like from our dragonlords, can help us though, much the same as I believe you did that when you brought me back to life.”
  246.  
  247. “I remember. It made the healing tincture work far quicker too.”
  248.  
  249. Kayl nodded and said, “if you had dosed me with that much magic if I was alive it might have caused the same migraine. I had a bit of a strange headache when we mated for the first time, the way you unleashed your power into me.” She giggled and winked at him, then continued, “fortunately you also burned a lot of mana by making us float. I suppose if you cast magic more, it will stop these headaches from happening. Otherwise the simpet- uh, sym... tsk, aweka...”
  250.  
  251. “Symptoms,” Irven smiled and patted Kayl on the head. She let out an adorable little chirp and nuzzled his hand in response.
  252.  
  253. With his migraine calmed, Kayl took his petting hand in hers and licked his fingers, then said, “yes, that. It would attack your heart if left too long as your blood carries more and more magic, or a little too much over a long time could just make you feel sick.” Kayl's blissful expression turned to worry and she said, “I don't want you to suffer any more. We have to find a way to stop it.”
  254.  
  255. “So I just need to cast magic more often, right? A bit like steam venting from a kettle,” Irven mused and Kayl nodded. He wondered about his powers and nothing seemed especially appropriate in the confines of his new home. While both had lost the amorous edge, Irven couldn't help but remember their first time together. The way his magic spiked on climax. The way she shivered and trembled as his magic flooded her and burned out the overdose of tincture. He couldn't risk harming her by flooding her with magic like that again, but maybe some way to bridge the gap. Some way to be practical.
  256. Or perhaps impractical. Something childish and flashy. Demonstrations of power from Brevshket, like heat or electricity. Lightning from the air that was painful when he made Irven touch a wire-wrapped jar filled with copper probes in acid, but reducing the intensity made it tingle.
  257. Irven smirked and said, “hold still a moment, Kayl, I want to try something. Tell me if it's uncomfortable, though.” Irven held his hand away and Kayl watched as little snaps and pops sounded, tiny threads of light dancing between his fingers.
  258.  
  259. “What are you doiIINNNG-G-G!” Kayl tensed and shook as Irven's other hand crackled with the same energy.
  260.  
  261. “Um... was that too much? Let me make it a bit weaker.” Irven let her flop back onto the bed and ran his hands over her belly before she recovered.
  262.  
  263. “Wait, wait!” Kayl squealed, but it was too late. He ran his fingertips over the now hidden ventral line of her cloaca, and with the tiniest hint of effort, Kayl screamed.
  264. Her eyes crossed, she shook and squirmed, but her smile was unmistakable. Her cloacal lips parted faster than her mouth and he let his fingers dip within. Kayl growled and pulled for control, snatched his hands and shoved his fingers deeper inside as her scales flexed outward.
  265. “E-eeeerraaaxxheeeeee!!” she screamed as her hungry flesh squeezed and pulled at his fingers in violent tugs like a voracious maw. Kayl drooled and her tongue danced and quivered as her legs clamped around his arm so hard it hurt. A few seconds of pleasured gasps and grunts soon yielded to another scream, a gush around his arm and Kayl grabbed his wrist and tugged him away.
  266.  
  267. Irven stopped the flow and pulled his arm free as the overstimulated kobold flopped on the bed, her chest jumped and flowed as she gasped in ragged breaths with her eyes fixed on the ceiling.
  268. “Uh... Kayl? Are you alright?” Irven asked, concerned but certain Kayl was just recovering. Then she locked her eyes on his and she growled loudly.
  269.  
  270. In the blink of an eye she leapt at him with enough force to knock him onto his back. Her tongue pushed into his mouth so hard he almost gagged and her claws raked his shoulders. Irven hissed with pain and took a sharp breath as Kayl slid down his chest and left a streak of her still dripping, parted cloaca. Before he could form a thought, she slammed her vent down on his dick.
  271.  
  272. “Ah! Fuck! Kayl, easy! Th-” he groaned as she pounded against him again, her claws dug into his sides as she screeched, almost feral. Her eyes showing the same; a hunger, near to madness. Something clicked in his mind; a dominant spirit, as hungry or more so than Kayl's own.
  273. Irven grabbed her waist and rolled on top, teeth bared and Kayl calmed, if just a little, as her spirit gave to his. He felt the dragon inside of him take hold; this little morsel should be bred, made gravid with eggs, and if he couldn't, he just needed to try harder, persistent, until she was. He thrust into her and she shivered, crying out, a rising lust. The tightness was a challenge to fight against, her meeting gaze a sign of adoration and a hint of fear that spiked Irven's draconic instincts.
  274. He pushed harder as a raw, in-the-blood need demanded to be fulfilled and he took her. His hips crashed against her smaller body, and he hoped she could take it; she was a fighter, no matter that she was submitting to him, but he was too far gone to second guess himself. She bucked back against him, sharp teeth exposed and they rutted by instinct. Just nerves responding, telling them both how right this was, but her gasps began to sound pained before turning into hisses. He wanted to stop, but he couldn't, it was beyond his control.
  275.  
  276. Irven's skin tingled, a pressure built within as Kayl's claws raked bloody lines into his sides and her horns tore into the bedding beneath them as she gave a final, hoarse scream and her body went slack. The dragon within him was appeased that she climaxed, as he doubted he would have the strength left to go much further.
  277. He came as hard as his efforts and barked so loud it echoed in the room. Their shared fluids gushed from her cloaca and Irven collapsed over her, his arms barely had the strength to keep himself from smothering her as he rolled to one side and pulled Kayl with him.
  278. They both lay still, their breaths ragged. With his mind coming down from the bestial high, he looked at Kayl as she winced and gritted her teeth and he panted, “Fuck... Kayl, I'm sorry. A-are you alright? Did I hurt you?”
  279.  
  280. “I'll be okay... I think?” Kayl hissed as she pulled herself off of his still stiff cock a moment before he began to soften, and pressed her head against his chest for a few moments, her body tense to the touch, before continuing, “that was a bit too much...”
  281.  
  282. Irven bit his lip and held her tightly before whispering, “I'm so sorry. I don't know what came over me.”
  283.  
  284. “I'll be fine. It's alright,” Kayl said and licked his arm, but she still looked pained. “Whatever just happened, it kicked something awake in me. I lost control for a moment.”
  285.  
  286. “I felt the same. It helped me the first time, but it...” Irven stopped to go over what just happened, or what he could recall through the haze of his instincts, then shrugged and said, “I guess it pushed me too far this time. I need practice controlling my magic and whatever this 'ego', I think Gren said?”
  287.  
  288. Kayl nodded and started to relax. Irven's hands squeezed her back in a simple massage and she responded as he'd hoped, her muscles growing relaxed.
  289. “Maybe we'll keep it simple for a while. You're still... aweka... maturing, I guess? Not your age but in your draconic blood and how it works inside you.”
  290.  
  291. “I'm fine with simple. I'm just glad I didn't hurt you.”
  292.  
  293. “I've had worse,” Kayl sighed. “My first time was with a rough handed soldier who had a thing for pinning me down and he wouldn't take anything slow. I was still young so I assumed that's just how it was, but when I learned to fight, they soon did things at a more comfortable pace, or I'd fight back.”
  294.  
  295. “Again, I'm sorry, Kayl.” Irven petted her. He wasn't sure if it felt demeaning to her but she closed her eyes with a jovial smile and her tail playfully patted against his leg. “I won't let myself hurt you, I want to be the best I can be for you.”
  296.  
  297. “We'll work it out, Irven. Don't worry. We just need time,” Kayl said. “No matter what, though, you're my mate and you're special.”
  298. They didn't sleep for a few hours, and just basked in the feel of each other and talked about simple things; Irven's issues with food portions, which Kayl would have stern words about, and Kayl's sparring and naming, which Irven found odd, Kayl of the Mist's was a mouthful, but he couldn't deny it gave her a sense of mystery.
  299. With only a couple of days together, and with much to learn, things felt like they would be okay.
  300.  
  301. * * *
  302.  
  303. Part 6: Growth
  304.  
  305.  
  306. 2nd Season, 1562
  307.  
  308. Irven's rib was broken. It had to be. He could barely breathe without the overwhelming urge to suck the air through his teeth from the pain; a sharp, pervasive ache that grew worse with every draw.
  309.  
  310. “Again.” Kayd's tail slapped against the floor and his arms were crossed with a subtle scowl on his eyeridges and his dark, red eyes narrow. Boez rested on his shoulder, adorned with its practice blade. It might as well have been a mallet, with the force he struck with.
  311.  
  312. “I need a minute, Master-General,” Irven pleaded, flat on his back as he tried to barter for time in a poor attempt to recover, but Kayd was livid instead of just being disgruntled like usual.
  313.  
  314. No reprieve was forthcoming, just a clawed foot pressed on the injured rib, and another demand of, “again!”
  315.  
