Wednesday, October 17, 2018

To Kill a War Leader - Pt. 3 - To Be an Orc

It seems no matter how hard I try to keep this character lighter and snarky he keeps going dark on me.  Definitely a challenge.  Please feel free to comment on the story and let me know what you think.  This mat see some edits as i go down the road.  Thanks for your time. - Tole

One day turned into almost a week. The first few days were spent learning the basics of orcish culture, and it was a hell of a lot more complicated than I would have ever thought. I always assumed that orcs were just mindless fighting machines who lived to make war. Boy was I wrong. There are more ways to insult an orc’s honor than there are ways to use cotton.  A sneeze at the wrong time in front of the wrong orc could result in a multigenerational feud between families. It all got very confusing very quickly, and Valsh got more than a little frustrated with me.

“AAARRRRGGG!! WHY DO THE GODS TEST ME SO?!?!?,” Valsh roared into the jungle after my fiftieth failed attempt to say the appropriate greeting for a War Leader. “I swear a three year old pup can get this, why can’t you?” He finished his question by throwing a long dagger at a tree and sinking it well over halfway to the hilt.

“Because a three year old pup has been learning it for three years. Not to mention the fact that I don’t have tusks to talk around that play very heavily into your phonetics. I’m trying Valsh, but your culture is much more complex than I ever expected it to be.”

He cocked an eyebrow at me then turned to go retrieve his dagger from the unfortunate tree. He pulled it free with no more effort than I would have used to pull a dart from a cork dart board. Then Valsh turned back to me and paused like something had bubbled to the surface in his mind. He shook his head and chuckled.

“You’re right, Tole.  I’ve been going at this all wrong,” he said as he sat next to me picking up the gourd of pineapple hooch and taking a long pull at it. He passed it over to me and continued, “I’ve been trying to teach you a lifetime of orc behavior, how to be an orc, and that’s just not gonna happen.  I should be teaching you how to be a human living among orcs.  Forgive my foolishness my friend. Let’s start again.”

This time we skipped language lessons altogether.  Instead Valsh focused on helping me understand the hierarchy of the tribe.  He taught me who I can make eye contact with and who to defer to.  Most importantly he taught me who to fight back against and who could hit me unchallenged. Oh and hitting in orc culture is done A LOT! They hit like humans shake hands.  The harder you hit, the more respect you’re showing. Kind of the firmer the handshake the more of a challenge it is to squeeze back. A gentle tap on the forehead is the biggest insult you can give an orc warrior. It tells them that you don’t think they’re worth fighting, and there is no greater insult than that. With my relatively small size, I’m not sure that even full out I could hit hard enough to NOT insult them, and I said as much to Valsh.

“Never thought of that.  Better test it out.  Hit me,” he said and stuck out his chin with a grin on his face.

I fully intended to knock that smirk right the hell off of his ugly mug.  All I managed to do was sprain my wrist and probably break a damned bone in my hand.

“Holy shit Valsh!” I yelled at him while cradling my swelling hand. “Is your head made out of a big damned rock or something? It felt like I just punched the side of a mountain.  Did your head even fucking move?”

“Orc skulls are tough.  Have to be to take the beatings we give them. You’re right though. You can’t hit hard enough to honor a warrior. Hell, you’d probably piss off a pup. Not your fault.  You just don’t have the size to put enough behind a punch. I’ll have to give this some thought,” he said and plopped his big green ass back down on the stump he used for a chair. “Give me your hand and I’ll see if anything’s broken.”

A quick check revealed a broken bone in the wrist and two broken fingers.  Luckily it was on the arm opposite the rune work, so Valsh was able to knit the bones with magic.  Oh and by the way that fucking hurts! There’s a reason we heal at the rate we do.  Having that process forcibly sped up is not natural, and the body will let you know what it thinks of the whole concept in no uncertain terms. Basically it kind of felt like sticking my hand into a blow torch.  It burned like a sonofabitch!

