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Everything posted by Isirion

  1. Chet looked up and almost choked: "Freaking pile of freaking dragon dung! Don't sneak up on me looking like THAT!" When Beach cleared his throat too with the faintest hint of an approving smile in Diablo's direction, Chet quickly hid his annoyance explained: "Well pretty boy, as you already know you are kind of the only one of us right now who can blend in with the city folks without suspicion, so inform the Nebs about that Hellfire army you saw. Make sure they understand that they are in as much danger as we are, maybe even more. Until this mess gets sorted out we can't raid at night - and while you are at it - find out why their messenger didn't turn up last night as he should have. Now go!"
  2. "A pity", Isirion said to no-one in particular and let the assasin's knife vanish up his sleeve. There was no telling how he meant it and maybe that was for the best. Pride stumbled away from him towards the bath-tub in the other room and a second later the sound of someone vomiting could be heard following by a sloshing sound as if someone had emptied a mug of water over a person's head. A minute later a glassy-eyed, dripping-wet but definitely more sober looking Pride came back and said: "I overreacted...again...but...I couldn't help it...I imagined that after we deal with the Nebs and the lady everything...everything would go back to normal, but now...with my arena burnt to ashes it can't ever go back again." "So take over another arena", Isirion cut short another wave of wallowing in self-pity: "I only remember the location of one or two, but believe me the Nebs own dozens of underground arenas. I fought in all of them and they looked a lot like yours did." Pride couldn't repress a dreamy smile as he explained: "Well, my arena once belonged to the Nebs too, I just re-decorated it a bit. I can do that again. I will do that again!" "But first we have to remove the Nebs and their sponsors snake-head per snake-head. Do you understand? One mistake and it is over. So I am only asking you once - can you keep your act together this time or do I have to make your lovely wife a widow after all?", Isirion asked with no hint of a smile. Pride sobered up instantly, this time realizing the unveiled death-threat and he sputtered: "Yes, I will keep my act together. Yes." This time Isirion permitted himself a smile as he ordered: "Good. Now go clean up that mess in the bathtub or it's that lovely wife of yours that will kill you when she comes back looking forward to a nice bath." Pride nodded and rushed off, leaving Isirion free to say what he really wanted to say while settling down with his back to the wall: "Damn it Alzira, for a moment I really thought I was back to being the blue lady's pet. That was some high quality acting, you just have to skip the taking pity on the victim part. Just remember that feeling of being in control and we can finally get some rest while we wait for Felicia to return..." Meanwhile in the endless desert Beach urged his Black Dragon to fly faster after finally spotting the familiar shape he was looking for. He had no illusions - would it be night, he would have missed the Alt Black even if it flew right next to him, but in plain daylight it was as visible as it's rider Diablo. The sandyhaired bandit bade him stop and relayed Chet's message as fast as he could: "Diablo, thanks again for the warning. Chet has decided that this problem is too big for us and we should dump it on the Nebs. He says you should dress up as a noble and meet him at our base. Is that alright with you?"
  3. Alzira's words struck Fingers' weak point with such accuracy that he was still reeling from the imagination of loosing his other hand that he overheard the apology following the verbal torture. Isirion, fitting his cold personality, moved not even a muscle at Finger's distress. When the thief was down on his knees begging to be spared, he waited a long even more torturous second before he explained: "The cat is out of the bag. We are going to kill the blue lady and this lady will replace her for a time so she needed to practice mental torture on you. I will not harm you unless you try to escape before unlocking the dragon cages on the premises. Understood?" Fingers slowly got on his feet again and nodded, anything else would surely cost him another limb. He even moved further away from the door to dispell any motion of wanting to flee right now. A moment later that door slammed open and Pride stumbled in, dead drunk and babbling: "They did it...the scoundrels really went and did it...they burned it all down...my poor arena...it's all over...I have nothing to go back to...I have nothing to live for anymore...my dream is dead...I wish I was dead too..." "I can help you with that, if the lady wishes so", Isirion cut in as sharp as the assassin's knife he was holding. Apart from giving them shelter in the arena, Pride had proven to be nothing but a liability who could keep neither his emotions in check, nor his dragon. The real blue lady would not hesitate for a second to remove a piece that had outlived its usefulness from the board - so what took Alzira who should be acting like her so long to command him to do the same - especially since the piece itself begged to be removed... Elsewhere in the city Leal flapped his wings as fast as he could so he wouldn't loose the faint scent he had picked up amidst the smoldering debris of the Draikenflaeme base. As he fervently hoped, everything his own size should have been deemed to be too unimportant to be filled with bolts, so most of the other messenger pygmy must still be alive. The challenge would be to find them in time and convince them to join the group's cause. The blue pygmy let the updraft from the heat lift him so he could look for survivors from above. A few moments later he noticed another pygmy doing the same. It was Piro, the messenger Misfit pygmy from the fishermen's village. Leal flew carefully closer, not wanting to spook a potential ally and he squeaked: "Piro, over here, it's me, the local pygmy that helped you deliver your message. May I ask you something?" Piro turned around and stopped mid-air. He did remember the Nilia that had urged cold and bloodstained to interfere with the message-stealing Magelight and of course been glad for the help. Now it looked like the brave blue was searching for help and Piro was more than willing to give it. Leal noticed the approval and squeaked on: "The humans in this city are very bad, you see what they did to my home. We need a lot more pygmies to pay them back by feeding and freeing other pygmies and dragons they captured. Are you with us?" Piro coughed in surprise and squee-ed: "Wait, you steal food too and give it to dragons who need it? That is kind of my thing back in the village. I am totally game! Let's team up and look for even more players!" Meanwhile in the endless desert After a quarter of an hour of non-stop-flying, Chet finally raised his hand and commanded his boys to stop, then he turned his black dragon Bat around and said: "Curse this day. Perhaps we really shouldn't have operated outside the night." His unspoken second-in-command, the sandyhaired air-bandit called Beach turned around too and spoke: "But today we learned something valuable - the Sunstones don't work alone as they should, but have hired an army of Hellfires to help them out. It seems like they were already planning on breaking the agreement before us. We are lucky our prime hunter warned us about those fiery beasts or we might have chased the Sunstones to our deaths." Chet gnawed his teeth, but Beach was right, without Diablo's warning they all would be pitiful piles of ash blown away by the desert winds by now. The weirdest thing was that Diablo had only been flying around in the desert because he had found out that the blue Zyu he had caught and caged for collection today had escaped. If that dragon had not escaped, Diablo would not have come looking for it, and if he hadn't spotted the danger in time and warned them...the thought was too unsettling, so Chet banished it to the depths of his brain and focused on the now: "Let's head back to our base and make contact with the Nebs, maybe they know what the hell we do with those Hellfires. With an army that size the Sunstones can wipe out the Nebs as easily as us, so let's make it their problem too." "Who gets to be the lucky guy to win a trip to the city to spend some coins on booze and boo--" "There is only one who earned it today", Chet interrupted: "Beach fly after Diablo and tell him to dress like a noble. He always seems good with that stuff anyway." Beach looked a bit disappointed, but there was no arguing with the leader and so he said: "Alright Chet, will do, I'll be back in a jiffy!"
  4. Isirion was just about to relay one of the blue lady's peculiar habits he could remember when Sappo and Fingers barged in. The thief looked even more distressed in the black pgymie's claws than he had in the blue one's - until he caught sight of his personal nightmare again. All the way through Alzira's translation of Sappo's chirps and paw signs Isirion smiled faintly, unnerving Fingers even more. Finally Isirion stopped smiling and said addressing Alzira: "Depraving a captive of his strength by not giving them enough food - that sure sounds familiar. I like the idea of using more pygmies to reverse that situation and most likely cause an even bigger distraction. Leal is the perfect choice to gather the support of the surviving messenger pygmies from Drake's place since he 's lived with them. For us there is no need, only unnecessary risk, in leaving this base now, so while Leal is busy recruting more pygmies, we should focus on improving your blue lady performance. To help you understand her twisted character I will tell you what happened after she promised me my freedom for killing either the parent Royal Blues in front of their hatchlings or vice versa in order to teach them a lesson in obedience as she called it. Her voice back then was pure honey baiting me with the thing I wanted the most - thus ensuring I did my utmost to fulfill the given conditions. After I did, once again using the dagger-like teeth of the Blue-Banded Dragon, she called me out with a voice of steel stating that I had failed. By slicing the throats of the adult dragons with my impromptu daggers I had taught the hatchlings that humans needed weapons to hurt them - which was the wrong lesson. Instead of showing obedience they would now be more likely to rebel against unarmed humans like herself. They only way to redeem myself to get another chance to win my freedom was to serve her again and again like a puppet dancing on a string...Now - imagine you had that kind of power over me and I stand ready to do your bidding while Fingers is at your mercy. Read the anguish in Finger's eyes and use it to find the thing he fears the most. Use that carefully like you would use the most delicate of your painting tools to inflict a single fatal blow to his mind's defense then casually order me to either kill his son or daughter as if discussing clothing choices." Fingers eye's widened as he pieced together some of the details everyone had hidden from him so far - this was not a simple infiltration and rescue mission for some dragons at all but a high-risk assassination plot to take out and replace, at least for a time, one of the city's most powerful and twisted nobles. And, worse, he now was right in the middle of it, exactly as just described, fully at the mercy of the other conspirators with a certain bloodstained blade ready to maim him for a second, probably final time, just a heart-beat away... Meanwhile at the biggest dragon holding pen of the city "Now what?", Aseto growled through the sturdy-looking iron bars that surrounded him. The Guardian checked left and right for possible eavesdroppers then he replied growling even more than the Royal Blue: "How was I supposed to know that they had already disposed of one 'havoc-wreaking Royal Blue' as a scapegoat and would sell any spares to a local collector to be delivered immediately." Ale took the last sip from his special flask and said: "At least all the surviving Royal Blues from the city-wide-hunts are here too. If we manage to free them, we'd have a mighty army on our side. It would be really good to fly with dozens of Royal Blues again." "If we manage to free them, the Nebs would most likely fill them with bolts like they did the poor dragon they executed in Aseto's stead. No, our only chance is to go through with the delivery and hope that the security at this collector's place is less tight. So far our stolen armour has passed scrutiny and nobody has questioned our presence here. If we accompany Aseto and the others as guards a chance to free them without getting us all killed has to emerge." Ale shook one last drop from his special flask and savoured it on his tongue for a full minute. Then he swallowed it with a smile and said: "Thanks for lifting my spirit, I know normally this would have been my responsibility, but things have hardly been normal ever since that ragtag group of adventurers has shown up on my doorstep. I wonder if what's left of them is still alright?"
