November 28 2019

Interview with the Dragon Goddess 7 – by Draxenath

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the next instalment of this wonderful story by Draxenath. It is entitled “Interview with the Dragon Goddess”.
Background music by Smartsound

Part 10: Humans and Magic

– With the improvements in science and technology, did humans forget how to use magic?

Draxenath shook her head. – Humans never had any magic, that is part of the punishment imposed on Amaxis. That is the reason humans created technology and artificial means to harness magic, they need to use materials already infused with it.

– But I have seen a few humans use magic on their own! For example, the fair-skinned humans from Draconia. – I said. She looked at me with condescendence. – Those are not entirely human, they descend from the House of Athaldar, as you already know.

She evidently knew the details in depth, so I could not help to ask. – Not entirely human? But Athaldar was human! How did his descendants obtain magical power?

– There are ways for magical races to interbreed, even with humans. There are also cases of humans forcefully breeding with other races to have magic-wielding offsprings, with varying degrees of success. Back to the subject of Athaldar, you have certainly read about him, but do you know anything about his wife?

I tried to think, but I really knew nothing about her. Draxenath continued. – Her name was Wallanime Draconia, she was a dragoness that magically changed her shape, allowing her to give him children. That’s where the city’s name comes from. Are there no historical records about her?

– Not readily available, none that I am aware of. – I replied. She seemed upset. – I see… most of the important women and dragons have been erased from history, it does not surprise me. She was one of my most faithful servants and a very bloodthirsty one. She was well known for her craving for human blood and meat, no other kind would satisfy her. Humans feared and respected her, the other races worshipped her.

– I can see why humans feared and respected her. – I said. Draxenath chuckled. – Oh, you have no idea, she would eat human women, take their shape, mate with their husband or significant other, then eat them! That is where most of the original Draconians came from.

I was horrified at the thought of such murderous wantonness. – And Athaldar allowed her to get away with all of that?! – Draxenath was very entertained. – At the time they first met, she was naked, rolling over the pond of blood from Athaldar’s original wife, she had just taken her form after eating her. He was furious as he quickly figured out what just happened. He swore to kill her, and almost did! After an arduous fight, Athaldar managed to defeat her. When he was about to give her the killing blow, she begged for mercy and promised to submit to him and give him strong and healthy children. He was not willing to spare her life at first, but she invoked me and swore under my name. That was enough for him. She was allowed to eat humans only on the battlefield, and she would also have rights over criminals sentenced to death.

– Athaldar’s courage must have had no bounds! Wasn’t he afraid she could eat him? – I exclaimed. Draxenath gave me that condescending look again. – She swore under my name, had she broken her oath, I would have killed her myself! Never swear under my name unless you plan to keep that promise! But that was not all, with time they grew on each other. By the time I left, they were deeply in love.

– I understand. What happened to her after Athaldar’s death? – I asked. – I don’t know, – she answered. – I left well before Athaldar’s death. Wallanime’s oath expired with his death, so if she was still alive I would assume she grieved for a few years and then went back to her old ways. Given the length of a dragon’s life cycle, she might still live today. If that’s the case, I wonder if she hates me for not answering her prayers for so long…

– She owes you her life, she might be waiting for your return if she is still around. – I said, not sure if that would comfort her, but that thought sure made me feel uncomfortable. She remained thoughtful for a couple minutes.

Part 11: The Three Siblings

– What can you tell me about Wallanime’s sons? – was my next question.

– Her favorite son was named Zohorone. – Draxenath answered. – Even though he was born with magical power, he was interested in the human methods of magic. His thirst for knowledge led him down a very dark path.

– Zohorone, The First Necromancer?! He is legendary! Many have tried to follow his steps, but it’s hard to tell how much of the legend is real and how much is a mere embellishment. Would you be so kind as to unveil his true achievements? – I asked.

– He dabbled in the mysteries of life and death, – she continued – making horrible experiments that upset even Samsara. Among his discoveries were the reanimation of corpses, and the means to transfer his consciousness to them, even more than one at a time. He could also invade the minds of the living and exert his magic on them in the same manner.

– I have heard legends that the ranks of Draconia’s army included reanimated dead that were exceptionally coordinated among them. Such legends say they spread like a disease, that anyone killed by them would rise as one.

– Indeed, he built armies that way. Even in the rare cases when the reanimated corpses could not kill their victims, the contact with them allowed Zohorone to use his magic to finish them off and reanimate their bodies.

– That is very disturbing. I start to wonder, how could the enemies of Draconia sleep at night? – I commented. – And what happened to Zohorone? There is no legend or historical record mentioning his death, it’s as if he just vanished one day.

– It doesn’t surprise me. – she said. – Zohorone retired to an inhospitable place to continue his studies undisturbed. He might still live, thinking of new ways to manipulate life and death and become truly immortal.

– Immortality is a goal many have pursued with no success, but I think if someone has any chance of that, it’s him. Tell me about another of her sons, please. – I requested.

– The best shapeshifter among her sons was Athel. – she answered. – He loved furry creatures and spent a lot of time with them, taking their form and learning from them. He gained a considerable following, especially among felids, canids, and rodents. He would often assume shapes that combine characteristics of multiple creatures, as well as from his draconic shape.

– I have heard that name before… there are legends about a feral kingdom, inhabited by beasts larger and tougher than the ordinary. They would sometimes venture to the villages and cities and take the cattle away. Athel was the name of their king, he is.described in many different legends as a monster with a body composed of different animal parts, the only consistency among them being the feathered wings and fire breath. He is considered protector of all creatures covered in fur. – I commented.

– Those extraordinary beasts are his offsprings. – Draxenath added. – He mated with many different species, lots of fun he was having with the furries in more than one way, the naughty boy. The humans tried to slay him and his army but had no success. He continued raiding villages and cities and driving the humans away. He claimed all that territory for his kingdom. Eventually, the humans decided to move as far away from his territory as possible.

– I was not expecting that. – I commented. – There is no legend or record of his death either, so I guess he might still live. What can you tell me about Pram of Draconia, besides what you already told me?

– He was very disciplined, a formidable warrior and strategist. He inherited his mother’s craving for humans. In the battlefield, he would rip his opponents’ throats with either his bare hands or his teeth in order to drink their blood. He left his father behind and founded Flameside as a kingdom of his own. He fought the vampire and human armies for years. He always looked up to my… to my firstborn. – A lump in her throat interrupted her for a brief moment, then she let out a very long sigh. – He was a young boy admiring and trying to emulate his hero… he was devastated after the death of my child. That is likely the reason he let his guard down and was wounded, and most likely also the reason he never came out of his chambers afterward.

Draxenath remained silent for a moment, then talked again. – All of them were sons of Athaldar as well. Her other offsprings are also special one way or another, but those three are the ones that left the deepest mark in the world.

She looked stern. I got the feeling she was thinking of someone, a black sheep among them, perhaps? I did not dare to ask.
 
Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

November 21 2019

Interview with the Dragon Goddess 6 – by Draxenath

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the next instalment of this wonderful story by Draxenath. It is entitled “Interview with the Dragon Goddess”.
Background music by Smartsound

Part 8: Starmire

– The next settlement in terms of size is called Starmire. It’s an odd one indeed. About four hundred years ago, a meteor crashed on a humid region, leaving a very large crater. The minerals of the meteor nourished the earth and water. This slowly transformed the region into a swamp full of life, attracting several nomadic tribes of different races. They fought for about two centuries, then one day their leaders sat down together and established a civil code that would allow them to co-exist peacefully.

The goddess was surprised at hearing that. She was in a much better mood than before. – They live in peace by themselves? What is their form of organization? – she asked. – They have a council of elders, composed of the wise men from each tribe. – I answered.

Her eyes gleamed with interest. – And no control from Amaxis? Do they live in complete freedom? – She asked. I noticed a hint of excitement in her voice. – Yes, they are completely free, and their way of living is very careful about not to upset the natural balance of their home. And I now understand them a little better. You mentioned a goddess of plants and god of fungi earlier. Starmire’s inhabitants don’t refer to them as deities, but they worship them and bury their dead in the swamplands as a form of offering. I heard the names Viridiana and Fungar so many times, and how the dead served as food for them. I thought they were two creatures inhabiting the swamp.

Draxenath nodded. – They didn’t participate in the conflict, always indifferent to it, so they were left alone even by Amaxis. Their influence might be what made the tribes stop fighting! Do they have other traditions in common among the different tribes?

– They have a festival during the flowering season. The swamp is covered in vivid colors from the different flowers. The tribes gather to thank Viridiana and Fungar for the abundance of vegetation. There is music, dancing, food, and the usual games and activities seen on festivals. At night one can observe varieties of luminescent insects tracing beautiful light patterns as they do their mating flight.

She seemed delighted, as if she were imagining it – What are their main activities?

– Their main activities vary among races, but most of them are hunter-gatherers. The swamp provides plenty of food and resources for them to survive. Besides the activities essential for living, the do clay pottery, carpentry, stone crafting, and bone crafting.

Draxenath nodded. – No agriculture or cattle raising… do they have commerce with other regions? – she asked. – They don’t, they are prosperous and self-sufficient by themselves, and would not risk causing scarcity in their homeland. They take all means necessary to control their own population and take only what they need, even when they hoard for the winter. – Draxenath seemed thoughtful. – There is still hope… They understand… what about technology?