“”Grah’ahkt!” Valsh said around a laugh when I pulled my hand back when he first started.  I found out later that’s orcish for wimp, wuss, pussy, sissy, and every other invective we use to call a person’s toughness into question all rolled into one. I stared him dead in the eye and let him continue.  I was determined not to flinch again…I failed. He laughed at me the whole time. Asshole.

After Valsh was done with my hand we hunted for some game for lunch. Turns out most everything on this world is compatible with my digestive system which was lucky for me because I ran out of The stuff I brought with me from The Bar about a day after Valsh did my first tattoo.  Healing makes me hungry. We managed to bring down what looked a lot like a squirrel except it was the size of Labrador.   Good eating though when cooked over an open fire with a glaze made from that pineapple hooch Valsh seemed to have an endless supply of.

We were eating lunch and a thought came to me. “What if I pick up an equalizer, like say a log or a rock and clock them with that? Would that satisfy their honor? I mean, I’m half your size. Surely a reasonable warrior wouldn’t want to squash me for trying to even the odds.”

“No,” he said while licking some juice from his fingers that had run down from the rib he was gnawing on. “The minute you use any kind of weapon the fight moves from ceremonial to active combat. Do you want to start a real fight and go toe-to-toe with a full orc warrior? You’d be dead in less than a minute…if it took that long.”

“Well shit,” I said taking a drink from my gourd. “I’m just trying to help man.  You don’t have to be a jerk…wait a minute. I’m not coming to your people as a warrior.  I’m coming as a scout and a spy.  How does your culture handle outsiders who aren’t warriors? Surely you wouldn’t treat say an artisan who crafts clothing the same way you’d treat a warrior, right?”

Valsh paused with his gourd half-way to his maw and pondered my question.  After about thirty seconds he slammed it to the table and burst out into that raucous laughter of his saying, “Tole, I swear you are really sent by the gods and one devious bastard to boot. I can bring you into the village under my honor. I’ll have to take your punches and return them, but hell that’s nothing new. I get greeted and challenged on a regular basis. It will also allow me to take any fallout if you screw up on protocol…Yes, that will work.”

We settled back and ate the rest of our lunch in silence.  I have to admit Valsh was one hell of a cook, and the foods that his jungle world provided were like nothing I’d ever seen before. In addition to the dozens of species of animal that teemed in the jungle around us, there was also a wide variety of fruits, berries, roots, and herbs that Valsh knew and used.  Some of it was medicinal and some was food.  In spite of my failed lessons in orcish culture I did learn what I could and could not eat.  I also learned some new poisons, their antidotes (when there was one), and some medicinal herbs for pain and infection. The longer I am here the more I like this place.

Probably my favorite part of being on Orta’ahn is that you have to be on your guard constantly.  Total situational awareness is a way of life.  Everything, and I mean everything, on this world is designed to kill something. It’s like Australia back on Terra only dangerous. At any given moment you will hear the death scream of something in the jungle that wasn’t paying attention.  It’s an amazing place.  I spent all of my spare time exploring and sharpening my skills at just staying alive. For a killer like me this felt like home. Maybe I’ll retire here.

I was brought out of my reverie by the deep guttural belch that signals Valsh is finished eating.  It is an impressive sound to behold and usually results in the flight of all small wildlife from our immediate vicinity. It makes me laugh every time he does it. I know it’s immature, but that doesn’t make it any less funny. Plus, sometimes I think he just does it because it makes me laugh like an idiot.

We spent some time cleaning up the camp from the meal. There really weren’t any dishes to speak of. Valsh served all of the food on these big leaves and everything was eaten with our fingers.  Basically we just took the leaves out away from camp or burned them in the campfire and then washed our hands.  Any leftover food was thrown far out into the jungle for scavengers as a way to give thanks back to the jungle for providing for our needs. Simple and efficient like everything else he does.