  5. Golden Myth gave the cages another glance and added: "I've been wondering about these cages. They look like almost every other cage in the city I know of, but the old soldier's dragon was still able to rip them open not to mention torch the place. Maybe other dragons are able to do so too, if only they'd get enough food to regain their full strength. Sappo can you relay the message to your keeper to train more pygmies to sneak in food for the captive dragons? I don't really trust that wretched thief to come through freeing them when push comes to shove." Isirion's fake-wrinkles wrinkled up in surprise at being asked to minimize the deaths, since he was used to Sodger always demanding the complete opposite. He had also a bit of a trouble picturing anyone going to a party with that kind of host as innocent. Still, reducing the number of targets raised the chance of success and so he said reluctantly: "Spreading a rumour is too risky since we have no way of controlling it's course. If you want to make absolutely sure only the decadent nobles drink the poisoned wine, you should replace the blue lady as soon as possible and invite them to a private celebration. Since you have never met the blue lady, I'd better give you some pointers about her speech pattern and the way she carries herself so you can practise. The pitch of her voice as far as I can remember is similar to yours, but the intonation is way different. She delivers her sentences like whip-lashes with hidden barbs at the end. The blue lady revels in the fact that she has dozens of lives in the palm of her hand. Tantalizing her victims with this fact to force obedience is like breathing to her. The food at this party will be exquisite no doubt but the dish she really lusts for is seeing the suffering of those at her mercy. Believe me, I have acted as the executor of her sadistic whims more than just once."
  6. Felicia listened until Alzira had finished explaining the details of her plan. It was an elegant one that clearly fitted the green-haired lady, but it was also obvious that it did not include the demise of every other corrupt city noble/dragon collector at the party apart from the Blue Lady. Still, while that plan wouldn't improve Pride's situation or the dragons' situation it would cut off one snake-head and at least free Leal's swarm. Forcing her face to stay neutral, Felicia prompted Isirion next to tell them what kind of improved plan he had come up with. Isirion took the cue and started: "I have not yet given up on removing more than one snake-head at that party since an opportunity like this will not come again any time soon. My plan hinges on something I have witnessed at Hassleborough's mansion. There is a special kind of wine called vine, that is apparently reserved for the city nobles and special occasions. If one of us sneaks into the lady's vine cellar, they could poison her supply before it is used at the party. That way all the nobles would die at the same time while toasting the blue lady and we wouldn't arouse any suspicion, since we are just simple dragon trainers and handlers drinking beer with the rest of the non-city-nobles. In the ensuing panic we could easily make a detour and free Leal's swarm and every other dragon we could find. Every one at the lady's mansion should be busy preparing for the party, so one additional staff member should go unnoticed. Before they do the actual poisoning they must also find out if the blue lady uses a taste taster and abort if she does. Lastly - this plan of course only works if we can procure enough vile poison, but that would not be a problem or would it, Felicia?" Felicia's expression turned to a painful one before reverting back to normal: "I'd hoped you hadn't noticed in the dark of my house, but you are right. The flowers there are not only for proposals and butterflies they are for making poison too. In this city one can't just survive as a simple flower girl, living from dreams alone. Before I fell for Pride, I used my knowledge to earn some more coins by making special 'supplies' for the Shadow guild. The rest of that special stock is hidden under the patch of grass along with the corpse of...of someone who hasn't been as courteous as Pride." Upon hearing this, Isirion chuckled and commented: "The most beautiful rose has the most poisonous thorns it seems. I am glad you didn't poison the Hooktalon biscuits though..." Felicia couldn't help herself but smile at his unveiled compliment and said: "I thought about poisoning the food at the party to get them all, but your plan and Alzira's plan is definitely better. Why don't you two work out on how to combine them, while I go fetch the main components?" In the mean-time at the burnt down remains of an underground-arena Golden Myth paced around like a tiger in a cage, despite all the cages there had been already ripped open. Susurro on the other hand had started a futile attempt of cleaning himself amidst the ash and dust. Both of them startled when a pitchblack pygmy flew in and blew a blue flame to catch their attention...
  7. While Alzira was soaking in bathtub-heaven, thinking about her dragons and possible plans, Felicia ordered her husband to massage her shoulders and weighed some of their options herself. The obvious option to just kill the Blue Lady first chance they got, would be fulfilling no doubt, but only in short-term. Her death alone would only serve to make one of those horrible city-nobles more powerful. Or would the ensuing power struggle actually weaken them? Would they be distracted long enough to make a change, maybe even clear Pride's name and get their arena back? No, probably not. For all she knew each one of those filthy nobles had a line of potential successors waiting behind them. They could try to kidnap the Blue Lady instead, forcing her to restore Pride to his rightful place in exchange for her life, but once that deal was done, the lady would most certainly make an instant-deal with the assassin's guild for their heads next. So, another no-go. Maybe they could use the party to find a city-noble that wasn't completely rotten and could become their ally? No, the other city-nobles would not stand for any alliance that could threaten their dirty little empire. It really seemed as if cutting the heads off of everyone of those snakes all at once was the best course of action. They just had to find a way to that with only five people. Four people, since Fingers was a hopeless coward. Make that three people since her husband would be just as useless in a fight. No, a fight was out of the question anyway. Isirion was right, it would alert the Nebs before they could free even one pygmy or dragon. Wasn't there anything they could do? No, anything she could do? There was, wasn't it? There was one incredibly cowardly but efficient thing she could do that would produce exactly the results they wanted... Felicia waited until Alzira was back from her bath, then she shooed her husband out of the room and said with a voice, that was as cold as if she was imitating Isirion again: "I have a plan that is as vile as the people we are going to use it against. Because of that there is no way Pride would agree to it, but it has to be done. Before I tell you my plan, I have the slightest hope that one of you has come up with something better?" Felicias eyes wandered hopefully towards the once-again green-haired lady.
  8. Pride who had been uncharacteristically still during Alzira's speech, yearningly watched Sappo fly away from the mess they were all in. It seemed only yesterday that he had been a well-respected arena-owner blissfully preparing a performance with his personal hero. Hours ago he had still been happy plotting the blue lady's demise with Drake and her people and of course his hero, but now... Now he was just a wanted criminal on the run, leaving behind the ashes of his hopes and dreams. Even worse, the embodiment of his hopes and dreams had turned out to be the flame that devoured them all. It was exactly like Alzira had said - he wouldn't feel so much hurt and pain now, if he hadn't idolized a remorseless killer in the first place. If he had just listened to Golden Myth and sent the dragon-killer straight away, none of this would have happened. Thinking about his beloved dragon made Pride sigh with longing. What wouldn't he give to just fly around on Mythy's back without a worry in the world again. Maybe it was still possible? The Nebs did think them dead, if they could just start over somewhere far away... Felicia read her husband's mood and gave her own two cents: "You are thinking of running away from it all aren't you? Let me say just this - Yes, we could easily escape now in our new disguises since the Nebs think us dead, but the dragons they captured will still be captured. The dragons that are abused in this city will stay abused and the collectors responsible will continue to have free reign. Only by sticking to the plan can we hope to change things for the better - for us and our beloved drag-mmmhfffffs." Being hugged and kissed by her husband cut Felicia's words short, but her message had definitely been received. By being reminded of the reason he had teamed up with said remorseless killer in the first place, Pride had finally managed to rekindle his hopes and dreams for a better future. Almost his old cheerful self again, he strutted over towards Isirion and said: "Thank you for still being willing to go through with the plan, despite everything I said." "That plan won't work anymore," Isirion replied immediately, completely ignoring the apology. "Without Drake's people to guard the exits and trap every party-goer, the alerted Nebs will be on us way before we can complete our objectives. Still, there is enough time left to formulate a new plan, while cleaning ourselves up like Alzira suggested. I saw a bath-tub in the smaller room and we can use the fire-place in this room to get rid of any evidence like the bloodsoaked bandages and leftover disguises." Pride and Felicia positively beamed at the thought of soaking in a bath-tub, especially together, but since it had been Alzira's idea it was only fair that the lady would go first...
  9. Isirion decided to let the whole giggling and snorting thing slide and concentrated on the more important matter of finding a new hideout. Alzira's suggestion was a promising one as far as he could tell. The tavern was big, well-frequented and usually people there minded their own business. He gathered up his old cloak and rolled it up so it looked like a travelling bag then he said: "Let's go to the tavern Alzira suggested, the longer we wait the higher the chance we'll be discovered. Fingers can you re-lock the door?" The more-beggar-than-ever-looking man nodded and after making sure everything was as it had been when they entered, the group left through the back-door. Outside it was almost too easy to mingle with the crowd. After Pride's arena show had been forcefully cancelled the citizens craved entertainment and between the circling, flashing Nebs and the roaring fire they got plenty. On the way to the tavern Isirion had to constantly remind himself to walk decrepit to match his decrepit look while low-stooping and feet-shuffling came almost natural to Fingers. When they had rounded the last corner, Isirion suddenly stopped and asked: "So, does anyone here have any coins to pay for our new hideout?" Fingers immediately picked up on the opportunity and volunteered: "Since I already look the part, I can easily beg for half the coins and pickpocket the rest. Just wait here." A wrinkly-looking hand dug painfully into his shoulder and a growl near to his ear told him: "You will stay outside and beg, but not to get the coins to rent a dragon and ditch us, but as a look-out for trouble. Leal will stay with you and make sure you don't confuse the two." A short whistle later the Nilia landed on Fingers other shoulder and dug his claws in. Isirion withdrew his hand and added: "And don't even think of trying to bribe him. He didn't take any as a messenger and now that he knows that you have to play an important part in freeing his swarm, he'd rather starve to death than let you out of his sight." Leal chirped in agreement and dug his claws in even further. Fingers whimpered, nodded and shuffled off to find a good place to keep an eye on the surroundings while wallowing in self-pity. Pride started mumbling about how corrupting little dragons to be cruel was almost as bad as eating them, but Felicia stopped him: "You can complain all you want when we are actually safe inside a room and out of earshot, but now I need you to play the role of a wealthy and generous husband who gladly pays for his wife and parents to stay a few nights at the tavern." The magic words 'play the role' transformed Pride into a dapper gentleman who had no trouble of securing two adjecent rooms for his extended family. Only when the whole 'family' was gathered behind locked doors inside the slightly bigger room, Pride reverted back to his mumbling: "Can't see why a hatchie killer would care about Leal's swarm anyway, probably just wants them as a portable snack. Who knows if he's not really working with the blue lady, they probably exchange torture advice. And the whole masquerade party is certainly a trap..."