  316. Irven liked to think he was as fit as he could be under Brevshket, which he was, since he was up for evaluation the day after he escaped, and the previous one listed him as 'near peak'. Irven had spent almost all of his time in one week working with Gren, but after this obsessive study of draconic, he began exercising in equal measure. He hadn't spoken Vlieden in a month, and he ran to and from the training hall and the repository of knowledge. He had also started running with the scout and soldiers around the foot of Havsglas mountain, a task that his conditioning and size made easy, but he tried to improve his time every day. He even helped the clan miners haul ore, lifting and carrying more weight than he'd ever lifted back in Jorsviek.
  317. This didn't impress Kayd, though. Nothing did.
  318.  
  319. Kayd poked Irven's rib again, which made him hiss. The Master-General circled, and said, “I thought you were supposed to be a dragon-cocked monster. Some trumped up perfect specimen of strength and magic? You're a fucking neonate who needs help cracking his shell, you lousy pile of human shit! Get your arse off the floor and keep fighting, scalecaster filth!”
  320.  
  321. Irven sat up, grunting with every inch of progress made, and responded, “yes, Master-General.” Irven pulled at the layered brigandine armour, chainmail with small, interwoven steel plates to afford flexibility to try and stop it digging into his sore rib. It was probably worse at protecting him than Brevshket's coat but the summer heat made it impractical. After that fruitless effort of relieving pressure on the injury, he stood and picked up his sabre.
  322. The sword and armour had been scavenged when the clan went to retrieve what they could from the site of Brevshket's death, and Kayl was ecstatic to get the puzzle box back as well, something she had grown fond of despite it being something she had stolen from a merchant wagon. Everything else was to give the kobold smiths a base from which to equip Irven; he was Kayl's mate, but all clan members were expected to be able to fight, and it was another way to try and prove himself.
  323. Unfortunately, it was voted that Irven couldn't be trained, at least officially, by his mate. Not until he passed as a soldier, and that meant earning the passing grade from Kayd.
  324.  
  325. Irven had barely brought up his guard when Boez swung in with speed and fury. Irven was strong, he was fit and he even managed to ignore his rib for the moment, but Kayd was relentless. Kobold stamina, speed on a frame of solid strength made the general a nightmare to fight, and Irven once more found his guard overwhelmed by rapid slashes, followed by a malicious stab on his injured rib that sent the Irven onto his knees, then a fetal position before, with a rasped wheeze, fell on his side.
  326.  
  327. “Alright, you're done,” Kayd grumbled then cricked his neck with a sigh. “You're barely improving. Do better. Make no mistake; you're my sister's mate, but that means fuck all. You're a dreg, a drain on this clan until you can do what every other kobold can, and that's actually put up a fucking fight. If this clan were to be attacked, you would be expected to take up arms and fight alongside the soldiers and scouts and I would expect you to hold your own!”
  328. Kayd removed the practice head of his weapon and Boez slinked around his waist, then he bellowed, “to be a kobold is to strengthen those you work beside! It is our way of life! If you expect to live here, we will expect this basic ability from you in return! To be an exemplar's mate, you will then be expected to match her skills! I will have you stronger, or I will have you broken! Do you understand me!?”
  329.  
  330. Irven responded with an exasperated cough since he couldn't muster a sarcastic response even if he wanted to, and just nodded.
  331. Kayd snorted, gobbed some phlegm to the side, and marched away.
  332.  
  333. Master-Scout Roat, who shook his head as he approached, knelt down beside him and patted him on the back before he said, “don't feel bad, biggun, he's like that with most of the recruits.”
  334.  
  335. “I'd say something about flies, honey and vinegar,” Irven wheezed, “but right now all I could use is a stiff drink.”
  336.  
  337. Roat shrugged and helped Irven onto his back, then lifted him to a sitting position and handed over a bottle of low strength healing tincture, mixed with vodka; something about being better for internal injuries once the alcohol got into the bloodstream. Irven gladly quaffed it and coughed; it would take a few minutes to set in.
  338. “Give it a few minutes before standing. As for the General, All I can say is he's got his reasons, but you'll have to ask him yourself.”
  339.  
  340. “Don't suppose there's any chance for a transfer of teachers? I think I'd fare better under you.”
  341.  
  342. Roat snickered. “At your size? Get off, biggun. I'd need a dragon's power to work out how to hide your giant arse.”
  343.  
  344. “Better than having a tiny head,” Irven said and managed a wet sounding chuckle, then a cough and a groan. “Seriously, you kobolds have the cranial capacity of a baby after considering those big eyes and horns. It's a wonder you can even get dressed at sun-fall.”
  345.  
  346. “It's all we need to outsmart you horse-legged mayflies. How the hell do you balance on those little feet with no tail and that lump of fat in your bulbous heads is beyond me.”
  347. They both laughed, and Irven grumbled again and held his side.
  348. “So, I imagine you're looking forward to tomorrow night.” Roat said as he sat beside Irven.
  349.  
  350. “Yeah. Won't be much of a homecoming, though. I'm hardly in a state to give Kayl the attention she deserves.” Irven sighed, then realised who he was talking to. “You really don't find it weird that I'm your mother's mate?”
  351.  
  352. The blue kobold shrugged, “I know you humans have some weird dislike about that sort of thing, but all the clan cares about is that she's already given her lineage to the people, and once that's done, most kobolds just go for pleasure. After what she went through, the exemplar deserves some happiness. You've certainly given her another lease on life, so if it means anything, thanks, Irven.
  353. “It was great just having her back, sure, but she's so much more... full of life, I guess. I felt numb when she was exiled and even if she made it back, I figured she would just go back to fulfilling orders, but to see her so vibrant in spirit is really something. Most kobolds aren't especially close to their parents, but I was training under her as long as I can remember, first as a peer and then when she was made Master-Scout, and she was always serious, just a weapon for the clan.”
  354.  
  355. “I guess I still find it a bit weird that you're her oldest kid yet I'm her mate. On the surface we'd consider that being *married*,” he said, using the Vlieden word. “Someone *marrying* a man or a woman less than half their age would be either a scandal or... shit, what's the draconic word for our hedonistic?”
  356.  
  357. “Draconicurean?”
  358.  
  359. “Yeah, that's the one. Not gonna lie, I appreciate Kayl's position when she was trying to talk with me in Vlieden, so feel free to take the piss if you want; I feel bad for laughing at her quirks of the tongue when we first met.”
  360.  
  361. “Noted!” Roat snickered. “Again, this isn't a human thing, it's a kobold thing. Kayd's got three preferred mates and nobody bats an eyelid about him approaching anyone else on the side. Exemplar's get to pick a mate, and that's sacred, so nobody'll approach you but you're welcome to ask anyone else. Of course, mother might object.”
  362.  
  363. “No, that's fine. Kayl's the only one for me,” Irven said and smiled, both at the subtle reduction of pain and thinking of his mate, “besides, leaves you lot with more choices, eh?”
  364.  
  365. “Ah, I'm biding my time, but I can't help but laugh at my scouts. A lot of'em want a piece of my mother!” Roat snorted a laugh. “Still, I'm sure she wouldn't mind if you wanted a sample of someone else, just saying. It's typical for kobolds.”
  366.  
  367. Irven shook his head, took a deep breath, and stood with a wince. Roat climbed to his feet with a fraction of the effort and they nodded to each other.
  368. “Still, thanks. I'm just glad the clan's coming around, but you've always been good to me, Roat.”
  369.  
  370. “It's fine. You're good for a man-kin, Irven. I'd best get to drilling my recruits anyway. Catch you in another cave!” Roat said with a salute and a strike of his tail on the ground.
  371.  
  372. “Or beneath the starry skies,” Irven responded with a bow, although less formal than normal thanks to his rib.
  373. The cerulean kobold struck out with a jog and Irven slowly followed as he tried to ignore the other soldiers as they trained. He needed some air, so he made his way to the foot of the mountain.
  374.  
  375. * *
  376.  
  377. “I know you're fucking there! I ain't stupid!” The human screamed at nothing for the fifth time. He shivered, his eyes bulged and his sword swung wildly as if to try and cut the dark beyond the lantern's light, clutched in his gauntlet shield's fingers, and looked at the metal throwing dart embedded into a nearby tree for a second before once more swinging at the air.
  378. Kayl remained still; she was still adjusting to the light and the target's panic was making him lunge at even the faint rustle of leaves, so she watched and studied. An older male, but inexperienced in combat; he held his sword a little too far down on the grip, his swings were more with the tip rather than the point of percussion, so even if she had to fight her chances were strong.
  379. Still, if she killed him, it would undermine her mission. There was no ill will, but bandits had struck a caravan she was pursuing for some documents and she was to eliminate one individual, an ally of Brevshket who continued to try and harm the clan. Kayl's target was already dead from two arrows to the chest in the bandit ambush, but they had taken everything of value, including the list.