“I think tomorrow we will return to my village,” Valsh said while hurling the last rib bone from his lunch out into the underbrush. “With this last issue sorted out, I think it will be relatively safe for you in our village. Besides you can’t do what I brought you here to do if we never get you near the War Leader. I guess the last thing we need to decide is the way you will kill him. I’m not going to tell you how to do your job.  It just has to be a mystery.  If my people think for a second that a rival tribe is responsible, a war is inevitable. I am trying to avoid more useless orc death not cause it.”

“I am already working on a plan for it Valsh,” I said with a grin. “I just need to scout the village to finalize how it will be done. Your people will never see it coming, and they will never know how it was done. Like you said I am a devious bastard, and I’m ungodly sneaky to boot. He will die in his bed in a hut surrounded by his guards.  No one will see me come and no one will see me leave. As far as your village is concerned I will be in the mountains on a scouting mission gathering information about the Green Mountain Tribe. I can’t promise that it won’t be messy though.  If you want it to look like he angered your gods, then I will make it look like an angry god took out his wrath on your War Leader.”

We spent the rest of that afternoon polishing up on my jungle survival skills. Learning things like how to not get lost in the dark, how to identify direction when you can’t see the sun, and what tracks and signs to watch for to be alert to predators in the area. I was going to have to hide out and survive in the jungle for a few days on my own to complete the illusion that I was out scouting and spying.  I wanted to be sure I made it back alive to collect the rest of my payment from Valsh once the smoke had cleared.

We sat down to eat our evening meal and Valsh turned to me and asked, “Tole, I’ve got a concern.  You are planning to face my War Leader alone in his home correct?”

“Yes.”

“I see.  Tell me this then.  How are you not going to die? Even if you manage to come upon him sleeping, orcs do not die easily.  He will come awake and fight back and then you will die,” he said with something that almost sounded like worry in his voice. Not for me of course, but for the success of his mission.

It wasn’t an insult, just a simple statement of fact, and a valid statement at that. I held up one finger to him to let him know I needed a second. I got up from the table and went into the hut to where I’d been sleeping for the last week or so.  I reached under the cot I was using for a bed and pulled out a rough sack made of what felt like burlap.  I walked over and dropped it on the ground beside Valsh.  The vipers inside hissed their displeasure.

“WHAT IN THE NAME OF…” Valsh exclaimed as he backed away. “Are those leaf vipers?!?”

“They are, and I’ve been milking their venom for the past few days. I think I have enough to make an effective poison.  I will inject it into his neck while he sleeps.  The neurotoxin should paralyze him and make it very easy for me to do my work. He will be dead in less than a minute…if it even takes that long,” I finished looking Valsh in the eye with a finality that told him this is what I do and why he hired me.

“You are crazy aren’t you?” he asked with a tone in his voice I don’t think he was used to making. “The gods sent you, so I will not doubt in their wisdom. I will, however, start sleeping with one eye open.”

“Just make good on the promised payment and you have nothing to worry about,” I assured him. With that I gathered up my sack of snakes and headed to bed. “Better hit the sack friend. Tomorrow starts the next part of this adventure. Get some rest.” I shook the sack making the vipers hiss one more time. I laughed softly and went to bed.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Mikey!!!

My daughter is totally in love with Mikey from The Affairs of Dragons.  I have to admit, I like the character a lot too.

Anywho, I recently celebrated the completion of another trip around the sun and one of the gifts I received was this sculpture of Mikey that my daughter made for me. The awesomeness is overwhelming.


So cool.

Tole

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

And the Hits Just Keep On...

Ok, I guess I should be grateful that my a/c made it through the heat of summer, but dammit we still have upper 80's and lower 90's happening here! Hopefully this is something simple and my trusty a/c repair guy will patch it up one more time.  I mean these things should last more that ten years right?!?!?

Grrr....