  10. Grumbling to himself that it was just a little chafing, Isirion sat through the thorough re-bandaging with a face like sour milk. He might have actually appreciated the meticulous wound-dressing if not for everything that came after. When Alzira was done he looked old, pathetic and weak. He had hated weakness before but now he found a part of him especially loathed looking that way in front of not one but two accomplished women. Felicia couldn't stop snorting through her visually enlarged nose every time she looked at him and the one who had turned him into a wretch was still smiling over every age spot and wrinkle she had given him. The only upside was that Pride didn't look much happier. The ex-arena master sat stone-still while the green-haired lady worked. Pride's mind kept returning to the blood-soaked bandages as it had returned to the mental image of slain hatchlings. In his heart he already knew what his brain was trying to tell him, but he refused to listen. If he admitted that his former idol had defended them at the arena despite being injured already, he would also have to admit that painting him as black as that canvas after hearing about his past had been wrong. What was the truth? Was he light or was he shadow? Just like his eye-colour it all seemed to depend on the perspective you were looking from. Felicia had already found her answer. Seeing Alzira push Isirion around like he was a little school-boy was hilarious and made her laugh despite the direness of their situation. Her husband was marked a criminal, the Nebs were out to hunt them and their last safe hiding place had burned down. Nevertheless she felt she really enjoyed the excitement of being on the run with a real criminal and everything that came with it - like wrinkles. Felicia couldn't help herself and snorted again causing her husband's face to wrinkle up too in confusion. Fingers who was last, tried to sit still while his beggar-like look was getting enhanced with warts and a beard-stubble. A better disguise meant a better chance at survival, but what was the point? The whole of the Nebs were hunting them. Surely everybody would understand if he ran as far away as he could. Surely nobody would still be planning to go to that party. Surely they all-" "Don't even think about running away again", Isirion suddenly hissed looking like a grandpa telling the neighboring kids to get off his lawn. "We are still going to the blue lady's party and so are you! What's so damned funny?!"
  11. Isirion suppressed a cough and whispered: "I suppose if that couple has not awoken from their early afternoon nap to the roaring fire outside, it won't wake up to us playing dress-up and sneaking out their backyard either." Felicia suppressed a laugh at that, then she whispered with a side-glance towards her husband: "Pride my dear, your hour to shine has come. Our party-costumes are out of the question, but we still have to look different. I am sure you can whip something up for us?" Pride didn't suppress a proud smile when his lovely wife expressed her confidence in him and started right away. Two of their anti-smoke scarves became a spunky headband for himself, the third one a matching shirt-accessoire. Fingers went once again for the beggar-look. The trail of a dress became a stylish scarf to hide Felicia's facial features. A very familiar-looking curtain became a blouse and a wide-brimmed hat for Alzira to partially hide her face and freshly soot-coloured hair. Only Isirion was still his dark and grim-looking self since Pride refused to do anything for a presumed hatchie-killer. After making sure the couple was still oblivious, Felicia pulled her husbands ear which usually got her whatever she wanted, but this time Pride remained stubborn. Isirion who had just about enough of Pride's ill-timed antics, growled and said: "I didn't kill those hatchlings. Like I already explained to you in your arena - If I can choose my own fights I don't pick on weaklings. I killed other hatchlings and ate some of them though. What are you going to do about it? Send me away and deal with the blue lady and all those Nebs hunting us alone?" His worst fears confirmed, Pride swallowed hard, swallowed again and finally swallowed his pride. "Just hide that cloak of yours, since none of the Nebs who saw your face lived to tell the tale." Isirion nodded and pulled off his cloak, revealing blood-soaked bandages. He gave Alzira a sheepish grin and said a little lightheaded from the blood loss and exhaustion: "Looks like killing all those Nebs was a bit more chafing than I thought. Sorry about ruining the bandages you had applied so perfectly. I'll just use the bandages I nicked from Felicia's place to fix this real quick."
  12. With a last drawn-out creak like the death-rasp of a gigantic creature, the structure's integrity finally failed. A billowing cloud of smoke, ash and fire rose as the roof came crashing down. The dragons concealed within held their breath as they rose with it out of the Nebs' sight and reach. The hot desert winds did disperse the cloud fast, but not fast enough to reveal the dragons before they literally rose above all suspicion. Now their indistinct grey forms indicated just another city dragon or two agitated by the fire and the flashing Nebula wings. All that was left was finding an inconspicious place to settle down again and wait for their keepers. Only the humans' escape took a lot longer than planned. For every step forward through the flame corridor they had to take two steps back to avoid collapsing and/or scorching building parts. From all the burning debris the floor became more and more treacherous by the second. Isirion did his best to find a safe path, but that took time. Even though the flames didn't touch him, he soon dripped with sweat. The concentration needed to keep the flame energies from spiralling out of control sapped his stamina faster than fighting all those Nebs yesterday had. One mistake and the fire would incinerate his charges instead of shielding them. Twice already he had to redirect the flames in a splitsecond and it was only getting worse. The smoke that came with the fire was getting so thick that he could barely see more than a few paces ahead. Only his battle-honed reflexes saved the group as a bolt-filled Royal Blue suddenly crashed down; it's familiar looking rider already burnt to a crisp. Going around the fallen dragon consumed even more time, but finally the group made it to the adjacent row of buildings. Their roofs had been doused with water by the Undine fire patrol to keep the fire from spreading which suited Isirion just fine. In the cover of steam that had appeared when the two elements clashed he grabbed Fingers and pushed him towards the nearest front door. Then he hissed into his ear: "You have five seconds to pick that lock." Fear and adrenaline made Fingers succeed in three. As soon as everyone was inside the dark room Isirion barred the door and looked for the inhabitants, an elderly couple, with intended murder in his once-again ice-blue eyes... In the mean-time at the Shadow guild One of the two visitors standing in front of Nightblade's desk was looking as nervous as a paper dragon in a fire storm, with shuffling feet and darting eyes, the other as calm and steady as a Nocturne at day. Interesting enough it was the little girl that showed confidence while her full-grown companion fidgeted around every five seconds. For the first time since Trueshot's death the Shadow leader felt a smile creep onto his face. A girl as brave as that would make it far in the guild but of course she was here to hire them, not join them. Nightfeather, who reluctantly had taken Trueshot's place as Nightblade's bodyguard/advisor, also approved of the girl's attitude. Without giving a damn about being inside the den of a bunch of murderers-for-hire, the girl had shown the Vine empire crest and demanded to speak with the leader. Nightfeather who had a pretty good idea what she was going to ask, had nevertheless indulged her. Now that she was standing before the leader, the girl wasted no time and introduced herself: "I am Amara, daughter of the late lord Hassleborough and sole heiress to the Vine empire. I seek to hire as many of your most capable 'gardeners' to cut away all those who have taken my father from me. If you do this for me, I will not forget it and should you or your people ever find yourself on the wrong side of the Nebula's judgement, I will intervene. This distinguished captain of a Nebula tower here will confirm my words and claim." The captain puffed out his chest and did as asked. Nightblade listened to them both as they both described every piece of information they had on the murder he would be payed to avenge. The more he heard, the more he felt like fidgeting himself. Finally he stood up and said: "Amara Hassleborough, believe me, I feel your loss as if it was my own. I lost a precious comrade to the one suspected to have commited that gruesome murder. But that is exactly why I won't send anymore assassin's after him. He has proven himself to be as deadly as his moniker if the count of dead Nebulas is anything to go by." The girl looked very displeased with this answer, but when she spoke her voice was carefully neutral: "The captain already told me of the difficulties apprehending the suspect at Pride's arena. As I said, I am looking for all those who have taken my father from me. That murderer is not working alone. There are reports from another tower that someone whose description fits him has bargained for a green-haired lady and a bear-like man. Then there are those who hid at Pride's arena with him. We have exact descriptions since they all have been first imprisoned by the Nebulas. Find them and deliver them to the Vineyard. My fathers dragons will take revenge for him." Nightblade exchanged some meaningful glances with Nightfeather. Abducting a few grooms and a greenhaired woman didn't sound too dangerous, but if they were really affiliated with 'Death', maybe the weren't as harmless as they seemed. Still, if a little girl was willing to take the risk, he just couldn't chicken out again. And if the Shadows would really be working together with the Nebulas this time, maybe, just maybe they would not only avenge lord Hassleborough but Trueshot as well...