– They have developed technology for building through natural means like tree root and branch growth and shaping. They also use shaped rocks for construction. Their homes, bridges. and constructions, in general, are made of shaped trees, rocks, vines and plants. -The goddess was very surprised. – I need to see that! What other wonderful things have they accomplished through technology? – she asked. – They have also developed techniques to shape and rebind bone matter. Their bone and stone craftsmanship is very impressive. Their weapons made of bone and stone are comparable to metal ones in terms of hardness and sharpness, not to mention their beauty.

– And how racially diverse is the population?

– Very! There are plenty of different canids like werewolves, inujin and dogheads, different felids like werecats, nekojin and catmen, different ungulans like centaurs, minotaurs, satyrs and fauns, there are giants, there are also humans, different kinds of avians like owlans and eaglans, different reptilians like lizardmen and naga, amd even dragons!

– Dragons? Are they well received? Do they get along with other races?

– Dragons have been resentful of other races for a very long time… probably since you left. They find it difficult to get along with other races, but things are quite different in Starmire, although the dragon population is small and they are very reserved in their social interactions.

Draxenath nodded. – I see… let’s talk about a different settlement.

Part 9: Oceankeep and Glimmerstorm

– There is one settlement, presumed to be very large, but I have not been able to verify it. Its name is Oceankeep. It is a city found in the ocean and inhabited by sea creatures, although I have read that some dragons might live there too. They are very hostile towards land dwellers approaching their city.

Draxenath nodded.- It is a very ancient city, and humans have tried to conquer it for quite some time. Many different devices, tools, vehicles, and weapons have been created for that purpose, all failing as far as I can see. They even tried to poison and pollute the ocean, but Viridiana created sea plants capable of filtering and cleaning it. No wonder the inhabitants of Oceankeep are very hostile!

– It would seem like you know a lot more about it than me. – I commented. – It would! If things have not changed since then, the most intelligent inhabitants are mermen, turtle men, porpoises, aquatic dragons, in no particular order. The last I knew was they crafted weapons from bones and seashells. They don’t trade with those from the surface. Is there anything more you know?

I really knew nothing else. I shook my head. – Alright, any other settlement that might be of interest?

– There is another settlement, I know it’s large but have not been able to assess it properly, is called Glimmerstorm. It is a flying city found above the clouds, said to be inhabited by avians and dragons. It was built about eight hundred years ago by avians and dragons to stay out of human reach. It’s not easy to see from the land as they move constantly and use the clouds as cover. During the night, it’s much easier to see, as it looks like a glimmering cloud formation, hence the name Glimmerstorm. Its inhabitants come to the ground to hunt, gather, and sometimes even trade, but that is quite rare, they are very cautious in their dealings, especially with humans. I would love to visit it someday, but for now, it seems impossible.

The goddess looked at me with curiosity. – And what would you be looking for in that city? – She asked. – It’s a city out of reach from human control, I would like to make contact with them and get their version of history, read their books, know more about their culture, I’d like to know everything about them!

She gave me a condescending look. – If you are so interested in ancient avian and draconic culture, I can answer most of your questions, I knew them well back then since they were my people. I have extensive knowledge of the other races too, if you care to ask as well.

That’s how I became the interviewer again.

— From this point forward, I will be open to questions from the readers to be featured in the interview. Please send questions you may have in regards to Draxenath, the other gods, the different races, their culture, anything related to this fantasy world —

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

November 14 2019

Interview with the Dragon Goddess 5 – by Draxenath

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the next instalment of this wonderful story by Draxenath. It is entitled “Interview with the Dragon Goddess”.
Background music by Smartsound

Part 7: The Quarrelling Cities

– What would the next largest settlement be?

– This is not exactly one settlement, but eight cities, which is said belonged to a single kingdom. They are collectively called The Quarrelling Cities. The population of each individual city is quite uniform in racial distribution. There is a city mostly inhabited by humans, another by giants, another by ungulans, there is another by felids, one more by canids, another by insect-men, another by reptilians, another by avians… they are not very far from one another, and roughly in the center of that territory is a ruined castle, where it is said a king used to rule them all.

I noticed she had gone absentminded. After a couple minutes, she asked me to continue. – Each city is very different from the others, with different social organization and activities. They form a sort of synergy with each other, as each city produces something the others need.

The goddess nodded. – Humans produce technology, giants are miners and blacksmiths, insect men and ungulans are agricultural, canids and felids are hunters, avians are carpenters and hunters, reptilians are metallurgists and glassworkers. Or has anything changed?

– It has not changed at all. As for this ancient king, the lore and legends are different in each city. In fact, those differing legends are what have kept them from reunifying and have contributed to the ongoing quarrels. The legends of King Centurion. The humans claim he was human, the avians claim he was an avian, the giants claim he was a giant, the canids claim he was a canid, and so on. Each legend tells of how King Centurion liberated their people from human oppression. As for the human version, it tells of how he united them all under the same banner.

By then, I noticed the goddess’ wrinkled brow. – I would like to hear the legends. – she said. My excitement could not be greater at that time. – Do you know the real story? My understanding is it happened over a thousand years ago. I can tell you the legends, then I would be happy to hear the real story. – Draxenath nodded, remaining silent. I proceeded to relate the legends to her.

– There is a sort of basis all these legends have in common. They start in the same way: From far away came a warrior, his strength worth that of a hundred. Centurion was his name. His sword was broad like a giant meat cleaver, its hilt adorned by two intertwined dragons, its aura strengthened the worthy and weakened the unworthy. Its weight was so great no one else could wield it. He rode a dragon, as a horse had no strength to carry both him and the sword. – As I said this, I couldn’t help but look at Draxenath’s sword… it matched the description. She was nodding as I described it.

I decided not to ask anything and continued. – I will start with the Giants’ version. One day, a human woman with bright crimson hair purchased a considerable amount of giant slaves. She claimed to be a princess from far away lands and wanted the slaves for a very important task which required a lot of strength. Little did the slaves know that she was the wife of a giant warrior unlike any known even until today. This warrior had fair skin and golden hair, fierce eyes, a prominent nose, and was very tall, even for a giant, and his strength had no equal, he was called Centurion The Courageous. – Draxenath had a very unusual smile. Was she entertained? It seemed like something else. Nostalgia maybe? I was not able to tell for sure. Maybe it was a fun fact for her that she matches that general description as well.

– He trained the slaves in wrestling, teaching them how to use their size and power more effectively. Soon, they were ready for the main task he had for them. “Today, you are going to earn not only your freedom but that of our kin as well. We know how to use our strength and size, the humans’ tools and machines will not stop us, we will use them against them to leverage our natural advantage.”

– The army marched on to the human settlements, one after the next, using the same tactics: Centurion would demand the government submit to him and his new laws which granted the giants freedom and equality. The settlements that did not submit were crushed by his strength. Vampires fell under his sword, and humans were overpowered by his raw strength. Even the Avatars of Amaxis would fall, withering and rotting as he cleaved through them with his powerful blade, The Exalted Cleaver, a sword created to punish the evil gods. – Draxenath nodded repeatedly as I was going through this part.

– A nation was formed, and Centurion was crowned as its king. As he amassed power and territory, his army grew and new knights were appointed. He made the mistake of appointing a human named Malchen as his Champion Knight. Sir Malchen was cunning, like the worst of the human filth. He envied Centurion’s riches, and even his wife, so he betrayed him. He seduced Centurion’s wife, and when their affair was discovered, they escaped, leaving King Centurion heartbroken. He lost his will to fight, and The Exalted Cleaver lost its edge. He lost his appetite and quickly withered and died. This story teaches us that humans are treacherous cowards and not to be trusted. – She didn’t nod as in the previous part. I noticed constant eye rolling and sighing.

– I will tell the Avian version of the legend now. Long ago, the majority of the Avians had been enslaved by humans. They would use nets, cages, shackles, ropes and other tools to keep them from flying too far away. They were used as trophies, pets, to keep the humans warm with their feathers, and also as slave labor in high places. This changed when a human woman with bright red hair purchased a large number of avian slaves to build a castle on a high cliff. Once at the cliff, the slaves met their new owner, a powerful avian of bright golden plumage, powerful talons and eyes so sharp that could see farther than anyone else. His wings were so strong and his body so resilient he could fly a hundred times as high as any other avian. His name was Centurion The Benevolent. – Draxenath was giving me that same strange smile, it kept puzzling me. Again the general description matched with her.

– They built the castle, and at the same time, Centurion trained them in aerial combat and armed them with the now well known avian bolt slingers, created through human technology, with the avian anatomy in mind. The day the castle was finished, he summoned the avians for the main task he had for them. “We were created to be free. I dream of the day all avians will soar through the skies in complete freedom. I dream of one day in this world that is now filled with humans treating everyone else as inferior and as objects of their property, one day when our children will be able to join hands with human children and be seen by them as their equal. We will see the hills and mountains from above, rough places and crooked paths will be no obstacle to us. And the glory of our Goddess, the Champion of Freedom, shall be revealed. This will be the day when all our children will be able to sing with new meaning ‘My home, beautiful land of liberty, of thee I sing. The land where my parents fought, where my parents died, to let freedom ring on every corner’. Let’s fight to free our kin!” – I noticed Draxenath enjoyed the speech, she was smiling and let out a couple tears while I recited it.