  380. A human ally of the clan had mentioned hearing Brevshket's name, and chasing the rumour lead to Kayl discovering the dead merchant had a new list of people, used to identify merchants who were part of the Jorsviek supplier circle, who traded materials, food and more in for weapons and concoctions both mundane and dangerous.
  381. The plan had changed but the ultimate objective hadn't. If anything, this was a lucky turn of events. Killing the circle member would have started a chain of assassinations. Now, she only needed to copy that list and return it. If the bandits raided the caravans of the other Jorsviek circle members, and kobold scouts observed the attacks to ensure the targets were slain or deal with them if they fled, it would make it harder to trace Star-Sail's involvement against random attacks on the road. After all, bandit attacks happened all the time, what's one dead merchant here and there?
  382.  
  383. Kayl relaxed as if to mirror the bandit as he calmed. He was originally keeping watch away from the camp while stealing glances at the merchant list and he'd decided to take a piss off of a steep hillside, so she pushed him off. Now, covered in grass, leaves, dirt and urine, he was far away from his camp-mates, lost, and after a good fifteen minutes of screaming for help, he was alone as he tried to find his way back up to the hill his friends had chosen as their camp. As the ring of light around the man drew farther from her, Kayl narrowed the gap and pulled her dart from the tree, which she used to make him panic and stay in place while she observed and schemed. Now it was time to execute.
  384. Kayl looked around. The black trees of the north edge of Blackfinger forest and the deep green grass filled her mind, she raised a hand over her shoulder, fingers splayed, against the flow of her scales.
  385. She whispered, “I am a phantom. I am the wind. I cannot be seen,” with a subtle grin as her scales turned as green as the hills, lined with black stripes. Paet, as well as her armour, so treated and fed with her blood so it mingled with his sap, shifted to match the tone and pattern, and at last, she acted.
  386.  
  387. The bandit moved slowly but his footsteps lacked rhythm, just stumbling in the dark as his feet caught on roots and stones. Kayl had no way to approach silently or quickly enough to be safe so she ran around and ahead. Even the subtle patter of her feet made him stop to listen for her. Kayl had no time to be impressed; it was summer, and the sky already had a blue tinge amidst the darkness despite the sun only going down a couple of hours ago, and if his hearing was that good, she needed to change strategy.
  388. She needed a distraction.
  389. Kayl pulled Paet from his place around her shoulder and coaxed the blade free. She then tossed the living wood up at a tree branch ahead of the bandit's path, crouched down by the trunk and waited as the human drew near.
  390.  
  391. The bandit began to quicken his pace and ducked beneath the hanging branches before Paet dropped onto his shoulder. He froze and reached across as slow as he dared to move and felt the black and green branch and sighed as he felt the wood.
  392. Then Paet slithered into his armour.
  393. The scream that ensued was the trigger that flung Kayl into action. The human dropped the lantern and his sword as he reached and clutched for Paet as he writhed and darted about his person, blissfully unaware as the camouflaged kobold reached into where she'd seen him stow the list. She danced back and forth with his hops and twists and retreated in seconds with her prize, and Paet allowed himself to be pulled free and thrown into the dark.
  394.  
  395. Kayl retrieved Paet, re-affixed his spearhead as he once more wrapped around her, and climbed the hill to get nearer to the bandit camp before the man could get his bearings. Midway up, she thrust Paet into the slope, who took root and she stood on him. Kayl pinned the list against the slope with a throwing dart and copied the list on a slatted wood-backed scroll whilst balancing on the narrow pole as easily as one would stand on a chair, only little flicks of her tail showing any real effort in keeping upright.
  396. As expected, it was a list of man-kin names, with dates and places, but large blocks of text were written in some sort of Draconic-Vlieden-Bralric amalgamate code and Kayd lacked the knowledge to decipher it, let alone time as the sky continued to brighten. With a replica written, Kayl finished her climb, relocated the bandit camp and threw the original list into the grounds, then let herself relax. No longer just duty bound and for the honour of the clan, but an honest flutter in her heart that put a dance in her step as she headed for home.
  397.  
  398. * *
  399.  
  400. Irven scooped the stone from the ground. It had fallen many times. It could fall a thousand more, but he would continue to practice. It was unremarkable, but that was a fallacy. Irven knew this. Everything was remarkable and unique in its composition. Every flower was blown in by air or carried by beast from a seed that, by chance, took root in a new location. It resisted harsh summers and bitter winters, it thrived against all odds, it flourished and propagated.
  401. This rock was no different. It was weathered and scuffed. It was a product of centuries and millennia of processes. Within was housed sediment that had existed longer than any dragon alive this day.
  402.  
  403. “In order to understand an object...”
  404.  
  405. That old voice. Irven was compelled to respond, “...is to know how it works to its most minute detail. To know the composition. To know what makes it 'tick'”
  406.  
  407. “Yes. Therefore, in theory and in practice...?”
  408.  
  409. “Manipulation is the core result of understanding. People. Animals. Water. All must be understood and harnessed to reach their full potential. To know water can freeze and expand or boil and vaporise. To command an animal is to use its base instincts and urges to coerce it. To control a person, one must know how they react and respond to stimuli. Everything can be controlled”
  410.  
  411. “Yes! Nothing that exists cannot be controlled, Irven! It is simply a matter of... ?”
  412.  
  413. “Knowledge and power.”
  414. He stared at the rock. Pale grey, smooth on one half and chipped on the other. The inside was exposed, the layers revealing a story, a diary. It was a piece of history in potentia yet to be realised. It could make a man stumble and perish down a cliff. It could dislodge a wagon wheel. It could be hurled at someone, busting their lip to cause a scar which gave character to a man, perhaps the extra push needed to attract a lover.
  415. Right now, it was Irven's rock. It was there to be controlled.
  416. It was simply being held back by celestial gravity. It was the victim of the world they stood upon and pinned to it, requiring assistance to move. Assistance that could be offered physically, but then the user would be subject to the same restrictions. Magic, however, held no such restraints. One simply needed the will!
  417.  
  418. Irven exhaled, then inhaled. His eyes narrowed. Inhale. Exhale.
  419. Inhale.
  420. Air flowed around the stone.
  421. Exhale.
  422. Air was pulled away. It was an interfering force.
  423. Inhale.
  424. He held out the stone. Then let go.
  425. It was about as high as Kayl was tall, and remained there.
  426. His hand was outstretched, but he did not touch it, although he could if he reached. Reaching just simplified the action, a half-way point between the physical and arcane. He wasn't here to just do something half-way, he was here to master it. Dominate the act.
  427. He lowered his hand.
  428. The rock tumbled, but paused a foot from the ground.
  429. Irven slowly drew the air into his lungs and held his breath and exerted force through the nothingness between him and the stone.
  430.  
  431. The rock floated to eye level, and Irven looked to the left. It followed, obedient. Controlled. Mastered.
  432. Irven smirked and pulled the stone to him, and plucked it from the air and studied it. He remembered how he could make his magic light spell dance around his hand. It felt natural, why shouldn't this?
  433. He opened his hand with his palm directed downward, but the rock didn't leave his touch. The rock was his to command, so he instructed it to drop a few inches. Then float around his hand.
  434. It did so. It floated over his knuckles, around his fingers, then up to his wrist. Happy with his progress, he increased the speed. It rounded his hand and completed a circuit every second. Then half second, then a quarter. He could feel the air displaced by its flight around his hand as it moved from wrist to fingers to wrist again.
  435.  
  436. “Irven?”
  437.  
  438. The stone flung itself into the ground with a thunk and embedded itself deep enough that Irven couldn't see it. He stared for a moment, then around at the voice.
  439.  
  440. “Oh. Uh. Hey, Roat,” Irven said to the scout. “What's wrong?”
  441.  
  442. “I felt something strange, that's all. You been practising again?”
  443.  
  444. “Was it that obvious? I'm getting the hang of it, but I guess I'm still making a mess out of the ambient magic.”
  445.  
  446. “It's like you're setting fire to a table to light a candle, biggun.” Roat chuckled, “maybe some spell refinement training might be a good idea.”
  447.  
  448. Irven sighed and felt a wash of exhaustion run over him. Focus and manipulation of energy looked easy, but he again felt it draw from within him, as taxing as a fast sprint. Still, since he had begun practising, he had suffered less migraines as he continued to drain the mana build up within him. Not to mention Kayl had 'discussed' giving Irven more food with the kobold cooks. Apparently she was quite convincing.
  449. “So, any sign of Kayl, yet?”
  450.  
  451. “The Blackfinger scouts are reconnoitring the road as we speak. Relax, Irven,” Roat said and patted Irven on the side. “I felt guilty not having faith in her return from exile so don't you start doubting as well.”
  452.  