  13. As soon as Sappo had been sent on fire-setting-duty, Isirion snatched up ashes left over from the missile training and told the White Dragon he had to get himself as dirty as possible for further camouflage. Unless he and the Golden Wyvern became undistinguishable from the smoke and fire, risking the collapsing building would be for naught. Felicia immediately nodded and grabbed some ash to work on Golden Myth, while Pride stood dumbstruck. He couldn't believe what was happening and he struggled with putting the lives of his beloved wife and dragon into the hands of a maybe-hatchie-killer/eater. Once again Felicia snapped him out of it by telling him to focus on the disguises. Pride dashed around the room, collecting everything he could and when he was done he ripped a leftover piece of cloth into three scarves. After soaking them in the trough he gave them to the two women and tied the last one around his own face for protection. Isirion raised only an eyebrow at being left-out, but after dealing with Hellfires for years, he wasn't worried about the feeble flames at all. It was the tacked-on structures turning the stable into a hideout for Drake's mysterious people that made him frown. There was no telling when those additions would come crashing down and that meant they just had to risk it. He hated depending on luck instead of skill almost as going into a battle without a plan. His visible bad mood and the encroaching flames triggered Fingers flight-instincts. The ex-thief tried to cling to Drake's clingy dragon to escape, but was immediately ditched. Faced with certain death through fire on almost all sides, Fingers choose to side with just death. Impossible as it sounded, it seemed as if even the flames themselves were afraid of going near him. Those few that dared flicker in his presence soon died. Felicia who had finished sooting Golden Myth noticed something else too. In the light of the dying flames Isirion's eyes had once again turned dead-purple. Ominous creaking heralded that the roof would soon come crashing down and so both of them decided to save their observations for later. Even Pride noticed that their window for escape was closing fast, but salvation was faster. Sappo returned on pitch-black wings, his proud beaming face clearly illuminated by the flame corridor he had created. Isirion wasted not a second more and stepped into it. Making sure her moistened scarf was in place Felicia followed dragging her husband right behind her. Fingers entered next and gasped. All around the flames roared upwards, effectively concealing them while singeing not even a single hair on their heads. It was nothing short of a miracle... Outside the Nebs shouted their typical proclamation about surrender and facing judgement. Having learned at least that much from their arena-fiasco, they did so from a considerable, assassination-defying height. Their leader was especially cautious about anything even remotely resembling a black-clad figure and had already wasted two bolts on startled pygeons. Since time worked in their favour and to save ammunition he gave out the order to only shoot when they had a clear target. His comrades snickered and acknowledged the order, cracking jokes about a barbeque to pass the time until their prey either emerged or burned to cinders...
  14. Having barely finished a quarter of his grooming routine when the Magelight returned, Piro ostentatiously proceeded even slower than before. That would teach that annoying dragon not to steal somebody's message and potential reward. When it seemed the Magelight would rather burn the message than wait some more, Piro spread his freshly moistured wings and lead the way to cold and bloodstained. They found him in a relaxed sitting position with his hood down over his eyes with an even more relaxed looking Nilia pygmy resting on his cloak. Both looked up when the fluttering of their pygmy wings betrayed their presence. Leal gave shrill warning shrieks as he recognized the Magelight. While he prided himself on reliably delivering every message, that one just took them for a reward, sometimes without even asking. That must be what had happened this time too, seeing as the accompanying Misfit glanced at the message in her backpaws every two seconds or so. Leal shot the Magelight an especially reproachful glance, hoping his new keeper would once again interpret it correctly. Like he had hoped, it didn't take Isirion long. His hand shot forward like a snake from the grass, catching the message-thief with ease and a plain disregard for the flaming tail. He took the message with his free hand and addressed the Misfit: "You came from the rental dragon stable with the message I asked for, but this Magelight took it from you, possibly to earn your reward. The Nilia's reaction here tells me it's not the first time she has done something like this. Since he especially dislikes tampering with messages and won't shut up otherwise, I'll give you another chance to deliver it properly. With this he handed the message over to the Misfit who looked quite perplexed. Nevertheless it took the message and delivered it right back. Leal changed his hawk-like shriek to a satisfied chirp and settled down again. Isirion released the Magelight and finally read the message. When he was finished he jumped to his feet and cursed: "Bloody hellfire, why the hell can't that stubborn old man stay put and wants to come back here again!" Surprised by Isirion's outrage, Leal flew high into the air and waited till the storm passed, only it didn't. Only a moment later the whole stable-hideout of the Draikenflaemes was bathed in flashing colours from what had to be half the remaining Nebula dragons and riders in the city. They had been led there by their, still quite flat looking, kin who had carefully followed the pristine White Dragon and the shiny Golden Wyvern from the ground after having been sky-tackled by the latter. His rider who had feigned unconciousness, had also followed them, albeit a whole lot slower and especially looking out for the meek Royal Blue. All targets had vanished into the entrance of what, from the outside, appeared to be a normal dragon stable. After reporting their findings back to the nearest tower, a stealth patrol with dimmed wing patterns had been sent out to further assess the situation. Their report had differed a lot from the reports sent by the arena investigators, but in the end the tower commander had decided an unmoving, easy flammable stable that hid at least one of those troublesome Royal Blues was the perfect target to rekindle the reputation of the Nebs - literally! In minutes the whole structure, struck periodically with flaming torches from the air, burned as brightly as the wing patterns of the attacking Nebulas. Their riders, having learned form the disastrous assault on Pride's arena, were armed with crossbows, ready to take everyone out, who tried to escape the conflagration from the visible exits. A second line of dragons, consisting entirely of Undine's was deployed to contain the fire. It was a deadly efficient, but rather cruel plan, which wasn't too surprising if you investigated it's source. Anxious that anything would endanger her long-planned masquerade party, the blue lady had seen to it personally, that the Nebs extinguished every ember of possible disturbance - and the best way to do just that was burning alive the inhabitants of each and every suspicious place within the city. Also not surprising, the other half of the Nebulas was sent to incinerate Pride's arena in a similar way. Inside the stables, Isirion snatched up the forged invitations and hid them inside his dragonskin cloak before the smoke and fire could ruin them. Then he gathered the very few people he actually trusted inside the room, namely Alzira, Felicia and Pride and told them hastily: "This is normal fire, it will not hurt your dragons, but the bolts of the Nebs without a doubt waiting outside will. If you want your dragons to survive, they have to stay put until the very last minute and only escape, when the roof fully collapses and adds an additional layer of smokescreen to shield their departure. Of course the Nebs will shoot at us at first sight too, so we have to make sure they don't. There is only one way to do that - spread the fire to other buildings and walk right through it. I will walk in front and shield you from the worst of it, everything else the White Dragon can heal later as long as nobody screams and gives us away. Will you trust me?" In the mean-time back at the ruins of Isirion's hideout Hell: No other word describes Torch's first impression after awaking to the world outside the collapsed hideout. Still covered in the remains of that hideout, his mind tainted and wary from the ordeals he had to endure, Torch dared to look around. But to his horror, the very first thing his yellowish red eyes saw were the broken bodies of other Hellfire Wyverns. Helpless and defenseless they lay under the debris of the cave that had mercilessly shattered their bodies after enslaving their minds for so long. The sight of dead hatchlings and dragons all around him, mingled with his ever present gruesome memories. Past and present intertwined, Torch could no longer see any difference. From the moment of his birth, death had been around him. It was a neverending circle that would go on as long as he was alive... "You are alive!", a voice suddenly pierced the dark thoughts in his mind. Hellfire Chimera, carefully shielding her belly with her wing-arms, emerged from a nearby pile of debris and then rushed over to give her mate an affectionate nose-rub. Torch couldn't help himself but smile. Suddenly the past and the present didn't seem so important any more now that he could see his future right in front of him. Together with his family he would flee as far away from this hellish place as their wings would carry them. So far away that their keeper would never find them, but before that there was one last thing he had to do. Together with Chimera he gathered all other survivors he could find and bade them listen: "You all know me, I am Hellfire Torch and before any of us can hope to find true freedom, I need tell you the truth about your suffering. The humans have used places like this for training dragons long before our keeper was even born. At first they just wanted to harness our power to gain the strength to protect themselves from wild dragons, but that soon changed. The humans discovered the huge tactical advantage of being able to rain hellfire down on their enemies. And in doing so they made even more enemies who in turn sought to use us in their wars too. More and more training places were created and more and more the human wars became wars between dragons. Hellfires for their overwhelming fire power, Stone Dragons for their defense and sturdiness, Sunstones and Moonstones for their aptitude in close range combat, White Dragons for their healing powers, Royal Blues for their protective instincts, excellent night-vision and steam-screen capabilities, Lurkers for their stealth and swiftness of attack. The list goes on and on, but those were the main trainable species deemed to be the most useful for battle. While every warring city had slightly different training methods they all filled the skies with dragons set on killing each other and if that was not enough on their backs they carried humans also set on killing each other. Thus the Dragon War began and it would not end until one side either gained a significant advantage or the other sides lost their will to fight or were wiped out completely. One dragon regiment in particular sought to end the war after countless of battles that cost countless of lives but ultimately didn't change a thing. It was the captain of the Royal Blues who came up with a monstrous plan in order to finally achieve victory. They used the Lurker's way to sneak into the enemy's training facilities and there destroyed and killed every egg and hatchling they could find. Thus sapping their enemies strength, numbers and will to fight the Royal Blue regiment finally won the battle in the sky once and for all. They were all hailed as heroes and few knew what they had done to bring victory to their city, even fewer cared. The war was finally over, peace returned, but it was never going to be the same. Now that the humans had learned what could be achieved by treating dragons as tools, they used this knowledge in every day life. Using Red Dragons for heating, Electric Dragons for fishing, Paper Dragons for writing, once again the list goes on and on. Most dragons felt it was better than being forced to slaughter each other in the sky and be slaughtered in turn and thus the Dragon War really ended for good. The regiments got disbanded, the dragons released or repurposed. The humans mended the relationship between their cities, promising to never wage war again, but there were those who believed a peace like that couldn't last. That due to human greed and corruption another war would eventually break out and destroy everything they worked so hard to protect. They saw only one solution to prevent this. Secretly breeding and training a dragon army unlike any other. An army of dragons so fierce and strong that they would be able to annihilate any threat to peace before it even arose. Our keeper was charged by his master to turn this idea into reality and thus the Bloodline of Torch was born. As you all have experienced our keeper used every method, however ruthless or cruel and worked tirelessly towards this one goal, weeding out the weak and training only those strong in body and mind. In time the offsprings of pairings meeting his standards created the core of this new Hellfire Army. My blood runs through them because it was me our keeper picked to be the first sire. That is the truth why especially the females among you had to fight and compete for everything. It made your lives a living hell, but this is over now. The Hellfire Army born from every single drop of blood we spilled has finally taken to the skies and left us behind. You are all free to make your own choices now!"