– The war tactics described were basically the same as in the giant version, demand them to submit or be conquered, but instead of raw strength, it speaks of his graceful flight and sharpshooting skills. The mention of the Exalted Cleaver stays mostly the same. – Draxenath nodded. – The appointment of the human knight Sir Malchen and how he runs away with Centurion’s wife stay the same as well. – She remained silent, rolling her eyes once more.

– For the reptilian version, it starts with the woman with red bright hair taking over a metallurgic company by force. This is one of the few legends that speak of her in a little more detail. Bright red hair, a fiery temper, and draconic eyes. To make the long story short, she had them work on metal alloys to craft weapons for the army of her husband, a reptilian warrior with golden scales, called Centurion the Polite. He taught them how to fight with a variety of weapons, same war tactics, speaks of his battle prowess with many kinds of weapons. The Exalted Cleaver part is the same. – Draxenath gave her usual nod. – The story of Sir Malchen is mostly unchanged, with the difference that he escapes alone and Centurion’s wife commits suicide, the rest remains the same. – For this part, she raised a brow but said nothing.

– The Ungulan version says the woman of bright red hair purchased a very large plantation where the ungulan slaves worked, while an ungulan warrior with golden fur and horns forming a crown, called Centurion The Sincere, trained them in combat with their horns, hooves, as well as lances, spears, and axes. Same war tactics, mentions his charges were unstoppable, the rest is the same. – Again, she had that smile I can’t figure out, and this version features another resemblance to her, the golden color and the horns forming a crown. – The rest of the legend is the same as the giant version. – She rolled her eyes once more.

– The Felid version tells of felid slave purchases by that same woman, describes Centurion The Honorable as a felid warrior with golden fur, powerful claws, and fierce eyes. He trained them in stealth and combat with their claws and bite. The part about the war tactics mentions his fast reflexes and powerful claws. – Again I’d love to figure out the meaning of her smile. More resemblance to her. – The part about Sir Malchen says he escaped alone, Centurion’s wife committed suicide to atone for her infidelity, and Sir Malchen was hunted down and eaten. The rest of the legend is unchanged. – She raised a brow the same way as she did at the end of the reptilian version.

– The Canid version is very similar to the Felid version. Centurion The Loyal is described as a canid with golden fur, eyes full of wisdom, and a maw full of sharp teeth. They recognize him as a very cunning warrior and a great leader, with a great sense of teamwork and pack tactics. – Draxenath was nodding again, with her usual smile. – The rest of the story is the same as the Felid version.- Draxenath remained expressionless this time.

– The Insect-Men version is quite different from the others. It speaks of an Insect-Woman queen named Centuria The Righteous, and the woman with red hair from the other versions is her adopted sister. This version mentions a retainer of draconic descent as well, whom Centuria lovingly called “Little Devil”. This version says one day she commanded all Insect-Men to rebel and follow her to fight for their freedom. It mentions she commanded a force consisting of warriors from all other races, and the strongest were appointed as knights.

– All these knights loved Queen Centuria and would give their life for her. Centuria’s stepsister was in love with a warrior named Malchen, and she convinced him to help them with their fight. Malchen advanced in the ranks and was finally appointed as Champion Knight, and this upset all other knights. To make matters worse, he was in love with Centuria, and she corresponded his love.

– A betrayal was in the works. With the help of the other knights, Centuria’s stepsister kidnapped Malchen, hoping to seduce him and earn his heart. The knights told Centuria the two had an affair and escaped together. Centuria went after them and finally confronted her stepsister. Centuria was murdered by her in cold blood while the knights were watching. They were unprepared for that and could do nothing to save her. Overwhelmed by shame, most of the knights built her a tomb, and then committed suicide during the funeral. Nothing is known of the stepsister’s whereabouts, as for Sir Malchen, he traveled far away, taking Centuria’s most precious legacy with him: her only son. – During all the narration, Draxenath remained silent and inexpressive.

– The Human version doesn’t have much to tell, speaks of a human warrior called Centurion The Strong, his vision of a single nation where everyone would be free, a place where everyone’s dreams could be achieved. The place where everyone would want to live no matter their race, and how it would work. At the end of the legend, Centurion is murdered by all his knights, as every one of them envied him and wanted to be king. – Draxenath remained just as silent as in the previous version.

She looked very tired, as if her depression had returned, heavier than ever. – King Centurion… is a made up character. They are ashamed of the truth. There was a leader they loved, one who gave everything for them, and when that leader decided to pursue a little of personal happiness, the selfish interest of others led to the leader’s death and the kingdom’s downfall. Now they go on, denying what really happened, attributing this leader’s deeds to a fictional king who died of a broken heart… save for two versions that speak of murder… – Her voice broke during the last words and she began weeping in silence.

I tried to put everything together, and that is when I came to the realization… the central character from all these versions of the legend bears a strong resemblance to Draxenath, and even the Exalted Cleaver looks like the Godslaying Sword. I went back to my notes from the interview to confirm this quote: “I sent our firstborn to liberate the slaves while I worked on doing the same for the other Gods. Many of the mortals were freed and formed a nation of their own, with my child as ruler. But then, there was a betrayal. What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under your knives, mortal. Who will wipe this blood off all of you?”. That smile from before, it was a mother’s pride! I was certain of it!

I could not help but ask. – The person these legends talk about… was that your son? – Draxenath shook her head. – I wish any of my sons had been as great. Unfortunately not… let’s change the subject, please. – I nodded, but that last answer she gave me was not quite convincing.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

November 8 2019

Interview with the Dragon Goddess 4 – by Draxenath

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the next instalment of this wonderful story by Draxenath. It is entitled “Interview with the Dragon Goddess”.
Background music by Smartsound

Part 5: Draconia

– What are the largest settlements? Start with the largest of all and tell me of its most remarkable features.

– Draconia is a metropolis with beautiful buildings made of stone and concrete. Its streets are paved and very busy. Underneath the city is a maze-like system of tunnels and galleries called The Undercity, mostly inhabited by vampires.

– Vampires? – she lifted an eyebrow and grinned as if entertained by the thought. – I think it’s safe to assume all of them are servants of Amaxis. How active are they? Do they feed constantly?

– Yes, they are. There is a Blood Tax that must be paid, as mandated by Amaxis. The rich usually pay it with blood from their slaves, while the poor pay with their own. Vampires have the right to take blood by force from those evading the tax. Also, Amaxis keeps a number of Blood Concubines in the castle, and whenever one of them can’t be used to pay the Blood Tax anymore, he chooses a new one from the population.

– Are vampires in a position of authority?

– Yes, they were chosen by Amaxis to become vampires and appointed to uphold the law and punish lawbreakers. They watch us even during the day, sometimes you can see them on the street wearing garbs that protect them from the sun.

– What happened to The House of Athaldar? Ever heard of it? Are there any survivors?

– You mean the legendary clan of vampire slayers? They are not a subject of conversation at all these days, they fell about eight centuries ago. It’s said their blood runs through the veins of most of the human population of Draconia. Their skin is unnaturally fair and I heard they are remarkably tough.

She looked upset. – Now that The House of Athaldar no longer rules Draconia, who does? Is there a Vampire King appointed by Amaxis?

– Draconia is ruled by Amaxis himself. However, he is absent very often as he constantly travels to the other cities he rules. In his absence, the High Priest has the authority to rule.

She nodded. – Let’s talk about their prosperity. Is agriculture doing well?

– Yes, Draconia has a wide variety of crops, making it self sufficient in cereal, vegetable, fruit, and spice. Especially prominent in producing wheat, citrus, grape, grenade, tomato, onion, potato, chili, and garlic. Wine brewing has prospered because of their great production of grape.

Draxenath got up on her feet and walked to the carcass of the cow I had brought as an offering to her, picking it up from the rear legs. – I assume Draconia abandoned hunting of free wild animals and grows enslaved cattle born in captivity now, as it is customary of Amaxis’ people.– With her claws, she cut the cow’s underside and proceeded to gut and skin it.

– Yes, they grow a variety of cattle now. Also, there are other animals, like cats, dogs, and birds of prey, used to protect the houses and control the population of other animals that bring filth and disease, like rodents, pigeons, roaches, and flies.

– I remember that! Many of the proud races of canines, once fierce and self-sufficient, have become lazy after their “domestication”, happily wagging their tails and eating the leftovers of their easily accepted masters. Hopefully, the wolves and werewolves remain free. On the other hand, cats and birds of prey still have some of their pride and freedom left, seeing humans as convenient servants.

The cow was completely gutted and skinned, now roasting on a spit she pulled out of a magical bag. – What about the other highly intelligent races? Which of them live in Draconia and what do they do?

– Giants and minotaurs conform the main workforce for jobs requiring strength and endurance, from mining, to metalworking, to agriculture. There is also a considerable amount of centaur workers serving as transport and delivery services.

– What about science and technology? Have they tamed electricity and magnetism?

– There are considerable advances in that. Draconia has a network of electrical lines providing power for illumination of the streets at night. There are generators producing electricity through special mechanisms and steam engines. Other applications of electricity are being researched, like weaponry and electricity enhanced tools.

– Are firearms still in production? Have they found a way to prevent gunpowder and flint from getting wet already? Have they fully replaced other kinds of weapons?