  453. “I'm not worried. Ever since the day we met, I've felt a connection to her. I can't explain it, but I can feel that she's in good spirits.”
  454.  
  455. “I've heard tell that scalecasters can get the same connection to kobolds as a dragonlord can. It wouldn't surprise me if you've got the same.”
  456.  
  457. Irven looked at Roat for a moment before he placed a hand over his heart and reached out with his arcane sense. He could feel Kayl's blood in Roat instantly, as well as Kayd within the mountain as her sibling and the others who were more distant, but somewhere out there, colouring the magic around them, he could feel his mate. The potency of her magic was distinct; Roat's was practical and direct, akin to taking hold of cold, polished steel; vibrant and unmistakable. Kayd's was red hot, as if immersing his hand in boiling water, painful to 'feel yet so clearly necessary in how he was. Kayl's was a deep warmth, yet dark, as if ducking beneath the covers of a plush bed with a warming pan on a bitter cold night, relaxing, tinged with the thought that through this unrepentant comfort, he was at his most vulnerable.
  458. All kobolds had a particular feel with their magic, as different as shades of hair or blemishes of skin on humans, but only through familiarity could he really get to grips with how to feel the subtle differences. The exception was Praevadi's. Irven wasn't sure if it was just how potent her magic was or not, but he knew her magic. It was like staring into the starlit sky, observing each tiny light as the great shroud of the moon on top of a mountain peak; unrestrained, beautiful.
  459.  
  460. “... you doing?” Roat asked.
  461.  
  462. “What?” Irven snapped back to reality and looked at the Master-Scout.
  463.  
  464. “What are you doing? You've been standing there with your eyes closed for almost a minute.
  465.  
  466. Irven felt his face flush, then he cleared his throat and said, “just taking in the scenery and feeling around, that's all.”
  467.  
  468. Roat smirked. “With your eyes closed?”
  469.  
  470. Irven stammered and cleared his throat again, but remained silent.
  471.  
  472. “Might want to get that cough checked out as well, biggun.” The kobold chuckled and walked back to the clan grounds and said, without looking back, “pretty sure that mouth'll be permanently attached to her and we wouldn't want to go and infect the exemplar with anything now!”
  473.  
  474. “And you... had better...” Irven said and pointed, mouth flapping with no barbed wit to draw upon. “Shut up!”
  475.  
  476. The kobold raised a middle finger over his shoulder and Irven couldn't help but laugh at himself with only a little lingering pain in his rib, and said, in Vlieden, “real smooth, Irven.” He watched Roat head over the hill and went to turn.
  477.  
  478. “Well, that's a given.” A voice, right behind him.
  479.  
  480. “Phoebe's tits!” Irven half-screamed and leapt to one side, turned and raised a glowing hand.
  481.  
  482. There stood a kobold, coloured like the earth and grass, but with unmistakable golden eyes, who chimed “after all, you don't have scales!”
  483.  
  484. “Kayl! You're going to give me a heart attack one day!” Irven knelt down and his mate, her colours shifting back to their natural light blue tone, dived into his embrace. “And what did you mean by me not having scales?”
  485.  
  486. “That you're really smooth, silly!” She said as her claws gently pressed against his back as she squeezed him. “How have you been?”
  487.  
  488. Irven stood, held her tight, and kissed her neck.
  489. “Much better now. C'mon, let's get inside.”
  490.  
  491. -*-
  492.  
  493. Kayl had only been away for a week, but it didn't matter. The joy she felt when she saw Irven again nearly spoiled the surprise and only hard earned discipline stopped her just indulging in him right now. She had observed her mate talk with her son as they enjoyed their banter, which Kayl was so glad came naturally to them, and begun her plan. A little surprise and an example of her growth, now that she was in the glorious days of a second life. A decoy, once more deployed, but for a far less serious matter.
  494. The facsimile, still in the arms of her mate, deftly clambered around Irven to sit on his shoulders into a piggyback, as the pair made a direct path to their room. Kayl could have just passed the report off to one of the scouts to give to Roat so she could indulge in her mate, but the mission was important and she wanted her surprise to both impress and, eventually, satisfy Irven.
  495. But business had to come first; her loyalty to the clan was beyond reproach once more, and she was the clan's champion first and foremost, despite Irven's discomfort in knowing her clan had ejected her by majority; these were here people.
  496. Kayl had a broad smile as Irven entered their room, and walked towards Praevadi's lair with a sultry grin as she continued to feel Irven's hands. His voice. Everything but the ability to see. It would be an interesting experiment.
  497.  
  498. -*-
  499.  
  500. “On the bed, my dragon!” Kayl chirped. The sound of her voice sent a shiver down Irven's spine and he lifted her from his shoulders. She wrapped around the limb, with her tail around his arm and her pointed teeth nibbled on his fingers. Her tongue lapped his palm as she reached the soft, feather-down mattress. “The longest we've been apart... I imagine you're feeling a bit neglected.” Her voice was honey rich and he could taste her magic in the air. He wasn't sure how he'd not sensed her approach outside, but that was the furthest thing from his mind now
  501.  
  502. “You have no idea,” Irven said as he threw his clothes away and began to climb on the bed with her. “Gren may say I'm still at the whims of my ego, but I'm pretty sure it's because you're equal parts adorable,” he said while kissing her snout, “beautiful,” while licking her neck, “and comely.” He finished by squeezing her thigh with one hand and stroking her soft scaled underbelly with the other.
  503. Kayl moaned softly as her gaze roamed the ceiling rather than his eyes, as if lost in the sensations. Irven couldn't help but enjoy her pleasure, surprised she was so deep in the feeling with just the start of their desires and needs.
  504. There was so much more to come.
  505.  
  506. * *
  507.  
  508. Kayl entered Praevadi's lair, grateful that it was bereft of the council or even The Speaker. The exemplar paused on her approach and her breathing turned hard for a moment, a shiver running down her back and caused her tail to quiver.
  509. Praevadi herself was awake and stared into nothing. Kayl knew the elder dragon was no doubt reading the magic, and couldn't help but feel a little embarrassed as she performed a standing bow, as befit her station.
  510.  
  511. “My champion.” Praevadi bowed in response. “I am honoured you would be so dutiful as to report to me when I continue to hope you to indulge first; we are not at war, nor in a period of strife, Kayl of the Mists, I am quite sure this could have waited.”
  512.  
  513. “I'm aware, Oh Wise One, but I am attempting to demonstrate my mast-” Kayl gasped and the corners of her mouth turned upward and struggled to maintain her composure before finishing, “my improvement and growth.”
  514.  
  515. Praevadi giggled like a drake a tenth her age and smiled warmly before saying, “so I see, Kayl. Very well, let us make haste; I fear you may be undone.”
  516.  
  517. “I'll be fiiIIINE!” Kayl squealed and her eyes rolled back a little and legs shook. She panted for a few seconds before, with a nibble of her lip, she produced the list she had stolen. “We have twelve prospective targets, Oh Mighty Praevadi. We should have Gren attempt to decode it, though, as while we have names, places and dates, I fear the concealed truth will tell us other details.”
  518.  
  519. “Excellent work, my cha-” Praevadi stopped, and Kayl raised an eyeridge at the pause before a bolt of raw pleasure sent the kobold's knees askew as she struggled to stay upright, a loud moan echoed through the lair and the dragon once more laughed. “Kayl of the Mists, this can honestly wait. You, however, cannot, nor can Irven. I do appreciate the effort to demonstrate your power, though.”
  520.  
  521. “My apologies,” Kayl panted, then placed the list on an offering table and bowed as she retreated. With another returned and respectful bow, the two dragon kin parted, although the purple dragon shook her head with incredulity as the kobold staggered away.
  522.  
  523. * *
  524.  
  525. Kayl's hands ran around Irven's cock in slow, soft strokes to bring him to his edge. Energy crackled about his body and his back arched as her tongue supped the pre-cum. Irven was so close to climax that his ego struggled against him, trying to demand he claim her like before. He wouldn't let it happen. Not again, and used this focus to bring himself back from the brink.
  526. Irven grunted and pulled Kayl up into a hug, and she nuzzled his chest in response and seemed to pull herself back from her own lusts. As Irven's mind calmed, he realised this was too easy, as if she was being too submissive. It seemed wrong.
  527.  
  528. “Kayl? Everyth-” he stopped as her tail coaxed at his dick and gently brushed and rubbed against his testicles, a massage that made him moan as the tip of her muscular limb undulated against his balls.
  529.  
  530. “Everything's just fine.” Kayl said, far louder than she usually would. She then climbed off of him and took his hands in hers to help pull him upright. He stared into her eyes to try and discern what she was feeling, but they seemed oddly still and serious. He even reached out to try and sense her thoughts, but all he could detect was the same aura as always; a comforting, dark warmth.
  531.  
  532. “Kayl, what's going on? Is something the matter? Please, tell me.” Irven asked, keeping his voice soft. There was movement behind Kayl and frowned as she kept his hands still.