  15. "Squee?", Piro asked his suddenly empty paws. Did that count as message delivered? It certainly was heading towards the right direction, albeit the cold and bloodstained scent had been diluted for some time now. Did cold and bloodstained take a hot bath?, Piro chuckled and settled into a more comfortable position. Since he had nothing better to do, he started grooming himself. His skin felt papery, even though he hadn't done much more than sit on a much larger dragon's head and then glide around a bit. True, the desert had felt a lot hotter than normal, but what was normal for the endless desert? This time the air behind the postal dragon had seemed to burn and while the increased heat had sapped it's stamina faster, the hot air currents had also made it easier to fly. Piro shook his wings to remove any remaining sand and then started licking his wing membranes occasionally glancing around if per chance the Magelight returned. Meanwhile not too far away in the endless desert The rental-dragon had long fallen behind the perfectly muscled Hellfires flying effortlessly through the scorching air. The heat their bodies produced was almost unbearable, even from a distance, but the human riding on it's back didn't even flinch. Sodger could almost picture how the very air around his Hellfire army burned so fiercely it distorted their image to a mere mirage for prying eyes. The air-bandits would never see him coming, while he knew exactly where to strike, thanks to his loyal apprentice, who had marked the place with a Sunstone body. The scouting Hellfire who spotted it, had no trouble interpreting the single stab wound to the heart. It was his keeper's handiwork telling them without a doubt to strike right here at the heart of the Sunstone Bandits. Further scouting revealed that the air-bandits had abandoned their hidden-dune-lair in quite a hurry. There was leftover food strewn around, that smelled already half a day or more old. Every weapon and every thing valuable from a human's point was also gone. Upon receiving this report, Sodger's unseeing eyes darkened even more. "Those worthless cowards fled." The scouting wyvern immediately tried to catch the scent, but the desert winds thwarted his efforts. "I do not think they fled from us, nor my apprentice", Sodger concluded after a while. "The air-bandits had no way of knowing we were coming from them and if my apprentice had already attacked them, he wouldn't have let them escape with their lives. There must be another party hunting air-bandits. It was highly unlikely that the corrupted Nebs had suddenly decided to betray their lackeys after their establish system had worked perfectly for so long. The Nebs protected the city on scheduled occasions, just like a performance and the air-bandits did the real raiding only outside the big city. As he had experienced for himself, they ambushed those who crossed the endless desert with insufficient protection and traded the spoils directly with the Nebs who distributed them with profit among the various city nobles who in turn sponsored them. Sodger cursed as he remembered everything he had to endure because of them, but his vengeance had to wait until he could find them again. He ordered the Hellfire army to use the abandoned lair as a temporary base and search for a water source. After that he called for the undisputed leader of the Hellfires and addressed him: "Hellfire Azmodan Torch, you are the current pride of the Bloodline of Torch. Your mother was handpicked by my apprentice for her exceptional prowess in battle. You have inherited not only her ferocity and strength, but also her unquenchable fighting spirit as your keeper told me. It is this spirit that earned you your position as leader and it is time you prove to me that you truly deserve it. You will take half of the Hellfires and hunt down the Sunstone Bandits for me. Those bandits have trampled the honour of the Royal Blue and for that they must suffer. Spare none of them, not even their dragons!"
  16. Returning the scrutinizing gaze of Drake's presumed superior, Isirion immediately added another tick to his mental list. That man seemed level-headed enough to lead the whole mission without falling prey to any wildfire emotions. A few seconds later the interrogator confirmed his assessment and Isirion permitted himself a brief smile, before settling down with his back to the wall. With one of their own in charge, chances were, that even that meek Royal Blue, that a big part of the plan hinged on, would perform to the best of his abilities. That kind of motivation probably worked for everyone of Drake's people too, which suited him just fine. Maybe now he could actually relax a bit before the party started. Leal sensed the change in his mood and, apparently not worrying anymore about ending up as Isirion's dinner, curled himself up on his shoulder to take a nap. Watching anxiously from a distance, Pride couldn't concentrate at all on making another full-face mask. His mind was still full of unjustly slain hatchlings, alternating between grieving for them and cursing himself for ever believing that 'Death' could be merciful. Felicia wanted to comfort her husband, but what could she say, that would change anything? Pride looked as if he would break any moment. Isirion on the other hand looked perfectly at ease, even surrounded by hostility. The more she watched them both, the more she doubted the conclusion her husband and Golden Myth had come to. Finally she sat down right in front of her husband and said: "I don't think he killed those hatchlings, but if you really want to know, you should just ask - right after you finished that mask he requested. A black dragon mask would suit him perfectly, don't you think?" Being given a clear purpose did help Pride find his lost focus and he started working right away... In the mean-time not too far away "SQUEEE!!!" The messenger pygmy currently riding on top of the postal dragon was clearly enjoying himself. While other pygmies had shunned the challenge of flying to the big stinky place to search for 'cold and bloodstained', Piro had been all game. His keeper had been coerced by 'cold and bloodstained' to be informed right away, if there were any news on a certain missing human. That being the case after the missing human had walked right into the rental-dragon-stable to fetch a ride into the big city, Piro had been sent right after him with the obvious message. Of course his keeper had picked Piro, since no other pygmy got along so well with the postal dragons that they would allow him to piggy-back on their head. Being a Misifit pygmy, one would think all he was up too, was making the already hard life of the postal dragons even harder, but that was plain wrong. Piro was true to himself, being mischievious, but only towards the humans that skimped on the dragon's food and provisions. Every time they tried to save some coins by sending out less than well-fed dragons, he personally stole food from the irresponsible keepers' table and distributed it to the deserving dragons. No brain needed to figure out, that those dragons were thankful enough to bear a tiny bit more weight on their journeys. Feeling especially good about this ride, that he had 'purchased' with a marinated boar haunch, Piro squeee'd some more until the stench of their destination hit him. He was quite sure that even the humans had called it big stinky city before just shortening it to big city, since the stinky part was obvious. Thus being not too thrilled about finding 'cold and bloodstained' by smell, Piro decided to glide off the postal dragon at the maximum height to find his client by sight instead, thinking that there couldn't be too many people walking around wearing a dead black dragon. Circling around the most interesting looking landmarks, Piro soon regretted his choice. The people in this city still put dragon parts everywhere, sometimes without detaching them from the dragon first. The most disgusting thing was a mansion covered in scales and spikes with a few dead hatchling lawn ornaments. The Misfit flew lower, hoping to relieve himself right onto the deserving owner, but the whole place looked as dead as those ornaments. Suddenly Piro caught scent of a lot of recently spilled blood and his thoughts immediately wandered towards 'cold and bloodstained'. "Halfway there already", he cheered, "not many people leave a trail of blood either". Finding more than one trail, because of the numerous recently blood-stained places all over the city, Piro finally managed to home-in on a particular stable-like building. It looked almost inviting since it sported living pygmies instead of dead dragon parts. Descending as close as he could without invading their territory, Piro announced his presence with a few articulate squeaks and - for further attention - waved the message...
  17. As if mentally ticking off a list, Isirion turned his attention towards the next person to react. It was Pride who had finally worked up the courage to charge. With tears streaming from beneath his full-face mask the human dragon-fly did everything he could to inflict at least a little bit of pain onto the monster that only stood before them now, because he took the lives of those poor, innocent, helpless, newborn hatchlings. His vast imagination made him almost see his former idol devour the poor hatchies after merciless slaying them and he screamed as such with a wide array of local swear-words mixed into the yet unproven accusations. Isirion easily dodged the fists trying to rain down on him, occasionally lifting Leal out of harm's way. When Pride was finally hitting the floor in frustration, Felicia pulled her husband back only to find Golden Myth on the verge of charging in next. Fearing for the wyvern's life since he had already taxed Isirion's patience more than once, Felicia brought her foot down with the force of a crashing tree and commanded: "SIT". Husband and dragon obeyed immediately, which brought a wide grin to Isirion's face and another tick onto his mental list. As he was still holding Leal at that moment, the Nilia couldn't help himself but stare wide-eyed at the exposed teeth and squeak something that could only be interpreted as 'Please don't eat me'. "Bloody hellfire", Isirion cursed, inadvertently showing even more teeth: "I am not going to eat you." Leal looked as reproachful as he dared at the counter-evidence. Isirion promptly closed his mouth and concentrated on evaluating his mental list until everyone present seemed to have calmed down enough to be confronted with the results: "Pride, you fail again, but luckily you have Felicia at your side who has enough self-control for both of you. She can stop you before you blow our cover at the party by charging our host for telling 'entertaining stories from the pit'. Alzira, you seem to have listened before and mastered your emotions enough to pass scrutiny. The new determination in your voice will also help sell your pygmy trainer story better. Golden Myth - while you did at least hold your contempt for me a little longer in check this time, there is still no way you'll be joining the party. Fingers self-preservation-instinct which currently makes him cower behind the Royal Blue will serve him well at the party. Taellonn, your constant worry might be exactly the expression you want to show towards the blue lady so she doesn't have to employ any number of creative ways to torture any perceived defiance out of you. Once you are accepted and caged however, you should prepare mentally for the fight against the Nebs and their dragons." Isirion turned towards the interrogator and addressed him: "This is also very important for everyone you send into this battle, so I suggest you also convey the following information to your superior. I have fought both the Nebs and their dragons yesterday and in addition to personal experience, noticed a few things that might help you save lives. The Nebulas are trained to obey whoever rides them, to a point to obey a complete stranger into attacking their own kind. Their riders will also have no qualms of firing bolts into attacking dragons, since that is what they do in case of 'scheduled' air-bandit-attacks. The dragons can dim or intensify their wing patterns in order to further an ambush or hold-up and there also exist special patterns to communicate with each other. While I have worked on thinning out their numbers, their roosts are full with replacements with keen eyes. If Taellonn can convince the other imprisoned Royal Blues to steam as large an area as possible, it vastly reduces the Neb's advantages, since they invested too much into training them to loose them to errant bolts. Within the steam, guided by the Royal Blues and any other dragon you have, that can navigate within these condition, you can pick off the riders. Otherwise you will have to kill or disable the Nebulas, becoming what especially Drake condemns me for." At the 'Sleeping Dragon' tavern Gathered around the scorched area, that had been a tree, a sticky-web-net and a very unlucky cave chicken once, stood a most unusual group of mourners. For starters, the only one actually mourning, was a girl wearing a hastily blackened, frilly dress. Next to Winny, also wearing dark colours, stood her brother Jaxon trying desperately not to laugh. Next to him stood Erastor, the exorcist waiting to do his part of sending a poor poultry soul on to the afterlife. His magnificent silvery-white robes looked out of place but not as much as Henna, who, on purpose, wore the most colourful frilly dress, her pet snake Umi and a most inappropriate grin. Winny laid the last flower from her mother's flowerbed that had not ended up decorating any other grave on a small, chicken-shaped pile of ash and said with a trembling voice: "Though you are not my beloved Feathershriek, I will lay you to rest with every honour in her stead. My father has taught me how the Royal Blues say goodbye to fallen comrades - First we have to recount the most honourable deed in Feathershriek's life, then her most honourable death...ahem...She faced the fox and shrieked proudly true, but with flames burning blue the thieving ghost took her too. That was the life and honour of my beloved Chicken Blue!" Getting more impatient by the second, Henna finally snapped: "First of all, I don't understand how you talked me into this...oh wait, you whined so much, I had to or my ears would have fallen off. Secondly - there is no ghost, I met up with the Egg Hunter's apprentice to conduct a perfectly normal trade, but one of you idiots, decided to mess that up with an even more idiotic prank. Thirdly - chickens die all the time since we cook them and eat them. This one has just been done too well, so there is absolutely no point in us standing around like fools. Also - how in the hell do you even intend to bury a frickin pile of ash?" Winny stared at the herbalist with big watery eyes, then she stared some more until she snapped too and kicked the obnoxious woman's shins. Jaxon, who thought Henna totally deserved the treatment, waited a few kicks, then he pulled his sister back and said: "It's symbolic, don't question it. What's more important is that we gathered you here, because you have also seen the burning ghost. Our mum doesn't believe us one bit, she thinks we are just making it up because of the recent forest fire, but I know what I have seen. The exorcist wasn't there, but being an exorcist he of course believes in ghosts. Isn't that right?" The thus addressed exorcist, bowed briefly and confirmed: "Of course I believe in ghosts, especially this evil and blood-thirsty one." "For the last time", Henna interrupted - that was no ghost, but my Leetle leaf supplier. He is perfectly human." "And how many humans that you know, burn with a brilliant blue flame?", Jaxon retorted. Not willing to be backed into a corner by the logic of a fourteen-year old brat, Henna deployed her usual conversational counter-tactic: "Shut up, stupid brat!"