– New firearms use metal cartridges that encase the gunpowder and ignition mechanism to prevent them from getting wet, making them much more reliable. Firearms now have means to hold more than one cartridge and fire them in sequence. But even with the advances in firearms, the use of daggers, swords, spears, bows, crossbows and other kinds of weapons is still in use, as a firearms user may run out of cartridges.

– What about art and music? Have there been any advances and innovation on them?

– I have seen musical instruments enhanced through electricity and magnetism, like guitars, fiddles, and keyboards. Some of them produce sound entirely through manipulation of electricity and magnetism. There are devices called phonographs, capable of recording sound, and replaying it.

Part 6: Flameside

– What would the next settlement be in terms of size?

– Flameside is a metropolis very proud of its warrior ways and traditions. It’s built around a dormant volcano and has several hot springs. There used to be dragons inhabiting the volcano, but there are no signs of them anymore. All that is left is a legend of a Dragon Prince sleeping inside of it, but none has seen him, it may be just a myth. – I noticed a hint of interest on her face at the mention of this. – The lizardmen who used to worship the dragons have been enslaved and relocated into the city. Besides humans and lizardmen, there are giants, minotaurs and centaurs, same as in Draconia.

– No word on where the dragons and avians went?

– No, but the lizardmen say they will come back when the Dragon Prince awakens. I have the hunch that you are familiar with that legend, could you please shed some light about it? How much truth is there in it?

– The Dragon Prince… his name was Pram of Draconia, son of Athaldar. He founded Flameside and ruled over the dragons, lizardmen, avians, giants, and even humans and other races who lived within its territory. A formidable warrior… one day he was mortally wounded, he shut himself in his chambers inside the volcano to recover… I guess he never came out… – She remained absentminded for several minutes.

I was surprised at hearing that. The two biggest settlements were originally founded by the legendary vampire hunters and opponents to Amaxis. – So, it’s truth! There is a prince within the volcano! What would make the lizardmen think he is still alive and coming back in the future?

– Everyone needs to believe in something to keep their hope, I guess! So, what are their main activities? You mentioned warrior ways and traditions, so I’d assume their forges and sulfur mines have remained busy as they did a thousand years ago.

– Yes, they have! Flameside is the main producer of the sulfur used for gunpowder, and their metallurgic industry is the most advanced in all the world. If there is something the lizardmen have done better than humans is working with gunpowder and metal. Most firearm innovations were made possible through close collaboration between Flameside and Draconia.

– And in agriculture, they were great producers of coffee, tea, plum, cherry and variety of cereals. Has it changed?

– It has not changed. Their coffee and tea are exported to other regions. As for cattle, before you ask, it is essentially the same as Draconia. I’d dare to say a sort of standard for cattle is followed among settlements ruled by Amaxis.

– I assume there are vampires with the same authority and duties as in Draconia. Or is something different there?

– In addition to performing the same duties as in Draconia, they lead the forces that keep the werecat and werewolf invasions at bay. These nomadic tribes sometimes raid the city at night. They have found ways to elude the city defenses, kill guards and steal armament and food. They are very well organized, and small enough in numbers to cover their own tracks and escape.

– They used to be great hunters, and were welcome for trade within Flameside when its government was not oppressive like the one currently in turn. Frequently, they would drop a large boar or deer at the doorsteps of my shrine, it’s in their nature to offer a large kill to their loved ones and deities. – A warm smile adorned her face for a moment, it had no small amount of nostalgia.

– Werewolves and werecats visiting Flameside peacefully and trading with its population? Times sure have changed!

– Indeed, Flameside’s social structure and composition of the population has changed considerably, but its main activities have remained the same. I’d like to hear about the next settlement.

 

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

October 31 2019

Interview with the Dragon Goddess 3 – by Draxenath

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the next instalment of this wonderful story by Draxenath. It is entitled “Interview with the Dragon Goddess”.
Background music by Smartsound

Part 3: The Conflict

– So, are humans basically the result of divine punishment over two Dragon Gods? – I was overwhelmed. – What happened next?

The Goddess changed to a more comfortable posture, as a bean cushion formed from the ground under her. – The Creator thought Amaxis’ punishment would placate the other Gods, but things turned out quite different than expected, as usual. They started picking on Amaxis now that he was weak. Poor Humenalia suffered so much from watching all that abuse and feeling powerless. That went on for a few days, then Amaxis paid them back. He was smarter and more cunning than all of them, and now the tables had turned again, Amaxis had devised tools, instruments, armor, weapons, and machines to close the gap.

– Open conflict was unleashed among them. The Creator waited, in hopes they would get tired of fighting, but that never happened. Instead, they turned against each other, trying to decide who was the one to reign supreme over the others. So The Creator felt forced to make a very tough decision: To kill the Gods participating in the conflict. It was very painful for him, as he loved them all, and one of them was his favorite. – She unsheathed the broadsword and contemplated it as she continued speaking. – He created a Godslaying Sword, a foul weapon that causes a God’s body to wither and rot, eventually leading to death. When it was ready, he hesitated to use it himself, so he relayed the task to Samsara, the Overgoddess of Life and Death.

– An Overgoddess? Is there a hierarchy of sorts? And is that the Godslaying Sword you speak of? – I asked with excitement. Draxenath nodded. – Samsara is the deity right below The Creator in the hierarchy, and under her are all other Gods. Viridiana is Goddess of Plants, Fungar is God of Fungi, I am Goddess of Dragons, Amaxis and Humenalia are Gods of Hominids, Gigaeth and Potenki are Gods of Giants, Mammi and Agrios are Gods of Beasts, Marina and Ipomos are Gods of Sea Life, Hexaphia and Filopos are Gods of Insects. This is the Godslaying Sword indeed, Samsara wielded it and was determined to kill the feuding Gods. But they defended themselves, banding together against her. The battle raged on until Samsara was convinced she wasn’t making any progress.

The broadsword’s aura was contained back inside the scabbard as it was sheathed again. She looked sad. – It was heart-breaking for me, knowing The Creator took that path to end the conflict, but it was terrifying when Samsara gave up fighting and relinquished the Godslaying Sword. She left it for anyone to take and use. She intended for everyone to fight for the sword and kill each other. Even if we didn’t get along very well, I couldn’t just let that happen. Being the strongest of the Gods, I took it for myself. I was not part of the conflict, but now I was there, wielding the sword in order to prevent the massacre.

She remained silent and absent-minded for a while. – After some time, they stopped fighting me for the sword and went back to their fight among them. I appealed to The Creator on what he did, and he decided not to interfere anymore, and leave us to solve our problems by ourselves. The fighting continued for eons, not only among the Gods but also among mortals, “That which is above is the same as that which is below”, it is said. One by one the Gods fell to Amaxis’ power and were imprisoned, at the same time humans conquered and enslaved their corresponding followers.

– When only me and Amaxis were left, I heard them more with every passing day… prayers begging for me to lead them in the fight for freedom…prayers from both Gods and mortals alike… I had been a passive observer for so long, it was time to fight as there was no one else strong enough to do it.

Part 4: The Betrayal

– The humans were treating all other creatures like objects of their property: they would trade them, modify them to their needs, control their population, and use them to do their work and satisfy their needs and whims. We were meant to inspire and lead everyone by our example, but the example set by Amaxis was not what we were meant to give. So many prayers asking for my help in stopping the abuse, such high hopes being placed on me. No one else was able to help them, and it was my duty to make the world prosper and be a better place. I could not turn them down, it felt wrong.

That left me speechless, I felt guilty. There is so much cruelty, and slavery is considered normal in our society and system of beliefs. We believe it is fine for living beings other than humans to be born in captivity and used for a defined purpose without caring about their feelings or giving them any choice.

– I looked for mortals willing to become my vessels, my Avatars, and acted through them from the shadows for years. I worked hard to make humans feel empathy for creatures other than themselves. That is how I met a very peculiar man. – Her eyes brightened. Whoever that man was, he evocated positive feelings in a way I hadn’t seen during all the interview. – He was very special, unlike anyone I ever met. He was not only wise, smart and strong, but also compassionate and willing to help me in my cause. I gave him one child with my real body, and three with one of my Avatars, who became his wife. All four of them lie in coffins now.

– I can’t imagine the pain of a mother losing her children, I am sorry for your loss. – I said, trying to express empathy for her. She remained silent, forcing a smile while her eyes got wet. She broke the silence. – I sent our firstborn to liberate the slaves while I worked on doing the same for the other Gods. Many of the mortals were freed and formed a nation of their own, with my child as ruler. But then, there was a betrayal. What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under your knives, mortal. Who will wipe this blood off all of you?

Her eyes, full of anger, were directed at me. – I gave the mortals what I loved the most, as well as what they asked for, and that is the way they paid me. Mortals don’t want to be free, they murdered the one who gave them freedom. Nobody wants my help, nobody really needs me. That is the reason I exiled myself. I heard their hypocritical prayers for days afterward, until I got tired and blocked them from my mind, then tried to kill myself with the Godslaying sword… and failed… They have probably forgotten about me after all this time.