-Tole

Update: two blown capacitors replaced and we are cool again! Had them go ahead and check the Freon while he was there.  This is Texas and we are known to have unexpected heat through October.  Serviced the heater also cause it's just that time.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Edits and What-Not

At the suggestion of Lawdog, I have made a small edit to the stories concerning the dragon.  Let's see if anyone catches what's different.

Hint: It all has something to do with the dragon herself.

-Tole

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Affairs of Dragons Pt. 3 - Communion


A couple of minutes passed, and  I started to think that the portal may have glitched and dropped me in the wrong place…again.  The magic of the portal is kind of delicate. If my mind isn’t clear on exactly where I want to be, I can end up in the wrong place.  I remember a time I was hired by a chieftain of a tribe of desert nomads, and I was supposed to be traveling into his tent.  When I activated the portal, I had been wondering if his tribe embraced the practice of polygamy and maintained a harem like some of the peoples back on my home world. I stepped through my door into a tent full of semi-naked and more than a few fully naked women. I mean, I’m not complaining, but my employer was none too happy with me.

I had put my daggers away and was preparing to activate the runes on my arm to open the portal home when a voice behind me spoke.

“I see you found your way to me after all. I had hoped you would…” Her voice trailed off into a sultry little purr, but  I’m not used to people being able to get behind me. Throw in the fact that I was coming here to meet with a dragon, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I jumped. I turned around and Serilla was standing in front of me in the same partially human form she had taken back in The Bar. I know she’s a giant lizard in reality, but this form was damned sexy.

“I took the job.  You know what that means. I’m here to kill your problem.  Anything other than that will have to wait.”

“Pity…ah well, to business it is then. Come along Killer,” and with that she walked over to the trap door in the floor and started down the stairs.

Here’s hoping I’m not the next entrĂ©e walking into her pantry.

The stairs were wooden and went down about fifty feet or so.  There was a lit torch in a sconce every ten feet.  They ended on a stone landing that was roughly ten feet by ten feet and surrounded by a guard rail made of cast iron.  At the far end was an opening in the railing indicating more stairs. The landing turned out to be high up on the wall of a cavern.  The opening in railing was for more stairs, stone this time that led further down into the cavern. In the light emanating from the torches which continued down the walls I could see the glow of gold.  I glanced over the edge of the railing. Now THIS is a dragon’s lair.

“Welcome to my home Killer. You should count yourself fortunate.  Not many are invited here and fewer yet come with assurances that they will leave again. I have lived here for quite some time in safety and hope to continue to do so after our business is finished.”

The implied threat didn’t go unnoticed. I turned and looked back up the stairs at the trap door that leads back into the cottage. It seemed odd to me that anyone would have built that house on top of this cavern, especially if it had been occupied by a dragon. That led me to conclude that she must have built it. Surely she didn’t live there in human form. I turned back to her and said, “so the house is a duck blind.”

“A duck blind?”

I explained to her. “A duck is a bird that is hunted for sport and food on my world. Hunters will build a canopy over themselves to hide them from view from the air.  The idea is to go unnoticed. You built the house on top of your lair. You come and go in human form so that no one will suspect the location of your true home.”

“Were we not allies, that knowledge would be your death Killer. However, I have to give you credit.  You are not as dim witted as most of your kind. You may survive this yet.”

With that she leapt from the ledge and a few seconds later the stone I stood upon shook and dust fell from the ceiling.  I looked back over the edge of the rail and saw Serilla in her true form for the first time, and she was…magnificent.

I know dragons are supposed to inspire fear.  A normal person who’d been confronted with a killing machine that was three hundred feet long tail to snout would probably have pissed themselves.  The hindbrain would have kicked in and fight or flight (usually flight) instincts would take over. I’d beaten my hindbrain until it quit caring about life or death a long time ago. I’m a fucking predator, not some mewling little piece of shit prey animal.  What I saw was everything I value, everything I wanted and needed to be. She WAS death, and she was glorious!