  18. While Sappo stayed on Alzira's shoulder and watched the audience intently, Leal soon took off and roosted on Isirion's cloak again. Donning something that was supposed to be a reassuring smile, but turned out to be as cold as his voice, Isirion elaborated a bit more: "The flock of Nilia pygmies we are looking for is this guy's swarm and you will find his family most likely skewered to the walls inside the blue lady's mansion. However the most important part is freeing the caged Royal Blues so they once again roam free over the city showing the Nebs incompetence. While they are distracted with trying to catch them again, they wont bother us at the party until it's too late. Like Felicia and Alzira he omitted everything that might spook Fingers again. There was no point in telling him, that Drake's people would slaughter the distracted Nebs in the air while he and Drake would slaughter the party guests and guards distracted by the pygmies' performance on the ground. Joining the slaughter at the masquerade party would be a few more of Drake's people since Alzira had forged additional invitations and Pride had managed to craft more disguises out of literally anything that hadn't been burned up during the pygmies training. Drake's Royal Blue was supposed to incite a rebellion amongst the freed dragons so that they would provide air support too, but he highly doubted the meek escort would be up to the task. Taellonn hadn't even shown a shred of fighting spirit when he had told him, that he might have killed his parents although it most likely had been the truth. Thinking back about the circumstances, Isirion suddenly cursed and turned towards Pride: "You need to make me a full-face mask too because it is highly possible that the blue lady knows my face and voice." The smile Pride donned because his unwilling idol had spoken to him, went right up to his ears, which failed to register the most important part. His wife however picked up on it immediately and asked: "From your time in the Nebs' arenas? Will you please tell me about it?" Isirion nodded and his gaze shifted briefly towards Drake's Royal Blue: "I had to fight for my life so many times, I only recently remembered this particular nasty business. The Nebs passed me from arena to arena so the new people watching would bet on the dragons as usual and their lost coins would fill the Nebs pockets. Nothing going on in those arenas had anything even remotely to do with justice - it was all about money. Of course those who lost their coins spread the tale or tried to win them back and so the Nebs dressed up other convicts of similar build as mine in black and managed to trick their audience again. Because, just as the Nebs had planned, people would now bet on the human, if he looked like a black-air-bandit. Naturally they lost even more when the dragons ripped them to shreds. To still keep them betting, they occasionally let me fight too, so there were actual winners too, but the ratio was totally skewed in the Nebs favour. Finally after months and months of forced fights to the death, the Nebs had another idea. They lent me to the different city nobles - for a significant amount of coins of course. Usually the city lord or lady would just sit up high in their special seats above the arenas and send specially trained dragons or sometimes aspiring bodyguards eager to prove their worth. Neither the Nebs nor the nobles cared if those they sent lived or died because the coins had already been paid and their entertainment was more important now. They would cheer their dragon or human on in vain, screaming for my blood and finally swearing they would find a stronger dragon or human next. They never did and so they paid the Nebs to weaken me instead. They stopped giving me food, so I started eating from the dragons I killed. Since the nobles found that even more entertaining they let me keep my strength this way but one veiled noble lady in turn commanded the Nebs to take away my blade. The dragon I had to face unarmed was provided by that lady as well. It was an adult male Blue-Banded Dragon. The fight wasn't pretty, the dragon fought as if something worse than death awaited him if he failed to kill me. In the end I managed to break off a few of his teeth and use them like daggers. Oddly enough the veiled lady gratulated me, as if that fight had been a test of some kind. Then she sent in a male and a female Royal Blue along with what looked like their newly-hatched clutch. The lady promised me my freedom if I managed to kill either the parents in front of their hatchlings or the hatchlings in front of their parents in order to teach them a lesson in obedience as she called it. If the veiled lady from back then is indeed the blue lady she must not see my face."
  19. That the green-haired lady spoke for him, gave Fingers a lot more courage than he had thought possible. Albeit the hinted prospect of working together with the black-clad murderer still scared him it was way better than working against him. For now, like Drake had promised, he really seemed to be safe. He visible calmed down, far more than before and said: "Although I have quit working as a pickpocket and a thief, I am willing to use my skills for a good cause." Isirion once again looked the ex-thief up and down, this time concentrating on the clothes his former prey was wearing then he mused: "He might be able to pass as a dragon handler. It is not uncommon that those not fast or nimble enough loose a limb or two while feeding their charges, I've seen it happen often enough." As if he too possessed some skill in teleportation, Pride appeared right next to Isirion and asked him excitedly: "You worked as a dragon handler? Was that before or after the underground-arena?" Felicia appeared just as fast and interjected: "Why don't you save the questions for later and start explaining what role our newest companion has to play in your plan." Pride swelled with pride and started right away before his brain even caught up with what he wanted to say: "The blue lady loves blue dragons so much she lets her servants nail them onto her walls so that they can't fly away. Those too big to fit on the walls, she puts into cages, that's were you will go. Not into the cage of course, but we need you to unlock the cages to free the dragons so that they can mount a rebellion under the leadership of Drake's dragon who, because he is also blue, going to be inside. When they are out-" At that point Felicia sealed her husband's mouth with a kiss and then said: "A wonderful explanation my dear. I couldn't have stated the facts better - We need a pickpocket to open those cages during the masquerade party the blue lady hosts tonight." In her mind she added 'an unspooked pickpocket who won't run away because he has foreknowledge that everyone else is going to get slaughtered...' Fingers who of course couldn't read minds, nodded and said: "Sure, those cages usual have standard locks that I could open blindfolded and with a hairpin but won't the blue lady notice a bunch of dragons flying away?" Felicia smiled brightly and passed the figurative torch to Alzira: "That's where she comes in. I am sure she can explain everything you need to know." In the mean-time at Leetle island Diadora sat beside the motionless human and gently brushed her nose against his. She tried patting his head, mewling into his ears, even licking his face but Eyes didn't stirr at all. Galandir watched his adopted baby-sister with a heartbroken look in his eyes. That human had doted on her with all his heart after a single meeting, not caring at all that she was from an entirely different species. From all the Guardian's companions he had been the kindest and now he...and now he...Galandir couldn't bear to finish the thought he would shatter like glass if that human, if Eyes, just like his father, left them, leaving behind only a painful memory. A sad mewl escaped him and his sister looked at him whimpering: "The angry human said he shouldn't pat me, but...I liked it so much...is it my fault he is...?" Just like her brother Diadora couldn't bear to finish the sentence, but the pain and regret in her eyes made everything clear. She was already blaming herself, just like Galandir had blamed himself after Galandors death and there were no words to ease her mind, only time could heal her heart... Suddenly a shadow fell over the Guardian hatchling - Lazarus had approached despite the broad daylight and he came with a gift of hope. While every eye on the island was focused on the victim of Sodger's wrath, he had picked a single leaf from the enshrined Leetle tree and brought it back. He carefully placed it into Galandirs paw and told him: "Before you were born, the Guardian's heart was set in stone, just like his old captain's, but you managed to move him. Together with your new siblings you managed to make him leave the past that was weighing him down were it belongs - the past. This shrine is a memento for all those who had to die for the Dragon War to end, but as you have studied so diligently at your father's side it is above else a beacon of life and rebirth. Nothing truly dies in nature, it only changes form, just like the seasons, just like-" "Just like that leaf!" Galandir exclaimed as he remembered why the Leetle tree was covetted by humans in the first place. Beyond the everchanging colours of the seasons, it's leaves possessed healing powers. The little Guardian quickly chewed the leaf into tiny bits and combined them with his spit. Then he gently opened Eyes mouth and made him swallow the mixture. A minute later the human opened his eyes in wonder. A tiny female Guardian hatchling was filling his whole field of vision, but that was alright, everything was alright now. Eyes stretched out his hand and patted her ever so gently...