– I have heard many of them pray to someone they call Champion of Freedom. – I responded. Upon hearing that title, her expression softened. – They keep asking forgiveness and want that deity to come back. – She burst into laughter. – You must be joking! That was one of my titles, why would they continue praying to me? I have not answered in over a thousand years, and they didn’t appreciate my help back then, why would they want me to return? I would really love to hear that!
Her eyes drifted away as if she were thinking, or maybe listening to something I was unable to hear. She stopped laughing, her mood changing completely, she looked heart-touched, tears escaping her eyes again. She continued listening for a while, then wiped her tears with a handkerchief and broke the silence. – Assuming they really wanted me to come back, what would make them worth helping? They keep asking for things they could do by themselves, I don’t see why would they need me, all they need is to be confident in what they do, and they shall accomplish it themselves.

– Us mortals may have the power to accomplish great things, – I replied to her. – but sometimes it’s hard to believe in ourselves, we need to know someone believes in us and is there to support us as well. Maybe that is all the help you need to give.

Draxenath remained silent and ponderous as if listening again. After several minutes, she looked back at me. – If you don’t mind, I would like to ask you about the current status quo of the world and the most recent events. – She looked rejuvenated and motivated like she had just gotten out of a long depression. Now I was being interviewed by her.

Stay tuned for the next thrilling episode!

 

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

 

October 24 2019

Interview with the Dragon Goddess 2 – by Draxenath

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the next instalment of this wonderful story by Draxenath. It is entitled “Interview with the Dragon Goddess”.
Background music by Smartsound

Part 1 : The Beginning

I was so thrilled and nervous my mind went completely blank. I had so many questions before meeting her, but all of them had escaped me at the moment, so I proceded with a very basic question. – Please tell me about yourself, if you may introduce, and tell me how you came to be. There is no written information I could find about you in the world, but you are talked about in whispers. We are told Amaxis is the only God of our world so I would like to hear your side of the story.

She looked back at me with some skepticism. – The Creator made me at the same time he made Amaxis and gave me the name Draxenath. We were the last of the Gods to be made in The Creator’s original plan. We were meant to be the pinnacle of his creative process, our purpose was to inspire the other Gods, to be the ideal they would strive towards in order to achieve their greatest potential. Stronger than the Giant Gods, fiercer than the Beast Gods, more diligent than the Insect Gods, and more patient than the Sea Gods. – She smirked with a hint of irony. – The Creator was not expecting we would bring out the worst in all of them instead.

There it was, a confirmation of the existence of Gods for the giants, beasts, insects and sea life, and not just that, a “Creator”, a sort of Supergod! – Tell me more about The Creator! How is he like?

The Dragon Goddess looked sad after my question. – He loves all of his creation, he knows it’s not what he originally expected it to be, but won’t interfere anymore. He intends to let things settle down by themselves, however long that takes, and whatever it takes. He has the belief that we will do the right thing and whatever happens, in the end, will be the best outcome that could have been. – The smirk of irony returned to her face. – I can’t deny, the conflict that arose pushed every one of us to make our best effort.

The conflict, the confrontation among the Gods, the one in which we are told Amaxis emerged victoriously! What a great opportunity to know the details of the conflict! – We are told Amaxis defeated some Great Demons and that is how peace and unity were finally achieved. You are mentioning a conflict, which I assume is the same and the so-called Great Demons were actually the other Gods. I am very interested in knowing how the conflict started, and all the important details on it.

– That is a very long story, but I can tell you the most important events. It all started the day we were made. The Creator presented us to the other Gods. “These are the Dragon Gods, greatest of my creation. All of you must look up to them, admire their splendor and learn from them, for they are to be your masters and guides. You are to serve and assist them in their task of leading the World on the road of constant improvement towards perfection.”, he said to them. Those words filled my heart with fear, it was such a great responsibility. Amaxis noticed it and comforted me with a reassuring smile.

– Wait a minute! – I interrupted. – Was Amaxis originally a Dragon God? How did he… alright, I guess we will get to that eventually. Sorry, please go ahead.

– Every one of the male Gods wanted to measure against Amaxis, – she continued, – and he literally humiliated them in their own games. They didn’t take that very well at all. He got addicted to the feeling of besting others, of proving he was better than anyone else. With time, he got bored of them and looked for a stronger opponent to compete against. Unfortunately, I was the only one worthy of such an “honor”.

She paused, her sadness returned for a moment, then turned into anger. – I was not trying to compete against him in any way, yet he turned everything we did together into a competition, followed by discouraging, humiliating comments. I grew tired of his constant abuse. One day, we were watching the sunset. Despite all of our quarrels, he was so good at making up for them with that kind of moments, but that time something turned out different. “The beauty of the sunset is like the two of us together.”, he said. “My red scales are like the red sky, quite a sight to admire, while your golden scales are like the sun, they hurt the eyes!” That was so cruel, it hurt my feelings. We were meant to be a couple! I could endure no more, so I took flight and abandoned him, I didn’t want to spend my life with him anymore!

Her voice was breaking as she spoke the last few sentences. She remained silent for a moment, arms crossed, eyes getting watery. I decided not to press her and waited until she decided to continue.

Part 2: The origins of humans

After a couple minutes of silence, she spoke again. – He didn’t accept my decision to leave him, so he chased after me. He demanded me to come back, but I refused. He kept insisting until he got tired of it and tried to force me. – She smiled with satisfaction. – I had never really competed against him in anything, but this time I decided to fight back with all my strength. We fought in the skies for a while, until I hit him on the head, a very solid and heavy blow. He fell, and I followed him. As he hit the ground, I landed with my knees on his forearms, and my paws on his face, thumb claws ready to pluck his eyes out if he decided to continue fighting. He remained still, savoring defeat for the first time. Then The Creator interfered.

She sighed, returning to her bored expression. – He tried to help us reconcile, but I was not willing to. I was not the only deity who disliked his company, so I was evidently not the one at fault. I made it very clear I wanted to be left alone and free, while Amaxis still wanted me back, but was unwilling to apologize or admit his wrongdoing. The creator decided to make him another bride, one that would love him unconditionally, and would not abandon him no matter how he treated her. Her name was Humenalia. The Creator put one condition for creating her: Amaxis would be the one to instruct her in the ways of the world, just as The Creator had instructed us when we were created. Amaxis was to be Humenalia’s master and guardian.

– Humenalia…- I said as she went silent for a moment, – that name sounds like “human”, I assume we are getting closer to that part, right?

The Goddess nodded. – Amaxis thought her too stupid to be instructed, and he was too lazy to dedicate the time necessary to do it properly, so he decided to oversimplify things. The laws of Cause and Effect, taking responsibility for one’s own actions and other important concepts like thinking before taking action were not properly taught to her. Instead, Amaxis created “Sins” and “Taboos” and Rules she should follow without question, and threatened her with horrible punishment that would immediately befall upon her if she broke them. He used fear to educate and control her. She was not stupid at all, and soon she questioned the rules that were imposed on her.

– That is exactly like the current state of things between Amaxis and the mortals. – I added. She continued talking. – It didn’t take long before she broke a rule accidentally. She caused a forest fire, which burned thousands of trees and forest creatures, and didn’t receive any horrible punishment. Seeing the expected consequences didn’t happen, she deliberately set another forest in fire. No punishment either. Then she continued to test the other rules, laying waste as she did. It was catastrophic.

– Didn’t she receive any punishment? – I wondered. – She did! – responded Draxenath – The creator called her out and questioned her actions. She explained about the prohibitions placed by Amaxis and how none of the consequences he mentioned were the truth. The Creator called Amaxis and questioned him. Amaxis put the whole blame on Humenalia for disobeying him. He said whether his explanations were true or not, following his instructions without question would have prevented the chaos she unleashed.

– The Creator was sad, Amaxis was his favorite and he had so high expectations of him, but it was time to give him a proper punishment. “You didn’t want to reconcile with your original mate, so I made you a new one just the way you wanted her. And still, you don’t love her and blame her for the consequences of your own mistakes. Your pride has blinded you, I will take everything from you as punishment.” He took away Amaxis’ ability to transform into a dragon, leaving him in his Divine Form, which is how we call the form I am in right now. His scales, horns, claws, wings, and tail fell off. His fire breath extinguished. Most of his teeth lost their sharpness. He was reduced to a small, helpless creature. Humenalia contemplated her mate for a moment, then petitioned to The Creator. “Do the same to me… I want to share his burden because we are mates, we are meant to support each other both in good and bad times.”

– The Creator nodded at Humenalia’s noble gesture and did the same to her. “As part of the punishment, the children you give birth to will be as helpless as you are, and will not inherit your immortality. You shall be doomed to live forever and see your descendants fade.”

– Amaxis remained calm and replied to The Creator. “Even under this punishment, my descendants will inherit my greatness, they shall be as cunning and rule the world one day.” That is the origin of the human race.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

October 18 2019

Interview with the Dragon Goddess 1 – by Draxenath

 

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the beginnings of a wonderful new story by Draxenath. It is entitled “Interview with the Dragon Goddess”.
Background music by Smartsound

Preface

For decades I have questioned the accuracy and veracity of written history. All my efforts have been directed towards consulting the different sources of information which could provide glimpses of the actual historical facts.

Written history tells us there is but a single god, Amaxis, who defeated the Great Demons that incited war among the different races. We are led to believe his victory over them, along with his laws, authority and the enslavement of the non-human races was necessary to unify us and finally live in relative peace. This established humankind as the Apex race, dominating all others.

I have not been the only one to question history. Some have said the Great Demons were actually the patron Gods of all other races. Those that honored them, if caught by authorities, were put to burn at the stake accused of heresy and demon worshiping.