Like I said before, she was three hundred feet long from the tip of her spiked tail to the tip of her snout. Her wingspan had to be close to the same distance because folded at her side they stretched from her shoulders to her rear haunches. Her eyes had the same glow that they had held back at The Bar and smoke curled from her nostrils. It hinted at the inferno inside of her that just waited to be released.  Her scales had an iridescent quality and shimmered in the light shifting hues from green, to blue, and then to purple. Extremely well defined muscles rippled beneath those scales.  The power they hinted at sent a shudder through me. Her talons, both fore and aft, were as thick as my thigh and damned near as long and ended in points designed to pierce the toughest of hides. This was a creature that could level towns and devastate populations. The thought that the people of this world sought to destroy her triggered an unexpected reaction.  I WANTED to protect her, and I would make these assholes pay for their arrogance.

Whoa Tole. What the hell is that? Don’t get personal.  Do the job. Take the gold. Emotions get you killed…or worse. Let that shit go!

My first thought was that she’d put some sort of spell on me to make me feel this way, but I’ve taken steps to prevent that.  I’ve been down that road before and it didn’t end well.  I’m still working on getting past it, and I wanted to make damned sure it never happens again.

I shook my head to clear the fog, but the anger that rose up continued to smolder.  I managed to pull it back to a slow burn, but burn it did nonetheless. For a split second I considered turning around and going home. I squashed that thought as fast as I had it though.  My reputation was that I took a job; I do the job; I get paid.  I was not about to tarnish that hard fought record because of some stupid knee-jerk, emotional reaction. I’d deal with that shit after I finish the job.

“You are going to swallow a fly if you do not close your gaping maw. I thought you stared hard at me when I was in your form, but now…” Serilla said. Her voice was almost the same as before just…bigger.

I snapped my jaw shut and unconsciously straightened my shirt. I walked over to the opening in the rail and started down the stairs which descended into the cavern in a spiral around its perimeter . As I walked I noticed that the walls of the cavern were covered in wards, most likely to prevent her being discovered by scrying.  Long lived beings don’t get to be that way by being careless, and again I found myself impressed by her.

About fifteen feet from the floor I hopped the rail and dropped the rest of the way down tucking into a roll when I hit.  Granted it wasn’t as impressive as the hundred feet or so she had dropped but then I couldn’t turn into a dragon on the way down either. I did manage to look somewhat coordinated though. I do practice that shit after all.

“You honestly have no fear of me do you?” she asked me. “Most men would have turned and fled back up the stairs once they saw me in my true form, but not you Killer.  You stride down the stairs like you have done it a thousand times and even leap into the dragon’s maw so to speak. You are truly a wonder.”

I kind of  cocked an eyebrow at her and smiled saying, “Nothing wondrous about me. If you wanted me dead you’ve had more than enough chances up to now.  I figure you really need my services, so until the job is done I’m off the snack list. You may eat me later, but for now I am useful and therefore safe.  Besides, I’m warded to go boom if I’m ever killed, and it’s probably big enough of an explosion to level your hill. However, I’m betting you already know that.”

“Truth,” she said with a nod of her enormous head.

“All of that aside though, I came down here because I am drawn to you.  I grew up reading about dragons without ever imagining that your kind were real.  I would have come down here even facing death just to get a closer look at you.  This is not flattery in any sense of the word, rather it’s statement of blatant fact…you’re magnificent. I can’t stop myself staring at you, at your terrifying beauty.”

I stood there for a minute after I said that with my heart pounding in my chest. I hadn’t felt that way since I was a nerdy teenager waiting for the girl I had just asked to the movies to either lift my heart or crush it.  It was a very uncomfortable few minutes, but that’s when something unexpected happened…she cocked her head at me and looked me square in the eyes. While our eyes were locked a shimmer formed around her and where one second stood a dragon the size of a battleship there now stood the woman from The Bar.