  20. With the Red in the lead, the Harvest and the Sunrise walked single file towards a cozy looking, almost pygeon free spot within. Loot sniffed out the nearest food supply while Sunny settled down right away. Sparky gave the whole structure a few curious glances, wondering about the pygmy sentries, the huge wall and the improvised drapes. The place oozed security, but in a caring kind of way. There were no cut-off dragon spikes or horns and the only dragon scales he could see were right were they belonged - on living, breathing dragons, that seemed perfectly at ease. The Red helped himself to some water and curled up next the Sunrise who was already snoring away. At approximately the same time at a certain Nebula tower After the third cup of hot chocolate, Amara, the late lord Hassleborough's daughter, had made up her mind. While the Neb captain had been friendly and understanding enough, every new report that came in confirmed that he was unable to handle the situation. Not only had her father along with his servants and guards been brutally murdered, but a whole lot of Nebs as well. All over the city they were finding bodies and while a small part of Amara thought that was a just punishment for failing to protect her father, the girl knew something had to be done. Her whole life she had been groomed to take over the Vine empire and while she had preferred daydreaming about Daydream Dragons over studying, enough of the essential lessons had stuck in her mind. Bad situations, like bad vines had to be weeded out immediately. Nothing saps credibility like not being able to defend or at least avenge one's roots. Amara clutched Mr. Fluffy Pillow as firm as she could and slammed the stuffed hatchling on the table. It landed with an audible, slightly jingly but very heavy sounding thump and the girl announced: "Captain, you will come with me. Hiding here doesn't improve the situation at all. This proliferation of loose murderers needs to be cut down by professionals and I know just where to hire the right gardeners for that." At the same time at the 'living quarters' Taellonn's 'Uh?' turned quite a few heads. One head was hidden under a glittering full-face dragon-fly mask attached to a glittering human with glittering butterfly-like wings. Fingers looked again and now there stood two of them, albeit the new human dragon-fly seemed to be female and only wearing a half-mask. The ex-thief sighed with relief as he understood, that the couple probably just had dressed up for some masquerade party. Suddenly the whole room swam in front of his eyes - there like a pitch-black stain back-dropped by the pristine scales of a White Dragon stood his very own nightmare. Fingers yelped and tried to back out of the room, but he might as well have tried pushing back against a wall. Thinking how wrong Sparky had been, Fingers prepared for death, knowing it would at least be swift, but the dreaded strike never came. Fingers blinked, wondering why he was still alive, when suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder. In the blink of an eye, his personal nightmare had crossed the distance and now stood right in front of him, grinning ever so slightly as he said: "My master would be so pleased that I finally caught you, but I honestly can't take any credit for this." Isirion looked the ex-thief up and down, taking in the haunted look, then he told him: "Relax, my orders never were to kill you or I would have done so the first time we met." Oddly enough, that did calm Fingers down. He had already experienced the excrutiating pain of having cut off a part of his body, what else was there left to fear? Fingers slowly breathed in and out, before he asked: "And what were your orders regarding the others?" For a moment it looked like Isirion wouldn't answer, but then he divulged: "Kill everyone, who didn't know the location the Gatherer was held at." At that Fingers let out a hysterical laugh before he coughed: "So, I would have really died at that disgusting mansion, not even knowing it had been my ex-guild who had captured the benefactor I had been looking for ever since his disappearance." Isirion shrugged, he couldn't care less if the thief lived or died and so he informed him coldly: "You might still die, it all depends on the reason Drake brought you here."
  21. Loot had been won over after Drake mentioned the words security and Wallet in the same sentence. The Red looked a bit doubtful since everything sounded a bit too convenient, but on the other paw, if it was true and the bodyguard had really managed to keep her employer safe, there was a slight chance the others might also still be alive. While he wasn't particulary fond of the stubborn and overly proud thieves guild master, he did miss Wallet's kind servant who had never woken him up for heating duty unless it was absolutely necessary. Now that he thought about it, the sleepiness that had been his almost constant companion in the fisherman's village had entirely gone and been replaced by a restless energy that had first manifested itself by the urge to constantly blew sparks. Sparky wondered briefly if the location change had somehow invigorated him, but there were more pressing matters at paw. The dragon decided to trust Drake and said: "I really can't picture you working with the black-clad murderer Fingers warned us about, so all that's left to say is this - thank you for your kind offer. We'll gladly take it." In the mean-time at the other stable in the city After her intentionally bawdy joke had cleared the tension from the air, Felicia had thought about a way to keep the peace between the most unlikely allies. While Isirion seemed to seethe when Pride as much as breathed in his direction, he didn't seem to mind the Nilia Pygmy now clinging to him like a shadow at all. Pride's favourite wyvern loathed the dragon killer as much as his keeper admired him. The Royal Blue who had already performed splendidly in the arena and should have fake-fighted Death next, looked as nervous as if someone had told it to fight for real instead. The painter lady and her dragons clearly weren't fond of Isirion's methods, but they seemed to acknowledge the helpful intentions behind them. Felicia herself felt like she already knew him for years, because of her husband's obsession. Although the mythical Death turned out to be quite different from the image Pride had, she rather liked the brutal honesty that stood in stark contrast to her husband's elaborate but made-up stories...
  22. Fingers almost jumped back into the dragon's embrace when Drake suddenly spoke from behind him. Sparky snorted and said: "Welcome back Wallet's bodyguard. Can you per chance shed some light on the fate of your employer and his companions?" Loot rolled his eyes at the awkward formal tone the Red Dragon used, but he understood the idea. They had no way of forcing Drake to tell them what she knew, if she knew anything, so all they could do was ask politely. Fingers didn't understand, but he suddenly remembered something important and asked: "Is your Royal Blue alright? The Nebs were hunting them all over the city and he isn't in his stable anymore." In the mean-time at Pride's arena After the bodies of their fallen comrades had been transported away, a fresh group of Nebs had entered the arena to investigate. Their superiors had told them that the arena had been the place from which the assassination of Lord Hassleborough had been planned and that the owner had been the ring leader behind it. They were to look for proof and possible witnesses. So far they had only found one more body right next to the entrance for human challenger that looked like something with claws, maybe a dragon had got to it. But now the group was gathered around another body in the preparation quarters. It was no surprise that it had taken them so long to find it because almost the whole floor was covered with junk. The body was clad in black and bore a single, fatal stab wound to the heart, that by now looked discomfortingly familiar. The leader of the little group rummaged through the pockets to find a clue about the corpse's identity but found absolutely nothing. That was strange but also a perfect opportunity. It wasn't difficult to let it look like the dead guy had been hired by Pride to kill that city lord. Of course it had been too late to save Lord Hassleborough, but their swift and professional investigation had at least avenged his death. All that was left was finding whatever hole Pride was hiding in and silencing him too...Hassleborough's daughter would be so grateful to them, that she might even stop hitting them with Mr. Fluffy Pillow...
  23. For a moment it seemed like Isirion was now all the more ready to follow through with the 'eliminate your problems' part, but then he lowered his blade. He looked like he wanted to say something, maybe an insult or even an apology, but a bucket full of water to his face cut his words short. Felicia had decided to take no risks in cooling that murderous temper down with a generous load of water from the stable trough. Pride wasted no time and retreated to the safest spot available - right behind his wife. Together they watched as Isirion's fury dissipated with the same speed as a the water droplets running down his bloodstained cloak. Finally, when he was standing an an almost pink puddle, Isirion sheathed his blade and said visibly calmer: " A pity you didn't use that water on your husband earlier, a lot of unpleasantness could have been avoided." Felicia shook her head and replied just as calm: "Nah, my husband is just like weed, watering him only makes it worse." "I tried cutting him back but you stopped me", Isirion interjected now looking perfectly calm. Pride looked from his wife to Isirion and back again. Something was going on here and whatever it was, it obviously wasn't finished yet. Felicia gave her husband a cheeky smile and elaborated: "He doesn't need to be cut down completely, just a little trimming here and there, like a hedge." And for some reason she burst into laughter and a moment later Isirion joined in with his deathrasp variant. Pride looked very flustered as he finally sat down again to finish the masks. Everyone around him was laughing now - except Drake and even she would probably be at least grinning, if she hadn't already left the stable earlier to check on the left-behind dragons. In the mean-time at the Shadow guild Nightblade sat behind his desk, his eyes wandering around aimlessly, but always coming back to the knife lying just a few inches away. It's matted blade reflected nothing but that was exactly what made it so alluring. Showing nothing, feeling nothing, it was the perfect assassination tool, but it still paled in comparison to what Trueshot's killer was apparently capable off. The shadow guild leader focused and read the reports quietly to himself again. The city lord Hassleborough had been murdered along with his entire staff, property guards and a few guests right in the middle of his mansion, only his daughter who had been asleep at the time of the crime, survived. In total twenty-two bodies had been found inside and outside the mansion, but that had only been the start. Starting with the ones who had blamed Pride and attacked his arena, all across the city Nebs had been found dead, slain with eerie precision. But what really got the rumour mills running was the fact that among the thirty-something dead men, were also five dead dragons. Word on the street was that the mythical Death had returned to finish something he had started all those years ago, but nobody could tell what exactly that 'something' was, only that it was apparently bad news for any kind of Neb. Nightblade's eyes got drawn towards the knife again and he suddenly felt the urge to defend himself: "I really tried my best to avenge you, but that creep is like a ghost. Nightfeather and I even took a perfect shot at him, but it was no use. Not even the Nebulas with their dragons stood a chance and got killed instead. I can't with good conscience endanger any more assassin's lives with this futile mission and so, although it tears my heart apart, I have to accept that 'Death' claimed you and move on towards the next target." At approximately the same time at a certain dragon stable within the big city "What happened?", Loot repeated his question, since he still hadn't gotten anything useful out of Fingers yet. "Telling me you left our masters behind in that creepy mansion because you heard a frightening sound is neither an excuse nor an explanation at all." Fingers tried to wriggle out of the Harvest's inquisitive embrace, but failed. His shoulders slumped and he whispered: "If you had seen what I have seen after hearing that sound at Sodger's hut, you would have run too!" The Harvest and the Red Dragon looked doubtful, but the Sunrise nodded and said with a matter-of-fact-voice: "I was there too, I heard what he heard and I saw what he saw, that's why I let myself be taken away by your shady guild master." Now Fingers nodded too and spoke directly to the Harvest Dragon showing him his stump: "This happened when I first heard that eerie sound, the second time I heard it nearly everyone in my guild got slaughtered. Tell me honestly - if you heard that sound for a third time - wouldn't you run too?" Tightening his grip, so that Fingers wouldn't be able to run away before answering his questions, the Harvest Dragon growled hopefully: "So you didn't actually see them die? My master could still be alive?" Fingers carefully shook his head, but since there was no telling which question he had answered, Loot squeezed even harder and hissed: "There is no way Wallet would die before spending all those coins he made from dealing with that filthy rich fox." Fingers gasped for air and then spat out: "That filthy rich fox was a city lord and he still got killed inside his own disgusting mansion. All his servants and guards got killed too and they hadn't been the only ones. Even now they are still hauling Neb bodies off the streets. I don't know what happened. I don't want to know what happened!" "Yeah, you are a coward, I got that the first time", Loot spat back and finally released his grip. Fingers slid to the ground, visibly shaken only to be instantly caught by the Red Dragon. Sparky handled him much gentler than the Harvest, even giving him a little room to breath before he teased: "So you came for us because we are your only chance to get out of the city alive?" Fingers looked up and replied defiantly: "I came for you because you are the only ones left even though I could have just ditched you all at the first chance like that female bodyguard Wallet hired!"
