One day earlier.
“I don’t know what you want me to check out here,” Bix said. “It’s just some manky swamp in the middle of nowhere.”
“Middle of nowhere is where the resistance often has to hole up,” Haradeth said. The three-dimensional display in front of them showed a near endless swampland, dotted with ruins. It was a dismal landscape, full of mutated life. “We can’t exactly hide our forces next door to the capital.”
Bix sighed, a sound like nails rattling in a tin. “Fine. It’s not like other watchers can’t look in different places while we do.” She studied the landscape, tapping her food. Clangclangclang – “I remember Dor’nah back when it was…you know, actually a nation. Before everyone who lived here got murdered and started sinking into the sea?”
“Oh?” Haradeth asked.
“Oh yeah, absolutely. Back when it was the Three Empires – Hallith, Dor’nah, and Cardometh. Dor’nah was different from the other kingdoms you humans put up. Sylvani were welcome there, as were the Kan’nah. I actually went a couple times. Only stabbed someone once.”
“Kan’nah?” Haradeth said, furrowing his brow.
“You call them Underfolk now. Back then they didn’t live underground. Interrupt me again and I’ll make a necklace from your teeth. Understand?”
Haradeth nodded furiously, and Lorathor flashed him a reproachful glare. Just as Haradeth started to wonder if Lorathor had caught Bix’s unique brand of lunacy, the Sylvani winked and turned his attention back to Bix.
“Now, where was I?” Bix said. “Yes, Dor’nah. Humans, Kan’nah, and Sylvani. I went there a few times. In the night, because I didn’t want to be seen. This was…a long time ago. Everyone living together in a state of mutual hatred that never quite bubbled over into bloodshed, which is the closest you meat ever gets to peace. I didn’t even stab anyone when I was there because a random murder could have boiled over into indiscriminate warfare, and I didn’t want that. There’s no fun in random murder.
“But I hear you wondering how all these different people lived together. No, no, don’t say anything, not if you want to keep your teeth. See, all those people had one thing in common. They hated dragons. Which is a stance that can, perhaps, be understandable in the days when those three races were considered food sources by dragons. However, it’s not a very good idea to hate dragons when you share territory with a dragon that also was the most powerful necromancer alive. His lair is right over….ooooh, what’s this?”
Haradeth waited to make sure Bix wasn’t going to say anything else before asking, “What’s what?” The drone was flying up towards a structure that loomed over the landscape, even though it was sunken into the terrain. Haradeth tried to get a sense of how large the building had been, but his mind rebelled at the scale. For perspective, on top of the building was the skeleton of an immense a dragon, overgrown with moss, still clinging to the top of the building.
“Bah. Why do you even have eyes if you don’t use them?” Bix flew the drone lower to the ground.
Haradeth’s eyes widened and Lorathor gasped. Skitterers, sitting in the swamp outside the building. At least a dozen of them. “Okay, fine. I am only going to say this once,” Bix said, her eyes whirring as they narrowed into slits. “You were right, we should check here.” She flew the drone into the building.
“Thank you. I’ll never mention it.” Haradeth said.
“Good, you do learn quick,” Bix said, her voice light and cheerful. “So, it looks like someone brought a military presence into the ruins of Dor’nah and decided to take a stroll through a dragon’s lair. That’s…completely illogical, but you lot often are.”
“Is there a portal-” Lorathor started to say but caught himself with Bix’s gaze fixed on him. “Fine. Is there a booger here?”
Bix gave him a look that was so clearly a ‘proud parent’ look that Haradeth had to suppress a laugh. “Oh yeah, most dragon lairs have at least one booger,” she said. “At least the old ones. They used to consider it a status symbol to pick one and stick it in the hoards, because they were so rare.” Bix paused to consider her words. “Actually, they still are rare, but they also were. Even at the height of things we only had about fifty on this landmass. There’s one down there, though.”
The drone’s vision switched, giving them a false-color image of the pathway, it was travelling in pure darkness. Gems glittered on the walls among the artwork, woven between thin sheets of precious metal foils. It was beautiful. “A dragon made this?” Haradeth asked.
“No, no no no. Draconic art is different. They do their art by melting stones with their breath and reshaping it into something else.” Bix sighed. “I truly do love their artwork. It’s so wonderful to look at statues made with molten stone. Art made into a destructive act. I do hope we find some down here. Anyway, this art was made by humans or Underfolk or Sylvani. Probably humans because there’s more of you buggers. Talons aren’t good at fine work like this.”
Haradeth nodded, watching the display. These drones were incredible creations. They could cover a hundred leagues in a day. The path in front of them flew by in a rush as it sped down into the depths of the dragon’s lair.
And into a group of Alohym soldiers. “Light and Shadow, look out!” Haradeth shouted.
Bix gave him a level look. “What are you shouting about? Are you afraid of the big bad soldiers?”
Haradeth stared as the soldiers ignored the drone. A couple waved hands in its direction. “Bix…how small is this thing?”
Bix held up two fingers close to each other. “Too tiny to stab easy. Or notice. At least right now. I activated a couple circuits on it that give us a temporary spatial distortion that…” she noticed the glazed looks on their faces and gave another of those mechanical sighs. “This is why I call things boogers. Fine. I turned on the tiny maker. It’s tiny for a couple hours. Then it will re-enbiggen.”
“I followed that,” Haradeth said.
“I know. I put it on your intellectual level.” She directed the done to fly under a locked door.
In there was Armin, chained to a wall, and that bastard Theognis.