  533. With a deft hop, a second Kayl leapt onto the bed with a mischievous grin.
  534. Kayl and her shadow.
  535. Irven couldn't help but let his mouth fall slack before asking, “which is which? And isn't this a flagrant misuse of something you, yourself, told me should be reserved for special occasions?”
  536.  
  537. “Well, I'd call this somewhat special,” said one.
  538.  
  539. “Very much so,” said the new arrival.
  540.  
  541. “Because any moment with you, my mate.” Both grinned in unison as they pushed him onto his back, and purred “is special indeed.”
  542.  
  543. Two tongues caressed his belly, his chest, his neck, then two muzzles and four golden eyes surrounded his view.
  544.  
  545. “Hmm. Got some better materials for your duplicate, then?” Irven said and stroked both of their backs. Both Kayl's looked at each other, although the newer kobold turned the other one's muzzle to get a better look. Irven could see the shadow's eyes were almost perfect, except they lacked the ability to focus, and since she couldn't see through it, they almost always remained in a fixed stare ahead.
  546.  
  547. “Had them especially made to make us indistinguishable from one another,” said Kayl.
  548.  
  549. “And I'm getting better every day at controlling this form, as well as getting clearer stimuli,” said the shadow.
  550.  
  551. “Oh?” Irven grinned and ran a hand down both their backs, to the base of their tails, then around and under their front. Both gasped, Kayl a moment before her shadow.
  552. Irven's grin deepened, and he sparked a little magic into his fingers as they both traced the outermost edges of her cloacal slit and earned a tiny moan from each.
  553. “So if I were to do something to both of you at once...?”
  554.  
  555. “Ooh, That's a coincidence,” Kayl's shadow snickered. Irven couldn't keep making the distinction so opted to just call her Mist.
  556.  
  557. “Yep. We were just wondering what would happen if we both did something to you!”
  558. Both Kayl and Mist darted from Irven's grip and surrounded his still erect cock. They both licked their lips and Irven wasn't about to stop them as they eyed his length with hunger. Still wet from Mist's supping earlier, the two almost identical pointed lengths of muscle encircled and dragged around him as Irven shivered.
  559. He felt bliss, but he felt love most of all. Irven was keenly aware of his separation from Kayl had caused him a large degree of anxiety; he had even expected this since she was the first person she truly trusted beyond all else. Even his friends back at Jorsviek held a stronger fear of Brevshket, so much so it was routine to give him the answers he demanded. He could never tell how much of that was by force of will or magic, but it meant nobody could be truly trusted.
  560. Yet here he was, in the expert, tender and downright sensual hands of his kobold wife and her duplicate. A lizard, almost half his size, with claws and sharp teeth, decades of skill in subterfuge and combat, deft in magic to evade and outwit. And right now, she wanted him whole. She wanted to use her shadow spell in what most would call a flippant way, dedicated to pleasing him.
  561. The glorious absurdity. The absolute carnal euphoria. Irven had to return the favour, but he didn't want to move.
  562. So he let his magic loose and envisioned her delightful inner muscles. They would be exposed, open and slick as she dripped with arousal. He clenched his hands and pulled towards himself.
  563.  
  564. “Ahh! Wh-” Kayl, or Mist said. He couldn't tell.
  565.  
  566. “Keep going!” Irven groaned.
  567.  
  568. He continued to focus his magic; applying energy to both their eager vents. He could see the shape of them and created the same magic he used to pleasure her before; a little electrical stimulation. He'd been training to use it remotely, and used the focus to slow his rapidly building climax. The magic crackled inside Kayl's cloaca, then Mist's once he built a rhythm. He could sense Kayl's pleasure as their vents clenched to each flicker of power, to a chorus of delighted cries and near-feral groans, and only as he grew used to the power it less effort, and then he felt the pressure inside himself hit a crescendo.
  569. In that moment, he expelled a pulse of power. Sharp teeth grazed his dick, but he didn't care; he loosed a deep, throaty bellow as Kayl's mouth clamped around his cock. Her muffled cry, as well as Mist's clear scream, made his mind crackle and surge as his eyes glowed. Kayl, or he guessed it was Kayl but struggled to focus through the haze, gulped on his length as she drank him dry.
  570. He might never get used to his magic bursting about on climax. Frankly, Irven wasn't sure he wanted to. The tingle of the few times he experimented back at Jorsviek was superseded by every nerve in his body awaken and pulse with power. But that, too, was bested by another experience.
  571. Kayl and Mist, who crawled up his body, wrapped their arms around his neck and shoulders, and nestled both their muzzles beneath his chin.
  572.  
  573. “Kayl?” Irven whispered.
  574.  
  575. “Hmm?” she purred back.
  576.  
  577. “You're amazing.”
  578.  
  579. “If that's true, that makes two of us.” Kayl tittered.
  580.  
  581. “Hey, what about me?” Mist asked.
  582.  
  583. “Okay, three.” Irven chuckled
  584.  
  585. “And don't forget Paet!”
  586.  
  587. “That's... maybe a bit far.”
  588. All three laughed.
  589. Irven, his mate and her doppelgänger. All pleasured at the same time?
  590. Magic was amazing.
  591.  
  592. * * *
  593.  
  594. Part 7: Power
  595.  
  596. 3rd Season, 1562
  597.  
  598.  
  599. “Fuck! Magic's a pain in the arse! Why isn't it working!?” Irven gnashed his teeth as his arm tingled; untapped power wanted to act, obey his subconscious, but his instructor's focused gaze held him back.
  600.  
  601. “Because you're not listening!” Kayl said with a point. “Stop acting by emotion and concentrate! Just lift it first and breathe before acting.”
  602. The training hall was calm and quiet, but Irven was livid. Even Kayl, unflappable and stern faced, took a step back as he gritted his teeth and clenched a fist.
  603. A stone tile, a rough square with a chalk line drawn across, rose from a stack on the ground and, as he opened his hand once more, it shattered into a thousand pieces and the fragments bounced off of the floor, Kayl's scales and Irven's armour.
  604.  
  605. “There, happy!?” Irven barked. “Why be happy with two clean pieces when you can fucking have many!? This is stupid!”
  606.  
  607. “Irven...” Kayl's expression softened and she jogged over to him, then placed a hand on his thigh. Irven sighed and knelt down, then wrapped an arm around her.
  608. “We can stop for today and try again tomorrow.”
  609.  
  610. Irven flinched and growled, “fuck that! This isn't better than me, and I ain't going anywhere until I get it right!” Irven continued to seethe, but her continued touch melted his fury. He stared into her eyes and she fully broke her firm facade and elected to give him a gentle lick on the cheek.
  611.  
  612. Irven had finally become a full citizen of Star-Sail. He had been beaten over and over by Kayd and eventually bested him enough times, amidst plenty of bruises and the occasional fractures, to earn the proclamation of 'good enough'.
  613. That moment was ecstasy; he could finally learn under Kayl.
  614. Then he realised that she pulled no punches with anyone; not sibling, son, daughter or mate. Irven keenly remembered her snappy orders back in the crag-biter cave and realised that wasn't desperation but her true demeanour when she was a scout. It also turned out that training Irven was the most important thing she'd ever done, because this was the first time she had shown such a break in her steadfast demeanour. Irven finally realised he had gone too far and kissed her snout back.
  615. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't be losing my temper over this. I just... I don't get it! I was learning functions of magic and growing in power just fine, and suddenly everything's beyond me.”
  616.  
  617. “Because power, real power, takes time, effort, discipline and practice.” Kayl placed a hand against his cheek and let her thumb roam and stroke, which Irven pressed against softly as she continued, “you're powerful, Irven. So very strong, but that's your weakness. It isn't about raw force. That would be like using all your might to push a boulder, when you should be using the least amount of power for the most effect; leverage, positioning, rhythm to build momentum before one final push.”
  618.  
  619. “But what's the point of all this magic if I can't just use it for the same effect? I generate so much mana inside of me, I need a way to burn it off.”
  620.  
  621. “Yes, you do, but that's not the point. The more force you apply, the less accurate you become, the more likely you are to harm yourself and those around you...” Kayl sighed and looked away. “Come, my dragon. Let me tell you a story. I still feel it's the best teaching method we have, as it has been since before The Most Wise Praevadi.”
  622. She stood, and waited for Irven to get to his feet before walking them both to a bench nearby and sat together. Kayl's legs just barely dangled off the floor and Irven had to stretch his out, but once comfortable, and after a shared look and a smile, they both reached for each other's hand. Irven's closed around hers, then his index finger tapped at her thumb-claw before gently squeezing her palm.
  623. “So, when I was young, maybe twenty years old? I was out on basic reconnaissance...”
  624.  
  625. * * *
  626.  
  627. 1st Season, 1513
  628.  