“Killer…Tole…you are definitely not what I have come to expect in a human. I think I have chosen wisely in a protector, and I would offer you something no human has known from me, and no, I do not mean laying with me.  I offer you a glimpse at the soul of a dragon. This is something that is not shared lightly.  It is called Communion, and you will see exactly who and what I am. In exchange I will see exactly who and what you are. It is far more intimate than mere sex and far more intense. Do not take this offer lightly though.  Once it is done it cannot be undone.  What you will see cannot be unseen. What do you say?”

I could tell she was extremely uncomfortable offering me this, and again I heard “for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup”  in the back of my mind.  I know killing me would kill her too, but that doesn’t mean I’m eager to become a nuclear warhead.  Then it hit me, she was nervous, the kind of nervous a person is the first time they’re naked in front of someone.  She was offering to bare herself in a way much more deeply than mere nudity ever could be.  She was offering to make herself vulnerable to me, and she was asking me to make myself vulnerable to her. For killers of any race, that’s asking a lot. I felt my resolve about keeping this job professional beginning to slip away. I didn’t really feel any urge to fight it either, and for once in my life I kept my sarcasm in check.  Likely that’s why I’m here to tell this story. I took a deep breath and looked at this beautiful creature standing before me and asked her, “What do I need to do?”

“Simply open your mind,” she said.

This is where it got a bit sticky, and I should have seen it coming.  I’ll admit that I was a little swept up in the moment and that may have caused me to be blinded.  I’d have to let down the wards that protect my mind from being touched by magic. I’d be open to control again.  She’d have the ability to bond me to her in a way like my wife had before. While I had a driving need to protect her, I also had a deep seated need to keep my free will. I reflexively took a step back.

“Is something wrong?” she asked with a look on her face that was part confusion and part hurt.

All I meant to tell her was that I had once had a bad experience with magic getting into my mind and robbing me of my free will.  That was all I was gonna say. That wasn’t all that came out. The next thing I knew I had told her the whole story from the meeting her in that bar on Terra, to her death, and finally to my vengeance on her killers.  I hadn’t told the whole story to anyone.  Bobby knew, but he’d been there for most of it.  Valsh knew some of it but not all.  The really fucked up part of it all was the fact that I still don’t know if it was my choice to see it through to the end or if it was the magical mind fucking she had given me.

After I finished the story I was exhausted, so I sat down on a chest that was nearby. I looked up her and said, “I haven’t told anyone that whole story, and I honestly don’t know why I told you.  What’s done is done though, so there you go. Now you know what you’re asking me to do.  You’re asking me to trust you, and I’m not sure I can no matter how much I’d like to.”

She sat beside me and took my hand saying, “Be assured I would never bind the will of another.  Freedom is at the core of everything my kind value.  Being bound that way is an abomination and an affront to all that I hold dear.   Besides, if I had wanted to make a slave of you, the wards on your mind would not have stopped me.” She looked me in the eye and asked, “ Did you not notice when I read your resolve in The Bar? My magic is older and stronger than anything even the Altanian know. I would have merely swept them away like so many cobwebs on a forest path. The wards you have in place would have watered down the experience of Communion. If we are to share it, I would have you receive the full experience. If you would like I can tell you if your will is still colored by her invasion, and if so, I can cleanse your mind of its effect.”

I nodded and mentally deactivated the wards around my mind. Even though I was bristling with pointy goodness I suddenly felt very defenseless.  It was extremely uncomfortable.

She took my face in her hands and her gaze deepened. The next few minutes were very…odd. It was like being examined by a doctor.  All she did was move my head this way and that and mutter under her breath.  Most of what she said came out as “mmm-hmm” or “hmm” and even an “interesting.” After what seemed like about half an hour she let go and sat back.

“Well that was enlightening.  I am old enough that I’ve seen Altanian bindings before. That one was…odd. It was definitely a protector’s binding, but it was delicate. It is almost as though she saw that you already possessed the killer instinct the binding usually instills, so all she did was touch you with the emotional bond.  Even that though was light. Almost like she lessened it over time. I would say you actually loved her after a while. The bond was actually put there to help you NOT be a killer. When she died, the last bit of the magic died with her.  Everything you did after that point was all you.”