Such remarks fueled my curiosity and led me to seek out their source. As I researched the folklore outside the great cities, my ears managed to catch more such rumors in whispers. I heard stories about Amaxis imprisoning the other gods and conquering their followers.

But the most interesting one was the legend of a Champion Goddess who embraced all the helpless races and freed them of their slavery, only to be betrayed later by those she trusted the most. She exiled herself and left the world for Amaxis to do whatever he pleased.

I have dedicated more than half of my life researching about this Goddess, seeking to contact her. There are contradicting pieces of lore about her, which made my curiosity grow even stronger. Finally, those pieces of lore gave me the means to contact her, and request her account of history.

I will be signing my work anonymously for obvious reasons.

 

First Impression

Finally came the day when I had everything necessary to talk to Draxenath, the legendary Mother of Dragons, and patron goddess of all scaly and feathered creatures alike. I will leave out the details of the ritual used to reach her, as gods dislike being addressed forcefully. She was very upset at first but agreed to let me enter into her hiding place.

I had prepared an offering for her ahead of time, which consisted of a cow of the highest quality, and a dish of pork meat marinated with a sauce made of tomato and garlic, resting over a bed of boiled, butter seasoned noodles sprinkled with grated aged cheese. According to the lore, those were the usual offerings to please her.

A jet black vortex formed in front of me. It was as if its darkness were eating the light around it. I gathered up my courage and went in, bringing the offerings with me.

Once on the other side, there was light coming from two massive cavern entrances in front of us, as if a bonfire burned inside them. Their walls were covered with gold, and their size was perfect for an ancient dragon to live in.

The cold air from the place was sucked into the caverns, and moments later it would be blown out, hot like the steam of an active volcano. That unusual phenomenon repeated periodically.

The cow was bewildered and tried to run away, but I pulled the bridle and stopped it. Then came to realize to my amazement, the reason for the cow to be afraid. Those were not caves, but the nostrils of an impossibly massive dragon.

Thick formations of rock-like rheum had sealed its eyes. Gigantic claws removed the rocks, revealing two sun-like orbs underneath. Their gaze was that of a starving lion looking at a trapped antelope. I felt cold, my blood going to my feet. I could hear the loud, drum-like thumping of the blood running through the veins of my ears. I thought my heart was going to explode.

My thoughts at the time were she allowed me to visit her not for an interview, but for supper. The dragon’s body started to glow and rapidly shrunk in size while morphing into a female humanoid shape. She was twice as tall as an adult human. Her body was covered with golden scales and had large patches of snow white, scale-less skin on her face, chest, abs, and navel. Numerous horns protruded from her skull in the fashion of a crown. Her scalp was adorned by a mane of long, straight, platinum blonde hair. Her eyes were the same reptilian golden orbs. A pair of golden feathered wings extended from her back. Fin-like barbs lined her long, slender tail.

Once the glow waned, spots of gangrene were easy to see all over her body. With the grace and speed of a cat, she grabbed the cow by the neck with one of her clawed hands and lifted it. The cow’s head was ripped from its body by a maw full of needle-like teeth. With her tail, she grabbed the cow by the rear legs, still holding the neck with a hand and drinking its blood as it squirted from the convulsing body.

The woman threw the carcass away after it ran out of blood, then turned her blood-covered face, her murderous cold gaze now directed at me. She slowly sat down in a kneeling position, with her buttocks resting on her heels, while extending both hands towards me, as if expecting me to give her something. The heat in my hands reminded me, I was carrying the dish made especially for her. I immediately handed it over.

The Goddess sat there in silence for a moment, smelling it. That is when I noticed, a dark aura emanated from an eerie, cleaver-like broadsword driven through her heart. Gangrene was most notorious around the sword wound. I dared not to ask anything. She tasted the pork.

– Is this human meat? – She asked with a gentle, whisper-like voice. – It is pork! – I answered. She savored it for a moment. – Humans and pigs taste the same. I love this taste, and the amount of garlic, butter and spices is well balanced. The cheese is of remarkable quality, too.

She continued eating in silence. After emptying the plate, she used her hands to wipe her face and licked them afterward, the same way a cat does. – It felt like an eternity since the last time I tasted this dish. What year is it?

– It is the year 1132 of the Age of Order. – I answered nervously. – What?! – she burst into outrage. – Did I waste a millennium waiting for this sword to kill me? I could have killed myself sooner by over-eating candy and bacon! Seriously, what’s wrong with this sword?!

With both hands, she pulled the broadsword out and proceeded to inspect it with the utmost care. Black blood ran out of the wound, which promptly closed as her bleeding turned to a more healthy red.

She shrugged, her eyebrows and forehead wrinkled with confusion. She sheathed the broadsword into a scabbard on her waist and looked back at me with a calm, bored expression. – I am still alive and got nothing better to do right now. What did you want to talk about?

That is when the interview started.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

December 11 2018

They Call her Lady Warrior – chapter 6 – by Cianna – narrated by Asclepius

Chapter 6, “Ghosts of a Different Kind, Part 2”

A flutter of movement caught her eye as Cianna stepped onto to the lighthouse platform.

She stood still, holding her dagger at the ready.

“Come on out,” she called. “I know you’re there.”

Silence.

“You can’t go anywhere. Unless you want to jump. And it’s a long way down. Come on out where I can see you.”

Another moment passed, then a figure came bounding around the bend.

“Don’t move or I’ll shoot!” The voice was female. She was dressed in clothes that seemed out of place, blue pants faded almost to white, a shirt hanging long and loose. Her hair was cropped short. And she held a bow.

Cianna laughed. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I don’t mean to make fun of you. But if you try to shoot that arrow your bow will fall apart in your hands. It’s seen better days, I’m afraid.”

“Don’t try to trick me,” the young woman said. “I know how to use this.” Her words were fierce, but she looked doubtfully at the bow in her hands.

“Up to you. But you might hurt yourself if you insist on using that thing.”

The fair-haired woman looked back and forth between Cianna and the bow. Finally, she threw it down in disgust.

“Fine. Go ahead and kill me. I’m tired of running and I’m tired of hiding. Go ahead. Kill me.”

She stared defiantly at Cianna, though her hands were shaking.

“I’m not going to kill you,” Cianna said. “I’d like to help you, if I can.”

“Why would you want to help me?”

The voice was still guarded, but a bit of the tension had gone out of her shoulders.

“I want to help you because you’re an Outlander,” Cianna said softly.

“An Outlander?”

“People who come to this world from another place.”

“You know that?” she said with a bit of fear in her voice, as she looked around her. “How could you know that?”

“By your clothes, for one. By your hair, for another.”

“Hey, what’s wrong with my hair?” The young woman raked a hand through her matted, short crop of hair. “I mean, I know it’s dirty, but….”

“The color, mostly,” Cianna laughed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with quite that shade of blonde before.”

The young woman grinned. “Well, yeah, I bleached it myself, so it’s kind of…funky…I guess.”

Cianna looked her over more intently. “How long since you left your home?”

The young woman’s smile faltered. “I’m not sure. Several days, maybe a week.”

“How did you survive once you got here? Did you get help?”

“Not much. I, uh, found some food and funny looking coins. But the coins didn’t last long. Some jerk stole them later. I’ve been sleeping in barns, mostly.”

A light went on for Cianna. “And in decrepit old houses, too, I think.”

The young woman blushed. “Is that your house? I didn’t do anything, I swear. I just crashed. It didn’t look like anyone lived there.”

Cianna waved her hand to dismiss the words. “No one does, now. Not for many years. I’m glad you found refuge there.”

Cianna let the door behind her swing shut and she walked out fully onto the deck. “May I ask your name?”

The woman hesitated, then shrugged her shoulders. “My friends back home call me Dancer.”

“That’s lovely. And why do they call you that, Dancer?”

The woman made a face at Cianna. “Um, because I dance,” she said. “Don’t you have dancing here?”

“Indeed we do,” Cianna said with a laugh. “But somehow I suspect it’s not the kind of dancing you’re talking about. You’ll have to show me some time.”

“So, how do you know so much about Outlanders?” Dancer asked. “Are you one, too?”

Cianna shook her head. “No, but my mother and grandmother are…were. And my father, too. But I was born here in Novia. This,” she indicated with a sweep of her hand, “all belonged to my grandmother. She left it in my care.”

Dancer whistled. “Wow, this is all yours?”

Cianna smiled at Dancer. “And I keep her memory alive by helping out Outlanders and other misfits, people who have a hard time fitting in. Don’t glare at me, that wasn’t an insult. I’m a misfit, too. Anyway, I give them a place to live, help them earn a living, even provide a sense of family if that’s what they want. My grandmother did that in honor of the people who helped her when she first came here, and now I do the same in her honor. I know you have no reason to trust me yet, but I can help you, if you’ll let me.”

Cianna could see that Dancer was hesitating, unsure of how to proceed, so she turned away to give the young woman a chance to think it over. She placed her hand on the delicate telescope perched on the deck, and ran her fingers over it lovingly.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Dancer said, as she watched her, “but I was looking through that a while ago. It’s pretty cool.”

“Yes, it is. I used to spend a lot of time here as a child looking through the telescope.”

“Do you own those other islands, too?”

Cianna looked at her sharply. “Other islands? What other islands?”

Forgetting her fears, Dancer bounded over to the telescope and put her eye to it. “There, they’re right out…hey!” She looked in astonishment at Cianna. “They’re gone!”