  629. “'Just observe, Kayl! Don't do anything rash, Kayl! I'm sure I didn't add you to my group to do the must boring grunt work in the clan, Kayl!” The rookie scout muttered and rolled her golden eyes before she huffed and toyed with the chiselled tip of her slim-blade, her thumb prodding the sharp tip. A strange weapon featuring a single edged straight blade beside its angled tip. It was apparently copied from some blades made far, far away to the west; supposedly a mystic land where esoteric magic held sway yet people of all types emerged to take in the 'mundane east'. A human weapon designed to be discreet by appearance, easy to hide, but infinitely functional and held by those of a man-kin profession who acted as spies for local lords.
  630. 'Lords?' Kayl scoffed at the idea. No man-kin could hold the tiniest burning splinter to Her Most Wise Praevadi, or even the other dragons. Big headed idiots, just like the one Kayl was watching now.
  631. Their weird, beady eyes. The way they grew fur on their heads and faces yet only a small amount on their bodies like sensible mammals, and the weird sticky out nose they had. She wasn't sure what was worse; the way their ears were a sick imitation of golden trumpet mushrooms with a hole in the middle or the fact they had names that went on forever, sometimes taking up more time to say than a dragon's name, or multiple names! Horrible, ugly, prideful man-kin.
  632.  
  633. This one was typical. About twice Kayl's height, long brown head-fur, looked dumb. Probably female since it had these fleshy lumps on its upper body and far less hair overall because it was focused on her scalp. Master-Scout Fein insisted that it, or Kayl supposed she, was worth keeping an eye on in case she received any letters or notes. So Kayl did as instructed and observed the woman as she occupied an office, somewhat similar to the Head Archivist's office; bookcases, thick stacks of paper, writing tools, a large, cushioned bench and a bed. The scout had easy access to watch the room from the high rafters; the tall bookcases stretched up so high Kayl had considered pulling a book or two from them, but she couldn't take a risk moving the rickety looking wooden shelves and they were all dusty anyway.
  634. So yes, Kayl did as instructed, and had done for six hours now. The sun had long since dipped beneath the horizon and the human woman wrote in a book. A lot. At one point she stood up and walked around the room. And another when she lit a candle from across the room, which was strange, but Kayl was relaxing at the time and didn't hear her move. There was some excitement when someone delivered a meal, but maybe the real highlight was when Kayl pulled at a stray piece of thread from her overcave goggles and further strands kept peeling free. That was entertaining for the whole of three minutes.
  635. All-Dragon's world populating dick, Kayl was losing her mind!
  636.  
  637. A new sound finally broke the scout's torture; a gentle scrape, then a single knock on the door. A folded piece of paper had been pushed beneath it. Kayl waited for the woman to stand and start to walk before she, herself, moved as well; 'mask your sound however you can, young scout, but a moving target is a weak listener even in silence.'
  638. The human picked up the note, unfolded it and read it. Only a few lines of Vlieden were present on it, but Kayl could still pick up a few words. Crucial words.
  639. Meeting. Week.
  640. Brevshket.
  641.  
  642. Kayl's purple tongue darted out and licked her muzzle as she made her own notes on a tiny scroll, backed with thin slats of wood, and a stick of charcoal then pushed both back into a waterproof case, then moved with the human as she walked to her seat and produced another book from a drawer. The scout secured her gear and triple checked her tail-grapple; a solid hook strapped up and around the hips and shoulders, designed to allow a kobold to rest when climbing by hanging upside-down without cutting an anchor point first and foremost, but also great for securing a pulley system to herself.
  643. Kayl tied a knotted rope around the hook, around the rafter, and held the other end. As the human sat and pushed her chair in, Kayl used the squeak of wood on wood to drop off and let herself hang from the rope, and then lowered herself as the man-kin finished writing what she had before the interruption, then the note itself into the newly produced book.
  644.  
  645. Closer to the secret note, Kayl confirmed what she'd read from before; a meeting with Brevshket in a week's time in a nearby town.
  646. Then Kayl's goggles fell from her head and she flailed her hands to catch them, a claw nicked the strap and sent it down to shatter on the table.
  647. The woman looked up and raised her hand, which sparked and sputtered like burning wood, and after a few seconds of shared surprise, Kayl's felt her rope burst into flame. This human must be a scalecaster, yet she lacked any sign of dragon flesh. Kayl drew her blade and severed the fiery rope, and dropped first onto the table, then with a second flip, to the floor.
  648.  
  649. “Ah kou-bahld? whaht ahr yoo ahphter?”
  650.  
  651. (“You didn't know Vlieden back then?”
  652.  
  653. “Not very well... I'm just not gifted with languages, alright?”
  654.  
  655. “But you could write it?”
  656.  
  657. “I was trained to look for key words and copy things exactly. Now hush, let me continue.”)
  658.  
  659. She wasn't Kayl's target, she just had to escape and leave the human alive to deliver the note, but if she was a scalecaster, that changed things; the moment Kayl turned her back, she would be vulnerable. The scout hopped back and flung a canteen but held a cord tied to the stopper. The moment the cord was pulled, liquid splattered all over the table, the human and the floor. The human retched and coughed as some entered her mouth, and after a moment of surprise, her eyes went wide as she spat out the liquid; naphtha. Kayl plucked up a matchstick, struck it on her horn, and held it, ready to throw.
  660.  
  661. “Du tahe... uh, No speakie, man-kin! You's stay still!” Kayl ordered.
  662.  
  663. (“*Snrk*”
  664.  
  665. “Oh, shut up, Irven. I seem to recall you kept calling Archivist Gren 'Paper-wiper' for a few weeks.”
  666.  
  667. “Point taken, sorry.”
  668.  
  669. “Ahlraite! Stohp! Jhussd ghow!” The human pleaded.)
  670.  
  671. Kayl glanced behind her, to the door, and saw the handle above that was too high to reach and operate with one hand, and the human screaming would attract attention. Kayl watched the human as she pondered, then the match in her hand. Fortunately, Kayl had a new spell that she had mastered for her scout acceptance test.
  672. Control of force. Telekinesis. So strong she could knock a kobold off his feet with a slam to the gut. Manipulating the door would be easy. She reached high and behind her with magic and took occasional glances to watch her work. The door was bolted, so she pushed the handle up.
  673. The bolt handle swung above the slot with a loud thump. Too hard. She let it drop and tried again. Another resounding failure as the iron bolt struck the wood. Kayl bit her lip and went to try again, then burned her fingers on the match and dropped it with a yelp.
  674.  
  675. Kayl felt the smoulder of her armour before she finished reeling from the pain in her fingers, then every muscle in her body stung as she began to sear beneath her scales. In another second, she would burst into flame, and Kayl already planned her final action; she would throw herself at the table and set the room alight, and hopefully kill the scalecaster with it.
  676.  
  677. “Wouldn't that be counterproductive of her? Why would she set you on fire?”
  678.  
  679. “I think she was just trying to 'cook' me on the inside. Let's not forget, most humans don't learn different spells like you can, at least not as fast, so I doubt she had an alternative.”
  680.  
  681. But the flames never started, and the air grew cool. The scalecaster's face was frozen in pain, and an old, grizzled female kobold of amber scales stood on the human's shoulders. Master-Scout Fein's claws were dug into the sides of the man-kin's head, and Kayl recognised the placement; mana-dispersal.
  682.  
  683. “Get that door open!” Fein snarled, drew a knife, covered in a dark, tar like substance, and stabbed it into her victim's shoulder.
  684.  
  685. Kayl took a second to collect herself before she stammered, “boss? I-I'm sor-”
  686.  
  687. “Door! Now!!”
  688.  
  689. Kayl scrambled to the door, leapt up, unbolted and opened the door. The cool air outside washed in. Fein held her position as the human staggered and collapsed in a heap; unconscious, but alive.
  690.  
  691. * * *
  692.  
  693. 3rd Season, 1562
  694.  
  695. “... so Fein, All-Dragon spin her soul again,” Kayl said in reverence, “chewed me out for months. I was kicked out of the scouts and had to retake my tests. And you know why?”
  696.  
  697. Irven pondered for a moment. “Well, you likely frayed the fabric of your goggles, which caused them to become slack and fall off. You weren't watching the target as closely as you should, otherwise her inferred use of fire magic could have clued you in that she was a mage, if not necessarily a scalecaster...” he stopped and saw Kayl's vexed expression, cleared his throat, then continued, “ah, sorry Kayl. But yes, I see your point about relying on force; by not learning the subtleties of your spell and focusing on the raw output, you couldn't do something as simple but important as manipulating a bolt.
  698. “That being said, I didn't know you knew telekinesis.”
  699.  