  24. Pride was torn between working on two full face masks, admiring his smart and beautiful wife, keeping an eye on Death and of course watching the little ones play as if nothing was wrong in the world. Both pygmies seemed to have forgotten everything around them and just concentrated on their game. While the Dark Myst was clearly proud of his fire power and aiming skills, the Nilia looked truly happy being able to play with another pygmy totally forgetting the ordeal it had been put through not long ago. Isirion was also watching the pygmies but he looked neither happy nor proud of the apparently successful training instead his face was an inapproachable mask, but Pride being Pride didn't let that stop him. He put down the half-finished dragonfly mask he was working on and approached with a spring in his step: "I knew it. You are not just a dragon killer." "You are right, I kill humans too", Isirion snapped, barely restricting himself from drawing his blade and proving that exact point. He was used to dealing with people and dragons trying to kill him, but the obsession that particular human showed towards him was more than unsettling. It kind of reminded him of Hellfire T who was always seeking his attention whenever he checked on the higher up caves. "Bloody Hellfire", Isirion suddenly cursed as it dawned on him that he hadn't been able to check on the hellfires for days because one bloody mission kept creeping up right after the other. First it had been a searching mission for the missing Gatherer, but that had turned into a rescue mission for Sodger and that had turned into an assassination mission for a city lord and now an infiltration mission for the blue lady's mansion on top of the full scale assault mission on the air-bandits his master had given him. "But", Pride tried to explain himself only to find a bloodstained blade suddenly pressed against his throat. Isirion's killing intent was almost tangible as his temper fueled by anger and frustration finally got the better of him and he hissed while drawing the first drop of blood: "Not one more word." Meanwhile somewhere over the Endless Desert "Please slow down and let us rest for a bit", Ale pleaded as Barrel started to wheeze with every wingbeat. Aseto who was flying without a rider slowed down almost immediately and after a few seconds the Guardian's Grey matched his pace. The Guardian didn't look too happy about it, but he steered towards an overhanging rock formation and landed there. When everyone was hidden as much as possible from prying air-bandit eyes, Ale asked him: "I understand why you left our captain behind and why you want to stop his apprentice from starting a war, but do you really think that that is what he is trying to do?" The Guardian rubbed his temples and said: "You heard Sodger's declaration yourself and it was you who first feared it could lead to another war. You know how badly he wants to cleanse that corrupted city. What better way than to use somebody who managed to turn a simple disagreement with an extortion gang into a war with the whole of the thieves guild. Even backed up by a gigantic Hooktalon they got annihilated almost single-handedly by Sodger's apprentice. I don't want it to be true, but our old captain has found the perfect weapon for his goal and he isn't afraid to use it. I believe that in accordance to Sodger's orders, Isirion plans to make the Nebulas and the air-bandits fight each other by attacking each side and blaming it on the other. We need to find him and stop him before he makes that first kill that would start a retaliation war that could really engulf the whole city." "I know where to find him", Aseto told them. "He will be at Pride's arena because he promised to fight me and even if he breaks that promise I can still find him by his cold and bloodstained scent." The Guardian nodded and said: "It will be difficult for us to enter the city again after we needed a Royal Crimson sized distraction to leave it, but I have an idea. The armor we took from the slain guards at that city lord's mansion in order to make it look like they were still patrolling looks just like the Nebs'. If we -" "You want to use deceit?", Ale interrupted and wondered if their ex-captain was the only one who had changed for the worse after meeting that bloody murderer. The Guardian slammed his fist on the ground and spat: "You know how much I hate liars and dishonesty, but letting the enemy fool themselves is a valid battle tactic." Ale couldn't argue with that, but Aseto immediately growled: "They have to be really big fools if they mistake us for Nebulas." "We will fool them with the honest truth and tell them that you are the one that burned down their underground arena and if doing so gives us the chance to free those other, unjustly imprisoned Royal Blues, even better!", the Guardian proclaimed and Ale added: "I remember that Isirion once planned to set the raging mad dragons loose at the underground arena our captain was held at in order to create enough chaos to free him. That ruthless plan got changed thanks to the greenhaired lady and the female warrior, but-" "But there might be a chance he tries again to unleash dragons in order to fool the Nebs into thinking their air-bandit lackeys betrayed them!", the Guardian concluded looking like a bear who had just found a giant beehive. If only it doesn't turn into a giant hornet's nest...
  25. "It will tell anyway", Isirion sighed and released the pygmy. "Better make that two full face masks and give the lady the invitation you got", he commanded Pride and then addressed Alzira again: "Your knife skills did improve a bit as did your situational judgement, but seeing as your face betrays almost everything, I suggest we rely on your painting skills instead. If you can paint us more of those invitations enough of Drake's people can strategically place themselves inside the lady's mansion and provide backup. I imagine Pride will have no trouble fabricating some kind of backstory and disguise for them in time. Since you will be busy painting and I have some experience handling dragons, I will train the pygmies until you have finished the forgeries. I believe setting things on fire with a little challenge involved would be perfect for yours. The Nilia has very dexterous paws since he didn't even need a harness to carry messages. They are perfect for lock-picking and grabbing and throwing things. He can fly around freely to get a layout of the mansion, grab things from the tables and toss them to the Dark Myst to set on fire. Two fluttering pygmies and a few flying and burning objects should prove a very effective distraction as well. In that case I can slip away and free the dragons before the lady decides she wants to keep one or both of the pgymies as decorations." Isirion pulled out one of the bandages he had swiped from Pride's place and called the Nilia to him: "Rest time is over. You are already prepared for option A, but option B may also work if you two can combine your strengths." The Nilia pygmy tried out his newly healed wings and flapped over eagerly. Isirion tied one end of the bandage around it's belly and then gestured Sappo to come to him as well: "You enjoy letting loose your flame, strong enough to turn it blue which is hopefully exactly what the blue lady wants to see but if you cannot aim that fire accurately enough you will burn the Nilia's wings. Both of you are in motion and there is also the object you should ignite, if you are not exactly aware of your own position in relation to his he will get hurt a lot more than with option A. To avoid this I will tie both of you together and you must practice to fly at a fixed distance from each other. That distance is the maximum reach of your flame so show me now - preferably without trying to burn off my face." While Isirion talked to the pygmies, Pride rummaged in the belongings he managed to take with him and produced the invitation. It was written in blue ink and bore the blue lady's crest at the end. Two pygmies intertwined with elaborate needles protuding from their wings, backs and feet. Felicia pointed at them and said: "Just like Hassleborough and his vines. They tell the whole world what they are doing, but nobody cares." Her husband gave her a kiss and said: "I care and so do these people." Pride indicated everyone else present, but Golden Myth only snorted and spat pointing at the dragon killer: "If he cares about anyone here, you can turn me into a giant flower for your next performance." Pride looked puzzled and went to deliver the invitation to Alzira, but Felicia started to giggle: "Oh, I'd love to see a golden rose or maybe a mythical pansy. Too bad I can't decide." "What's there to decide?", Mythy asked looking as puzzled as his keeper. Felicia stopped giggling and explained: "Well, you lost that bet already. You said it yourself and I saw it with my own eyes, Death spared your life even though you attacked him. He even complimented you on the fastness of your attack, saying that he hadn't time to draw his blade to stab your heart. But he also didn't gouge out your eye or slash your throat or cut your sinews with the knife he was holding. There is more, however cruel it might seem, he is helping the Nilia despite getting attacked for it. And lastly the painter lady - " "I understand", Mythy growled, "if he didn't care at all he wouldn't have tried preparing her for all eventualities." "If he didn't care at all he would have done what even I know to be the best defense against that knife move - hitting her wrist really hard." Mythy remained silent for a few seconds, then he said: "Alright, you can turn me into a Rose Dragon and I guess I owe the dragon killer another apology." Felicia giggled again and then mockingly imitated Isirion's ice-cold voice: "Don't apologize to me, I only spared her wrist a possible injury because her painting skills are still needed." Golden Myth let out a laugh and smiled brightly finally understanding why his keeper loved this woman so much.