Cianna looked through the telescope as well, but only saw the smooth clear sea water spread out before her. She turned away from the telescope with a small smile on her lips.

“I promise you, they were there! I saw them with my own eyes. Two islands! One was larger than the other, but there were definitely two. They were sort of covered in clouds or mist or something, but they were there. I swear to you.”

“I believe you, Dancer,” Cianna said, reaching out to touch the young woman’s shoulder. “I’ve seen them, too.”

“But…but where have they gone? How can they exist one minute and not the next? I don’t understand.” She shook her head a bit, then looked wide-eyed at Cianna. “Is it magic?”

Cianna didn’t answer at first. “I don’t know, Dancer,” she finally replied. “I don’t know what that is. And I’ve never met anyone else who had seen them before, until now.”

She walked to the edge of the lighthouse deck, and leaned against the cool stone wall. Her gaze swept out over the sea.

“I’ve caught glimpses of those islands. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for why they show up. At least none that I’ve figured out. But, well, it very much reminds me of an old story Aelasar used to tell me. It was my favorite bedtime story. And in it, there was an island covered in mist. It was called Avalon.”

She blinked to stop the tears that threatened to fall. “Sometimes I wonder if maybe Aelasar somehow found a way to…I know this sounds crazy, but…to bring Avalon here and maybe…that’s where she’s gone to, out there in the mists.”

“What happened to your grandmother that makes you so sad?”

“That, my friend, is a story for another time. First, we need to get you cleaned up, into some comfortable clothing, and fed. Does that sound good?”

“It sounds heavenly, but you don’t need to do all that. I can keep sleeping in the old house, and I can work to earn my keep.”

“We can work out the details later, Dancer. Let’s just get you settled first, okay?”

Dancer hesitated one last time, then grinned and nodded her head. “Hey, what do I call you? You never told me.”

“My name’s Cianna, Dancer. And it’s a pleasure to meet you. Now let’s get you cleaned up.”

She let Dancer go through the door first, stopping to take a last look out over the still sea. “If you’re out there,” she whispered into the wind, “I love you. Thanks for guiding this young woman to the Forest. We’ll take good care of her, I promise.”

She gently closed the door and started down the steps. For now, Cianna gently put the ghosts of her past behind her, and set out to make a home for Dancer in Aelasar’s Forest.

Echoes From the Caverns
Echoes From the Caverns
November 28 2018

They Call her Lady Warrior – chapter 5 – by Cianna – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with another chapter in this wonderful story from Cianna. It is entitled
They Call her Lady Warrior
Background music by Smartsound

 

Chapter 5, “Ghosts of a Different Kind, Part 1

The sea air was chilly as Cianna stepped out of her house in Aelasar’s Forest. The leaves in the trees gently swayed with a breeze that caressed her face, reminiscent of the way her grandmother used to caress her cheek when she was a child. She sighed.

“I miss you, Aelasar,” she whispered to her grandmother. “And you, Mother. Where are you both? They say you’re dead, but how can that be? You’re Outlanders. Outlanders don’t die, do they?” She shook her head. “But if you’re not dead, where are you? Why can’t I find you?”

Her gaze settled on the old lighthouse on the small island off the coast of Aelasar’s Forest. It had been a favorite place for her to visit in her childhood. She and Aelasar would spend hours at the telescope, watching ships go by or looking at the stars and strange planets that circled overhead. Life had been so simple then.

Cianna sighed again and then, on sudden impulse, started walking over the bridge to the small pier that would take her to the lighthouse. She hadn’t been there since she took over the care of the forest. The idea had been too painful. But now, she felt the need to relive those old memories.

As she passed the decaying mansion to the right of the pier, Cianna was startled to see the front door ajar. No one lived in the old place, not since her grandmother had lived in it when she first began visiting the Forest. After her grandfather had purchased the small hamlet and built a new summer home there for Aelasar, the place had gone into ruin. Aelasar could never bring herself to tear it down, though. And neither could Cianna.

She approached the decrepit building, warily eyeing the open door. Might just be an animal that’s gotten in, she thought. That door never hitched properly anyway. Still, she had to be careful. Her father’s people were looking for her, she knew. It’s possible they had tracked her to the Forest.

She pushed the door open slowly, drawing a small dagger from her belt as she did. The interior was dark and dank. Cobwebs covered the walls, and the musty smell of dust and decay made Cianna want to sneeze. She held her breath till the feeling passed, then cautiously moved forward to the main room on the first floor. She cursed the misfortune of not having a torch with her to light the way.

She jumped, rubbing her face with her free hand. “Damn cobwebs,” she muttered, the inevitable chill running down her back. Then she almost laughed out loud. You’ve killed men with your sword, she thought, yet you’re afraid of spiders. Some brave warrior you are!

Cianna listened deeply to the silence. It remained unbroken. She took a few more steps down the foyer to the living room. She knew there were hidden rooms in the house, but it was unlikely anyone else would know about them. If someone were on this floor, the living room is where they would be.

From the little bit of light coming through the dirty windows, she could see the old iron fireplace to one side. It had been beautiful once, she remembered. Her grandfather, Alron, had it restored when Aelasar first lived here. Sadly, time again had reduced it to a dusty relic. Its grate was cold to the touch. No recent fire, then, Cianna thought.

She peered around the room, squinting to see. Nothing looked out of place. No dust had been disturbed on the floor that she could see. There was still silence all around.

Cianna closed her eyes and went within, using her senses the way her grandmother taught her. “We are all one,” Aelasar said, “all of us, man and beast, are connected to the same universal mind through Nature. Use that connection. Trust it. It will not let you down.”

Cianna reached out, her mind connecting with an owl sitting in a tree outside. “Brother,” she said respectfully, “may I use your ears?” The owl didn’t respond but Cianna was instantly aware of hundreds of new sounds, the chittering mice in the yard, the hawk soaring above, the distant sound of a boat passing the coastline. She drew the hearing inward, shutting out everything but her nearest surroundings. And she listened.

“Nothing,” she said out loud after a few moments. “If someone has been here, they are gone now.”

Resolving to return again with a torch for a closer inspection, Cianna backtracked and left the old house, once more turning her steps toward the lighthouse.

It rose above the island like the good sentry that it was, a stalwart during storms, and a beacon of refuge when the waters were calm. It was the lighthouse that made Aelasar, an Outlander, want to build a haven here in the coastal forest, a place where she could go to escape the stress of her new life in Novia. She adored her husband, but marrying into the court life of the True Elf population in Novia had been a tremendous burden for her. “Druids are meant to be a part of the land,” she once told Cianna. “The machinations of man do not interest me much.”

But she had been a loving, kind woman, with a grace and gentleness that earned her the love of Outlander and Novian alike, and her work to help those in need made her company much sought after. The Forest was the one place she could go to be alone, to catch her breath, to mourn, in private, the beloved life she’d somehow left behind in another world, and to practice her old Druidic rituals. As far as Cianna knew, she and her mother, Valandra, were the only two visitors from Court that Aelasar had ever allowed in the Forest. Well, except for Grandfather. But once he had purchased the land and fixed it up, including installing a strong, well-fortified Viking house for Aelasar (“I must insist, my love”), he had never returned. “It’s your space, now,” he had said. “I will not intrude.”

Cianna opened the door to the small inner chamber on the ground floor of the lighthouse. She had standing orders that the interior was to be kept clean while she was away, and the room still looked as though Aelasar herself would walk in at any moment. Cianna felt her throat tighten and her eyes water as she looked around the room, so familiar, yet now so empty of Aelasar’s presence.

Without lingering, Cianna mounted the steps, averted her gaze from the second floor room that had been Aelasar’s study, and reached the top. She pushed the door open slowly, feeling engulfed by memories.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

September 28 2018

Black Rose Chronicles 8 – by Belladonna Rose – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the eighth chapter of a wonderful story from Belladonna Rose, entitled
Black Rose Chronicles
Background music by Smartsound

The tall man waved back and immediately turned and launched a volley of arrows at an archery target. Eyes wide Bella was convinced that he was a master at the skill.
“Good Morning Varren. How are you this fine day?”
Turning towards them again he smiled through his rough beard and pulled his bow across his back.
“Good Morning M’lady. I am quite fine this morn….Ahh I see you have found another outlander.”
Looking Bella up and down taking measure of her she felt a bit awkward. Am I really that odd looking.
“Good morn to you Avatar…. Would you be of a mind to use a bow or are you one of those sword swingers?” Laughing at his apparent joke.
“Good Morn Sir. And I can do both.”
Arabella giggled and walked up closer to Varren. Whispering something to him she smiled and then turned back to Belladonna.
“Master Varren. This is Belladonna Rose and she has just recently arrived. I know not what choice in weapon she prefers. Annika is mending her sword as we speak and getting her gear prepared.
I just came to introduce you to her in case she may be of need of your skills.”
“So Mistress Belladonna. You are handy with sword and bow. Very interesting. Very interesting indeed….Would you be of a mind to show your bow skill?”
Handing me a bow he threw some arrows at the ground. Taking the bow, I reached down and pulled an arrow out. Skilfully she settled the arrow at the bow…pulled back the string and took aim.
Letting loose the arrow it flew strong and true. Bullseye!
Taking a deep breath Varren patted her strongly on the back. “Well done. Well done indeed…..Seems that if you can do that I doubt I can teach you much. But if you ever feel the need for more training you can certainly come to me for it.”
Smiling softly, she handed the bow back to him. “Nay nay. Keep it.” He said. “May it fire strong and true for you when you need it to M’lady. And here ….take this quiver of arrows along as well.”
Looking at the man as if in shock she took the quiver and slung it on her shoulder. “Thank you Sir.
I will most certainly put this fine-looking bow to good use.”
Tugging at Belladonna’s sleeve Arabella pulled her away and waved good day to Varren. She was a persistant one for sure.
“Hurry along girl…We have a few others you need to meet.”
After what seemed to be hours of walking about town they finally made it back to the smithy’s tent.
Annika pulled out a nice set of leather armor. The pieces were covered in metal studs all about and seemed to be quite durable. And handing the sword back to Belladonna with serene elegance she was done. “I wish you the best fair Avatar. Tis a long and treacherous road you must now travel. If are of need of my services, please return any time.” With a bow of the head she turned away and went back to work.