  700. Kayl sighed and looked at her clawed feet for a moment, and Irven could tell she was going over the story again, before she said, “I was so disappointed in myself that I didn't use it for a long time. I learned the clan standard camouflage spell to reapply as a scout, but it wasn't until I got older that I realised I had a gift for magic that I simply wasn't using. So I trained with it again, experimented a little, and realised I could use it in a strange way when I was desperate, ten years ago...”
  701.  
  702. * * *
  703.  
  704. 1st Season 1552
  705.  
  706. A flash. A bass crash and rumble. It was so loud that it could be felt through her chest, and so hard she swore it stopped her heart for a moment, but she kept running. Kayl was fortunate; the storm was masking her flight from her pursuers. She had succeeded in her task, but things went awry, and now she was in no condition to fight.
  707. Paet was wrapped around her arm, holding it in place and the bone within together as best he could; the result of a lousy attempt to block a man-kin blade when she was caught off balance. The usual strategy, when avoidance wasn't possible, was to receive the blow with a shield or weapon and hop in the direction of the swing, to use a kobold's slighter weight to be pushed away and their agility to recover before another swing. Two humans attacked Kayl at once, and she dodged one but this was the result of the other; a strike so hard, so fast while flat-footed that despite Paet's best efforts to absorb the blow, both wood and bone fractured.
  708. Paet was fine as living wood he fixed himself, but Kayl needed time; flesh wounds could be healed, her body could knit itself with healing tincture in an hour, but bones took longer. Days, weeks sometimes, and she had already drunk her last half jar of tincture once she'd escaped; the sooner she healed, the greater her chances of getting back home.
  709. The rain soothed and refreshed as it covered her scales, as always, but the constant throb of her arm grew worse and she realised the constant movement wasn't doing her any favours. She needed to find a place to rest for a while. She had provisions, so any secluded spot would suffice, and if the bone took longer to heal, she could do some foraging at least.
  710. Kayl spotted a lake against a steep cliff, a thousand spikes of water punching up as if to fight the storm. Wind and rain had taken its toll on the grey stone overhang, but a rockhouse had formed from some slabs which had fallen from the erosion and settled on a small landmass, or simply by the sheer amount of stone. It was perfect.
  711.  
  712. Kayl sucked in a deep breath and focused through the pain to invoke her magic with a memory of when she was teaching her sons, Roat and Roag, to swim in the oceans near Havsglas mountain.
  713. A crucial skill, as she knew they were bright enough to become scouts and mobility in all forms was necessary, but she turned her back for one moment and Roat was gone, taken by a riptide. The panic that set in, her heart pounded and she felt a tingle as she reached out to her distant child. The drive to save him, to bring him to safety, the singular desire filled her mind and she ran to him as he floundered on the water, his head only breaching the surface to take tiny breaths before being pulled beneath and away.
  714. Kayl reached him in seconds, plunged her arms into the surf and pulled him out before she realised what had happened; she had ran on water. It didn't matter as she sank into the sea herself, she was a strong swimmer. She kicked the water with her legs and tail to keep at the surface and wrapped Roat's arms around her neck, then swam around the current and reached the shore.
  715. Buoyancy was the spell. She couldn't stand on water, she had to sprint across the surface or use it to float with ease, which for a kobold was difficult since they were fairly dense creatures that lacked any fatty tissue, but it had other uses too; she could stand on snow as easily as solid ice and walk on muddy ground as if it were perfectly hard stone. It made her difficult to track, faster in bad weather and gave her many more options for infiltration.
  716.  
  717. Right now, at the shore of the lake, she swung her good arm over her head, down and across her vision, as if calming the thrashing waters. The lake didn't respond, but in her minds eye, it was a thin layer of water over normal ground. She sucked in a breath, took a few steps back, and sprinted towards the rockhouse.
  718. Her feet hit the water with rapid splashes, and the familiar feel, like gelatine they used to stabilise some alchemical substances, supported her underfoot. It was a fair distance and she wasn't at full speed thanks to her arm, but she managed to reach the stones after twenty seconds. As she tried to slow, she tripped and landed hard on her broken arm.
  719. Kayl screamed, and the All-Dragon blessed the act by a rumble of thunder masking the sound, as if to protect her from any pursuit. Whatever healing that had taken place was undone as bone punched through her forearm, between Paet's coils. She forced herself to her feet, her vision blurred and faded white, stars blinked around the edges, then staggered into the shelter. It was dry enough, not that Kayl could second guess at this point; she had to stay awake.
  720. First, Kayl slumped to the floor and took hard, long breaths. Then she tensed her body; muscle control was one of the Star-Sail scouts most unusual but useful skills; they could vomit, void their bowels and urinate on command, ideal for purging harmful substances, leaving stronger scented trails for dogs and such. It made them famous sex partners as well and Kayl couldn't help but chuckle at the memory of her former partners shock at her cloaca 'drinking' them dry.
  721. She tensed over and over, bursts of a few seconds that forced blood to flow through her body and brain. Each time was a fresh shock of pain in her arm, and when the whiteness in her eyes faded, she moved to the next phase.
  722. Kayl pulled a flask from her hip, pulled the stopper with her teeth and knocked back a good mouthful or four of harsh, overpowering vodka, then splashed some on her arm. She growled with near dragon-like severity and bared her teeth, but let the alcohol take some of the pain away. After a few minutes, she felt the delightful haze overtake her.
  723. “Okay, Paet. On three, clench the bone back into place. Ready? One... two... thre-”
  724.  
  725. Paet clenched, but the bone was so badly damaged and twisted inside, it just bent against each other. Kayl cried out after a few excruciating seconds, and Paet stopped. She couldn't fix the bone from just shoving it back together, but she'd already taken the tincture; at this rate, she might lose an arm as the wound healed with the bone unset.
  726. “I really messed up this time, didn't I?” she said and watched as Paet flexed about, uneasy; the blood fed to him gave them a bond, so no doubt he was struggling too. He was being a good sport and rested against her leg.
  727. Kayl thought of how else she could fix her arm; she doubted whether she could move the bone back in place herself, or could she?
  728. Her telekinesis. Her old shame. She had practised with it a lot in her spare time, but never dared to use it in front of the clan. Kayl used it whenever possible to do small, subtle acts; lifting things, manipulating books, even a little... recreational fun. She could feel the force she was creating as well as her own arms or legs, and gained stimulation from it.
  729. Could it work here?
  730. Kayl looked at her damaged arm, and tried to 'map' it in her mind. The muscles, the bones sprung to her mind... there was a little stone lodged in there as well, and she smiled at how naturally it came to her. She could see the twisted bone, the lacerations of the flesh, skin and scale. Or perhaps 'see' was incorrect, as it was closer to feeling, but through a projected means, like the sensation of warmth of the sun without the light, or smelling the air change in a cave because of a crevice which lead to the surface.
  731. She started small and easy; she had lifted objects before, pulled them from cracks in the wall. She focused on the stone, and winced as it moved and grazed more flesh.
  732.  
  733. “Just pull it free, Kayl,” she said to herself as she braced for the pain, “one solid pull...”
  734. She 'tensed' the force that held the stone, took a sharp breath, and yanked the stone free with a spout of blood and a roar of, “drake-dicking shit-cocks!”
  735. Kayl remained as still as she could, but writhed from the pain as the raw injury throbbed, but no sooner than the pain faded, she started pushing the slivers of bone back together, the protruding section of her forearm back inside and she even coaxed the flesh around it to help make it smoother to insert. She struggled as the alcohol clouded her senses, so Kayl turned her head and threw up the contents of her stomach to stop her getting drunker for the moment, and returned to her task.
  736. At last, mercifully, with one final tease of bone and pinch of flesh, she said, “Paet, coil around my arm.”
  737. She winced as Paet did as instructed, holding the limb firmly, and Kayl ate a block of hardtack rations, finished the rest of her vodka, shifted herself into as comfortable a position as the hard stone could provide, and drifted off to sleep.
  738.  
  739. * * *
  740.  
  741. 3rd Season, 1562
  742.  
  743. “... from there, I continued to learn how to sense my body.” Kayl ran her hand over her left arm, then continued, “at first, it seemed a bit useless unless I was injured, but it was only when I went into exile I spent the winter days going stir crazy from the isolation. All I could think of was how I wanted someone to talk to, and how it felt like a different entity when I used my senses to feel the rest of my body. So I kept experimenting, learning I could feel little bits of me even when cut free, and even-”
  744.  
  745. “Wait, wait,” Irven said and raised a hand. “Please tell me you didn't start cutting pieces of yourself off to experiment with this.”
  746.  
  747. “Of course not. It started when I accidentally chopped a bit of my finger off when cutting up a fox to eat.”
  748.  
  749. “Okay, sorry. Just making sure. That's still pretty messed up.”
  750.  
  751. Kayl cleared her throat and continued, “so eventually I managed to use the telekinesis to cast off a skin, like a snake can. Just the outermost part of my scales which we usually pumice away when bathing that had grown while in exile, and while I could sense the skin, it lacked enough substance to support itself. I did, however, learn that if I burned a small amount of blood, I could bind my buoyancy, telekinesis and sense magic together and control a rough copy of myself.”