Confusion and relief and elation all rolled through me at once. The feelings brought with them a few tears. I didn’t turn into a blubbering idiot or anything, but that kind of relief is gonna pop a tear out whether you want it or not.  I really didn’t know how to react to that news, so I just reached out and embraced her.  Now it was her turn to be uncomfortable. She went rigid until she realized I wasn’t going to try and hurt her. After that she relaxed into my embrace, and we just sat there for a few minutes. When it was over I felt like a giant boulder had been taken off of my back. Now I know who I am…who I’ve always been. I am a killer. Period. End of story.

 “Thank you,” I told her. “If your offer still stands, I would very much like to experience Communion with you.”

“Of course,” was all she said and she took my hand and led me to a kneeling position on the floor. “This is usually done between two of my kind in our natural forms. I have never done this with a human much less in human form.  It may take a moment for me to orient myself.”

She knelt across from me with her knees touching mine. She reached out, took my hands in hers, and locked her eyes with mine. After a minute or so a glow began to form around us both. Shortly after it formed I realized that the glow was actually a ball of flame with us at the center.  Strangely though it wasn’t hot. Her eyes drew nearer until they passed right through me and I found myself in the night sky gliding among the stars.

The landscape below me is mine and mine alone. There are green fields, a cabin on a hill, a mountain range where unearthly light dances among the slopes, and a scarred and burnt wasteland.  All of it belongs to me to do with as I will. I decide I should land and explore but when my feet touch ground I am in all five places at once. Each version of me is slightly different. I realize that each land represents an aspect of a dragon’s existence. All I have to do is concentrate and I can slide between aspects like chasing a thought.

The night sky is freedom, freedom to go and do as I will.  It is unfettered joy. There is nothing here that can touch me. The green fields of grass are hunting grounds. This is where the predator stalks its prey. This is where my dominance over all life is asserted. The cabin on the hill are safety and home. Nothing can touch me there. It is where I find peace, comfort,  love, and…family.  The mountains are magic, old and powerful. This is where my will and my intellect live. I am all powerful and all knowing. The burnt wasteland is my rage.  It is destroyed because I wish it so, and it pleases me. When you combine all of these things…freedom, predator, home, magic, and rage… you have a dragon. Woe be to anyone who threatens any of it.

I could feel the Communion coming to an end, and I fought against it. I railed against being forced back into that frail human frame. I longed to stay and bathe in the glory of being a dragon. No matter though.  The world came back into focus, and I was looking into those glowing eyes once again. This time though there was something new in her eyes. It took me a moment to recognize it because I hadn’t seen it in a very long time…respect.  No one respects the paid assassin.  They fear him.  They hate him. Some even look down on him, but no one respects him.

I took her hand back into mine and locked my gaze on her saying, “Serilla, thank you for sharing that with me. It was beautiful. You are beautiful, and I will end the threat to you and your brood or I will die trying.”

I felt her hand tighten on mine at the mention of her brood and she said, “I should have realized that I could hide nothing in Communion.  I do have a small brood of four younglings. The first for me in close to a half of a millennia. I would have gladly died to protect them if I thought I could end the threat to them…but Tole, now that I have seen what you hold inside I feel I should release you from our bargain. I would not risk having someone such as you perish. Would you like to know what I saw of you?”

“No.”

“But I think you should kn…”

“No.”

“Very well,” she said and leaned forward kissing me again every bit as hard as she had back in The Bar. “I will know you as a human woman knows a man, Killer. Now that I know who and what you truly are I will regret it if I do not.”

I stood and told her, “Once I’ve ended this bastard and you’ve added his weapons and armor to your hoard, we can explore that for as long as you’d like. Now though, I’ve got people to kill. Where are they?”