There weren’t always dragons in the Valley.
Greeog the Terrible, Destroyer of Warmbloods, issued a stream of white-hot flame from between his curved fangs. Less than a snout’s length away, the bars of his cell glowed amber with the heat. The bars were thicker by half than Greeog’s foreleg, and he had only a few more heartbeats between Varaya’s next looping stroll past the prisoners. If she saw the damage on the bars, Greeog would be forced into a new cage again. He’d have to start formulating yet another scheme to escape, which would throw all of his plans off kilter. He might be a bringer of chaos, only barely shy of being a very god of flame, but he grew quite displeased when his plots were interrupted. Varaya and her ilk owned every dragon in the Evey Valley. For now.
His eyes, gleaming ruby-red with the heat of both fire and vengeance, darted narrowly to his left. Varaya was coming back. He paused his fiery exhalation; Varaya took a moment to inspect a different cage down the row. Ipillia the Azure-Scaled slept on the other side of those bars, her age having finally left her indifferent to Varaya’s treatment. My fellows are giving up everywhere, Greeog thought. Frustration and sorrow burned in his breast to see his kind treated in such a way. We are the great masters of legend and myth. We ought to be the ones controlling these warmbloods, with their weak bones and brief, eyeblink lifespans. Yet our ancestors traded away our freedom, and for what? Free food, comfortable nests, and the affection of lesser beasts? The Evey Valley wasn’t even a natural place for dragons to live; Greeog’s familial line had come from the great Retii Mountains, the purple shadow in the distant West.
Varaya stretched out a long, collapsible tube of metal, and prodded Ipillia with it. Ipillia snorted in her sleep. Greeog gave a growl deep in his throat. The disrespect is despicable. Varaya, and all the warmbloods, will suffer in time. When I have regained the might of my ancestors, I will scorch the warmbloods to naught but smoke and ash.
A tiny part of Greeog wondered at his own determinations. Not all warmbloods were as awful as Varaya. Many of the people who roasted mutton near the heat of Greeog’s cage—the flames themselves were contained by alchemy, but the heat on the nearby air did a fine job of cooking meats—divided the food with the dragon. Greeog liked mutton. He rewarded those who gave it to him, a sacrifice to his might, by not plotting their personal, eventual destruction. That seemed just.
Still, he thought to himself as Varaya gave up on waking Ipillia and moved closer to Greeog; she whistled softly, which Greeog did not appreciate. Dragons had been blessed with the gift of perfect pitch. Varaya … had not. Still, there are warmbloods who are worse. Those who believe that we, the great sovereigns of this world, can reasonably and forever be subjugated to their alchemical powers… well. They would see, one day. They would kneel, and shudder, before Greeog, and the legions of dragons he intended to raise.
“Shamite,” hissed a voice on Greeog’s right. He turned his horned head, nodding at the emerald-and-mint dragoness caged there. Ymike was young, younger than Greeog by half a generation, and irritating when she prattled. She did, however, respect her elders. “Shamite” was an ancient word of the dragons’ tongue. It meant “Teacher,” which was a proper enough description of Ymike and Greeog’s relationship.
“Yes, Ymike?” Greegog whispered.
“Varaya is coming,” Ymike said.
“Yes, Ymike, I see that,” Greeog answered, annoyed.
“I mean,” Ymike replied, “are you going to escape now or later?”
Greeog made a point of avoiding any warmblood behaviors. They were beneath his dignity. But if there were ever something to make the Destroyer of Warmbloods sigh, it was Ymike. She was an idiot. Ancestors, forgive me for this, but also, please shut Ymike up.
It was probably a good thing that Greeog had no children of his own.
“Ymike, I have answered this many times,” Greeog pronounced as patiently as he could. “I will escape after dark, when Varaya is asleep, and the guards of the warmbloods cannot see well.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Ymike said. She began to hum. It was perfectly in tune, yet somehow, just as obnoxious as Varaya’s whistling.
“And one for you,” Varaya said, and Greegog snapped his head back toward the left. The warmblood had sneaked up on him, as he had been distracted by Ymike, and made a gap in the alchemical wards on the next cage over so that she could feed Ostibar, Greeog’s other neighbor. Ostibar was fat, as dragons went, and slovenly. He loved Varaya and her ministrations, having no room in his mind for legendary feats of draconic ancestors. He’s an idiot too, Greeog thought. Ostibar was of a breed with disproportionately small wings, given to overweight by nature. Greeog doubted that his neighbor would ever see the other side of the clouds, as Greeog himself often dreamed of doing.
“Greeog?” Ymike asked. At least Ostibar doesn’t badger me with questions all day, Greeog thought.
“What is it?” Greeog hissed.
“Do you suppose that the warmbloods have any shows coming up? I’m bored.”
Greeog shook his head with closed eyes, which Ymike seemed to take as an answer to her question, though Greeog had merely been expressing his annoyance. Probably there would be an exhibition soon, and Ymike—not having Greeog’s reputation for attempting to get away—would likely be given alchemical anklebands to keep her grounded and put on display for curious, bidding warmbloods. The foolish child actually wanted to be brought home by one of the animals, as though being given a few bars of gold to sit on were the same as earning a hoard the proper way: through battle, conquest, or cunning.
“Here now, my friend,” Varaya intoned, and Greeog jumped, looking up. Curses of the ancestors on you, Ymike, he thought. You distracted me twice. Varaya lowered the wards around Greeog’s cage just a little, less than she had for Ostibar. Well, she wasn’t completely stupid. The missing chunk of her right middle finger served as a reminder of what would happen if she reached into Greeog’s space again.
Varaya slid chunks of mutton down a chute into the bowl in the corner of Greeog’s cage. Greeog sniffed at them, but he never ate while Varaya was watching. It seemed to give her far too much pleasure.
“I’ve had a new plaque made for you,” she cooed at Greeog. “If you would do me a favor and not heat this one until it’s unreadable, I’d consider it a mark of friendship.” Greeog blinked. Doesn’t the foolish infant realize that’s practically a challenge? She smiled sunnily into Greeog’s angry eyes, pushing grayed hair behind her ear.
“We’ll find a home for you, yet,” Varaya said. “You wild thing.” She slipped a plaque, this one made of metal, out of the satchel she carried. She held it up for Greeog to see. He snorted, smoke curling out of his nostrils in disgust. He’d long since learned to read the warmbloods’ thrice-cursed language, if only as a way to keep abreast of their doings. They have no secrets from me! He thought, triumphant. Then he glanced at the plaque again, and the fire within him dimmed with shame. It read:
Sparklescales the Toasty
Male. Twelve and a half fingerwidths (Standard snout-to-tail measurement.) Wingspan is three palms.
This feisty yellow fellow is sure to delight! Purebred Ubquis (Miniature) Type. Bred in captivity, Sparklescales has maintained a natural draconic love of adventure. He is fond of both silver and gold, and prefers mutton and pork. Growl is medium-loud (seven on the standard scale.) Flame has been measured to six, but Sparklescales generally averages a four and a half.
Would make an excellent guard-dragon. Not recommended for breeding with any cold-colored or multicolored types. Not venomous. Spines on the back and tail are shed biannually. Strong flier; double anklebands recommended. Cage not included in sale.
Bring Sparklescales the Toasty home today!
12 Gold Bars
8 Gold Bars
Ask for Varaya
Greeog couldn’t help it this time. He choked a small blast of flame in the opposite direction, where Varaya couldn’t see, and sighed. Then he closed his eyes and ground his fangs. My day will come.