  752.  
  753. “Your shadow,” Irven gasped. “That's remarkably complicated. No wonder nobody else has an idea how you did it; it's manifesting various forms of magic together. By the All-Dragon, Kayl... you're amazing!”
  754. Irven couldn't help but pull his mate into a hug and kissed the top of her head. Kayl pushed him back in response.
  755.  
  756. “Not now, Irven. Remember; currently I'm your instructor.”
  757. As Irven retracted his arms, Kayl caught his hand and brought it against her cheek, then dabbed her tongue on his wrist.
  758. “Later we'll make up for lost time, hmm?” Kayl smiled, then stood. “Alright, like before; I want you to lift a tile and cut it cleanly along the chalk line.”
  759.  
  760. “Yes, Exemplar Kayl.” Irven stood beside her and bowed to her before he looked at the stack of badly cut stone squares; off cuts of the younger kobolds' crafting practice. He slowed his breathing and studied the topmost tile before, with outstretched hand, lifted. The grey slate hovered, as easily as if he picked it up himself, and turned it in a slow spin to study the form.
  761. It was uneven, but unique because of it. It had weaknesses in places that could prove difficult, as the thinnest parts were away from and through the chalk line. Kayl looked up at him, and Irven didn't need to look at her to understand; she had sabotaged all of them from the start and each line was drawn to make it as difficult as possible, so any loose, unrefined force would cause it to fail.
  762. “Anyone ever tell you you're devious, Exemplar Kayl?”
  763.  
  764. “Oh, about half the clan before my exile. Nobody dares to any more; it's a bit of a shame, but that's exemplar-hood for you.” Kayl snickered, crossed her arms and tapped a claw on her bicep. “Any time, recruit, before I die of old age.”
  765.  
  766. “I'm thinking-”
  767.  
  768. “Thinking's good, but I sometimes find you spend too much time doing it, which is why it frustrates you when it doesn't work. When you know how to manipulate magic, you know it always takes time, and bringing that power to the fore is time you can think about how, where, when, why and what to apply the force to; it's like using a bow to loose on a distant target, you can refine your aim as you settle the draw. Solutions must come freely if you're to be a true spellcaster. You don't have to think about blocking a punch; you do it. You don't need to think about taking a step to walk; you just do it. But you can contemplate countering the punch when you're already deflecting the blow, and you can consider the journey as you walk.”
  769.  
  770. Irven looked at the stack; he only needed one clean break to succeed. There were six tiles besides the one he held aloft. What if one of them was easier?”
  771.  
  772. “Someone's still thinking like a human. How old are they usually when they start learning true magic?” Kayl sighed and walked back to the bench and yawned. She sat and let her feet dangle and kick about like a kobold a quarter her age. “Try thinking like one of us instead.”
  773.  
  774. “Kobolds, huh?” Irven mused. Small. Not especially strong. Make up for it with ingenuity and numbers, tactical application of force to make up for weaknesses.
  775. Irven smirked. He raised his other hand and narrowed his eyes, and all six spare tiles floated up. He slowly moved each into place; two in front, four behind to cover all but the chalk line on both sides and support it for the force he was about to exact. He pinched the tile with its companions as tightly as he dared, then started to muster the force he intended to unleash.
  776. He concentrated, narrowed the gathering nothingness, and formed it into a narrow blade of pure force that warped his vision when he looked through it, as if looking at the refraction of water.
  777. With a push of his hand, he sent it cleanly through the gap he'd left, cleaving the tile in two. He then pulled the cleanly cut pieces out from the rest, and placed them on the floor.
  778. “Hah!” Irven cheered and, with a flourish, spun the other tiles back into a stack, then turned to Kayl and chuckled, “how'd I do, Exemplar?... Kayl?”
  779.  
  780. Kayl stared at the cleft tile, then looked back to Irven. Her smug, playful demeanour was gone, replaced with a flat, focused expression.
  781.  
  782. “What's wrong?” Irven asked.
  783.  
  784. The exemplar's brow furrowed for a moment, before she finally smiled up at him.
  785. “N-nothing! Very impressive, Recruit! We'll make a spellcaster of you yet! Go clean up and I'll catch up to you in our chambers, okay?”
  786.  
  787. Irven tried to get a read on her, and sensed something he'd never felt from her before.
  788. Fear. Something he never felt or saw in her, even when she was being taken by crag-biters, or when she was facing down Caeris.
  789. The second he tried to look deeper, Kayl's expression once more turned serious and the gentle flow of her, the warming dark of her presence, shifted and became uncomfortable to read, as if Irven was now trying to read through the shimmer of intense heat. She was obscuring her thoughts the same way she had crept up on him after her last mission.
  790.  
  791. “Okay, Kayl. Just...” he stopped, worried, and shook his head, “sure, see you back home.”
  792. Kayl sat back down, still focused on the tile as Irven went for the exit, only to stop and look over his shoulder. “... I'm sure I don't need to say it, but whatever's wrong,” Irven then spoke in Vlieden, “I love you.”
  793. Kayl didn't look up, or respond. She remained still as he left.
  794.  
  795. * * *
  796.  
  797. Epilogue
  798.  
  799. Kayl trailed behind Irven as he headed for their room. Not on purpose, but because her destination was almost the same; her bedroom was placed so that any invader would have to cross paths with the exemplar, and she sought an audience with Praevadi. She got the occasional sideways glance, but no kobold would question an her whilst clearly focused on a task; she was camouflaged and was doing her utmost to distort her magic to keep Irven from detecting her amidst her fellows.
  800. He entered their room and Kayl slinked by without looking back, and through the corridor into the great lair of Praevadi.
  801.  
  802. The great purple dragon was in audience with The Speaker, Kayd and Roat. Just by the composition of the gathering, she knew it was military related.
  803.  
  804. Praevadi flinched and looked up, which led to the other three to turn and face Kayl, but The Speaker stepped forward first.
  805. “Ah, good. That saves the need to summon you; we have a series of targets we wished to delegate in the next few days, and we could certainly use your expertise, Exemplar.”
  806.  
  807. “Bah. No need,” Kayd said and shrugged. “Between my troops and Roat's scouts we can have all of them dead in the month. No offence, egg-sister, but you're better off training Irven; he'll be a great resource for the clan once he's properly put through his paces.”
  808.  
  809. “He's a member of the clan, Master-General,” Roat grumbled, “not some fancy shield or spear to be thrown in harm's way at a moment's notice. I agree he needs further training, but I'd sooner have everyone involved and applied as best they can; he needs to cast off the soft neonate skin to make ready his dragon scales.”
  810.  
  811. Praevadi, as usual, remained still and silent for a time before she announced, “please wait in the hall for a moment, everyone. I wish to discuss something with the exemplar. My apologies.” She bowed to the senior kobolds, who all bowed in return and left.
  812.  
  813. Kayl met each of their gazes; The Speaker's respectful nod, Kayd's proud indifference and Roat's soft smile, then Praevadi's focused and discomforting senses rolled over the exemplar. Kayl let her master read her openly, and the old wise drake soon nodded and sighed.
  814.  
  815. “He is indeed becoming more like him every day, is he not?”
  816.  
  817. “I know you're aware already, but I'm scared, Oh Great Praevadi.”
  818.  
  819. “... I cannot allay your fears, my champion. I can, however, direct you to a means to resolve them.”
  820.  
  821. “Please, Master. To be given the gift of another life, only to have it grow tarnished before my eyes,” Kayl bit her lip, her eyes grew wet, “I can't let it happen. I won't!”
  822.  
  823. “All will occur as it needs to, my precious Kayl.” Praevadi smiled a soft smile, a comforting one that, despite her turmoil, eased Kayl's heart a great deal. “But the challenge you will need to overcome should not be taken lightly, nor with haste; I would like you and Irven to assist with dealing with the listed ones who were complicit with The Corrupted One's plans.”
  824.  
  825. “I don't know if he is ready, Oh Wise Praevadi. He is strong, but... imprecise.” Kayl didn't want to insult Irven's talents; they were immeasurable, but she needed something to keep him safe.
  826.  
  827. “No dragon born is weak and exact, Exemplar,” Praevadi chuckled. “All are filled with might but prone to folly. The path of the hatchling...” The dragon trailed off, expectantly.
  828.  
  829. Kayl nodded and stared at the floor, and finished, “... is filled with burnt and broken trees. I understand, Oh Great One.” She turned, and called out, “return! We must commune!”
  830.  
  831. The senior kobolds reconvened near Praevadi and continued their discussion.
  832. They had names. They had places. They had times. There was death to bestow.
  833. Clan Star-Sail would shed blood.
  834. And Irven would partake.
  835.  
  836. End of Act 2
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