Bella thought it was odd. Arabella took her arm and moved her along. “Annika has outfitted many an Avatar and soldier of late. None of which she has seen again. Either they have met an ill fate or are off busy in other parts of the world. Would do her good to see at least one return from their journey.”
Arabella hung her head a bit. For the first time since Bella met her this was the first time she saw sadness on her face. Placing her arm about Arabella’s shoulders she gave he a small hug.
“Fear not M’lady. I will return. One way or another this is not the last you see of me.”
Taking up her new-found belongings she edged her way up the road to the gate. Arabella gave her a map with markings for where she should go. Now it was time to get about the business that was appointed to her. Perhaps she will meet up with her friends on the road soon. What a time that will be telling those tales she thought.
Heading towards the arched gateway the refugees waved and wished her well. This really put her in a much better mood. Stepping through it was almost like the vortex that brought her here in the first place. After a few moments the bright sunlight shone in her face and she looked about. Green grasses. A worn dirt path. Blue skies with a few scattered white clouds. Making her way up the path she stood at a fork. To the left took her near what looked like marshy swamps. No…that is not the way. To the right she could see a billow of grey smoke. That must be it. Pulling her belongings high on her back she started walking.
As she drew closer she could see the burnt fort at the bridge. That is where she had come from withthe wee girl in tow. Solace Bridge. Shaking her head she walked towards the bridge. The smell of burning embers and death was strong on the air. She turned her head away from the sight. She hoped she would never have to go back there again.
Standing in the middle of the bridge she turned her sights to the right…towards the outskirts Arabella talked about. But something caught her eye she had not expected. And a soft warm breeze caressed her face. Closing her eyes she soaked up the fresh smell and the feeling and she smiled. The Sea.
Breaking into a run she flew over the bridge and headed towards the sea …not the encampment. She had to put her eyes on the waters she missed so much. Reaching the edge of the cliff she looked out and took in a deep breath. Filling her lungs with the fresh salty sea air was just what she needed.
Looking up at the sun she judged it was just past midday. Decidedly she sat down on the cliff’s edge and watched the waves crash against the rocks. She had plenty time before nightfall to just soak in all the fresh air and sunlight she could. This was not asking too much to giver herself some time to feel alive again before her tasks took her to who knows where.
Reaching the outskirts small tendrils of smoke could be seen in the distance showing obvious signs of life in the encampment. If it were other than that the smoke would be different. She had seen enough of that kind to last her a lifetime.
Walking through the archway she could see the encampment. Even a few folk meandering along the riverbank fishing. Now things could not be that bad if they had time to fish. Strolling along slowly the sun was reaching the top of the mountain range. Soon it would be dark.
As she approached the edge of the camp a guard stepped out and inquired of her business. Once she introduced herself and showed the letter from Captain Stanley she was ushered to the headquarters. Here nestled inside some stone ruins with a makeshift canopy stretch overhead she was introduced to Captain Kinsey.
“Ah..welcome welcome Outlander. Good to have you in camp. Hope you are up for some nasty work here. Between the undead, bandits and Ebon Cult clan we are up to our neck in it.”
Smiling softly at the Captain , Bella thought to herself this was someone she could respect. Hard knocked life and ready for anything. She saluted the Captain and handed her the note from Stanley.
“Of course..hopefully he is more successful with getting help out this way than I. Seems most of my couriers disappear. Nary a one has returned. Not sure what to make of it. Either killed or took off for other parts of the world.” She continued to comment as she read the message.
She looked up from the paper at Bella and then tucked the missive away in her vest. She seemed to take stock in Bella’s appearance. Clearing her throat she took Bella by the arm and lead her to the edge of the ruins. Pointing out the different aspects and people of the camp.
As Kinsey pointed to the various people in the camp she explained each one’s role. Most were just a few folk who haven’t managed to move on to better parts. Others were of her own troops who are doing what they can to help those who do come in for help. She motioned towards the vastness of the area explaining a bit more about the bandits. Pointing to the far side she talked about the ruined town across the river and how Ebon Cultists had taken up residence there. And of course, all the undead throughout. She even mentioned a farm near the coastline where Farmer Filmore refused to leave his land regardless of what was happening in the rest of the world. She made mention of an alchemist who has a shack near the old cemetery and that he has been most helpful with ailments and such of those who find their way in.
“So Outlander. That is that. This is what we are here for I suppose one could say. Helping those who cannot help themselves. Since you are here by Arabella’s advice I would recommend talking to everyone in camp and seeing what they need help with. Report back to me anything that might be useful. Look out for my scouts throughout and bring back any info you can. That is if you are of a mind to help out for a spell.”
“Aye Captain. I will spend sometime here in the camp and help where I can. As you might be able to tell I am still trying to get my legs about me. Being a ship’s captain for so long its most odd for me to have so much solid ground under me. But I will do my best to aid these poor folks.”
Kinsey reared back her head in a laugh and slapped Bella on the back. “Good good. Knew you would help. Glad to have you here.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a few coins and handed them to Bella. “Here take this and get yourself geared up. I know those in Soltown tried well to outfit you but see if you can find something more suitable.” Winking at Bella she turned and walked back to her makeshift desk of planks and barrels.
Bella walked into the camp and talked to each person there. She felt a bit sorry for every one of them. Each had their own tasks and reasons for being there. The sad couple sitting at the bonfire told of their daughter’s stolen portrait and bade her find and bring it back. A guard asked for any heirlooms that were stolen off the dead to be returned. One of the guards asked her to retrieve some items for him in return he would teach her how to make arrows. Even some children dancing about a firepit singing a horrible song about Bloody Bones peaked her interest. After talking to them she thought she would have to check this out as well.
Getting a few extra food stuffs, she set out to explore and do what she could to help.
With a mental note of her tasks at hand she went out and across the eastern rope bridge from the camp. Nodding to the guards on both sides of the bridge she made her way down the path. In the distance she saw some shiny material among the rocks. Pulling her small pickaxe from her pack she started collecting the orange colored ore. “This should be enough. “. Taking some small branches and her blanket she managed to make a travois. This will be much easier to move things. Seeing some trees, she chopped one down and spent a bit of time making it easier to load. With the better part of the day gone she headed back to camp to turn in the ore and wood.
Sitting down at the center campfire she looked across at that couple. That sat in silence the entire time…not even talking to one another. An errant sniffle came from the lady but that was it. Bella thought to herself to be so forlorn at your losses that you can’t even take care of personal things was a place she never wanted to be.
The cooking merchant lady came over and handed Bella a steaming bowl of food. Bella smiled and thanked her for the food and pointed to the couple. The haggard looking lady knelt close and whispered into her ear. “Best to just leave them be. Since their daughter’s painting was stolen when they reached camp they just sit there wallowing in sadness.” Sniffing and wiping her nose on her sleeve she continued. “They lost their daughter at Solace Bridge and the only thing they had left of her was that painting. I ‘spect they be sitting here til their last days unless someone finds that painting.” She softly patted Bella on the shoulder and walked away.
Well that seems to be the next and most important errand she will tackle in the morning. Pulling out her pack she unfurled her bedroll near the fire and climbed inside. Sleep was what she needed now.
The night sounds were strange. Howling of wolves in the distance. Moans of the encroaching undead around the edges of the camp. Guards clambering from point to point to keep that enemy at bay. Coughing and snoring. And then an errant cricket from time to time. But it was enough to lull her to sleep.
After what seemed like no time at all Bella was awoken by being poked in the side with a stick. As she rolled over to see who was assaulting her in her sleep her eyes opened to the dirty face of a child.
Grumbling she rolled back over. Poke. Poke. Poke. Quickly she rolled over out of her bedroll and grabbed the stick….broke it in half and tossed it away.
“HEY..that was my best sword you broke.” Snarling something under her breath the child squatted down next to Bella. “You be going out into the countryside today? If so you best be bringing me that Bloody Bones book back with ya. Me and mine needs that book.” Bella perked an eyebrow up at the child. She and hers needs a good swat on the bottom is what they need. “If I can find it I will bring it. In the mean time you and yours make yourselves useful in camp. Gather firewood and such. Don’t be a pain in the backside of Cap’n Kinsey.” The child jumped up and looked aghast. Stuck her tongue out at Bella and ran off. Laughing to herself Bella gathered up her bedding and prepared to get ready for another day’s adventure.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns