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Isirion

The Bloodline of Torch

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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...

Edited by Isirion

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Somehow they had managed to stain the White Dragons scales, but how long he would stay that way they didn´t know, so Susurro took very careful steps, trying not to touch anything or anyone.When Sappo came back the Dark Myst Pygmy landed satisfied on Alzira´s shoulder, where she gladly welcomed him back, offering him a well deserved cricket. She was still looking at the flames the little one had created, being terrified and at the same time awestruck. The dynamics of the flames and the colours were definitely something she would remember and put into her art. Fire was just so fascinating, the moving of the flames as if they were alive ... She twitched a bit as a long flame creacked quite close to her, somehow that made her remember the moment at Sodger´s hut, where Sappo had protected her. Isirion hadn´t seemed too impressed by Sappo´s flame, just like now although they were standing in  the middle of a conflagration. How was that possible? Sappo´s crunching sounds next to her ear made Alzira snap back and realize she was next in line and so she and the little one stepped into the corridor, and not too late as the creacking of the entablature has intensified in the last minutes - or so it seemed to Susurro. The fire was not the problem, but the damage it did to the building and all around it, was. He agreed with Isirion on this one. Still eying the roof distrustfully he cowered with the other dragons, watching the little group leaving hoping that they would escape that burning horror unscathed.

Edited by Alzira

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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...

Edited by Isirion

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Alzira stepped in the tunnel, looking around in wonder. Yes, the fire was frightening but fascinating still. She followed the group closely, noticing some of the flames changing direction in the last minute. This seemed odd but she couldn´t say why or how this happened. Nevertheless she was glad the fire kept at bay. She hoped Susurro would be alright. Alzira knew that the fire wouldn´t hurt him but the falling debris or the angered Nebs that were looking for them could. She trusted him to cope withe the situation before him, but she couldn´t keep from worrying, especially after the Royal Blue had crashed through the roof.

 

As they went on the smoke got thicker and thicker and her worries shifted from Susurro to the more immediate surroundings. Isirion seemed more and more fatigued which kindled her fear once again. After a while she noticed some houses outside the immediate fire zone, and although she didn´t like how Isirion forced Fingers to open the door of one of them, she could comprehend the urge behind it. They were exhausted, they simply needed a break and a bit of fresh air. Despite the dark she noticed the inhabitants and Isirions changed stance so she she whispered "No, don´t, let´s exit through the back and find another shelter. We all need a break, even you." She didn´t dare to say much more because every bit of information would shorten the couples life as well as their own. She continued:"They can´t see us in this dark so they can´t describe us." Thinking about that Alzira shuddered, she herself would be quite a mark herself, having green hair and travelling with a squeaky clean white dragon. Realizing that she whispered to the group:" We need to change our appearances as well. We should use the chance now as long as they still presume us dead"

 

Edited by Alzira

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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."

Edited by Isirion

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Alzira gasped at the bloody mess she saw. Most of Susurro´s work seemed for naught. "Don´t your wounds hurt like mad? You know pain is there for a reason", she said to him. "Still, I´m glad you saved us, but you should consider some time for real recuperation soon", she sighed. Then she added: "Give me those bandages, this has to be done properly." He would need at least one sitting with Susurro she noted to herself but she guessed he already knew that from her concerned face. Nevertheless she picked the fresh bandages Isirion had and with a firm voice she almost commanded Isirion through the next steps that needed to be done, namely to remove and change the bloodied bandages. During that she recognised that her dragon had excelled himself at healing Isirion for the lacerations weren´t as bad as she had feared, but she wouldn´t let Isirion know that - yet. "Since you are already injured you should use that as your disguise: I will use my paints and make you look older and with a little powder in your hair I think I can age you about 20 years. Alzira grinned, somehow this was hilarious - ordering Isirion around a bit, making him look the part. She finished his outfit with her old travel cloak. She offered the others a facial makeover as well, a change of light and shadow can change a lot in one´s face and so she deepened a few lines and made noses wider or smaller.

 

Edited by Alzira

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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?!"

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Alzira had noticed Isirion´s tense mood since he managed to see his new self, well you could almost say he was sulking. Oh, she wouln´t tell him that, although... A sudden sizzle and splutter next to her ear stopped her from finishing her line of thought. Sappo, the pygmy seemed a little flustered, sounding like a broken valve, then it dawned to her what the erratic movements, the tiny puffs of smoke and flame and sounds meant - Sappo was sniggering... about Isirion and his moody look about his new outfit. Looking around she had to admit that under these circumstances the situation definitely had comic qualities. Alzira swallowed her upcoming giggles, or at least she that´s what she tried as Isirion demanded to know the source of all this amusement around him. His comment made her burst into laughter, nevertheless she managed to calm herself after a few attempts, almost sounding like Sappo meanwhile. Finally after a few breath she managed saying "Must be stress related, laughing is known as stress relief."

 

Concentrating on Isirion she added:" I agree, we have invested a lot but I don´t think we´ll a chance entering the festivities looking like that", she pointed around :"We still need to regroup and change into our costumes, maybe air them out a bit? Since we went through the fire our stuff and we ourselves smell smokey and at least I need a bath. I´m still amazed that I even haven´t got a blister or singed hair on me. " She eyed Isirion curiously, remembering his strained look during their escape. Then she went on: "I think we look different enough to mingle. There must be lots of people who lost their home today, who are looking to stay somewhere so we should blend in nicely." After a short pause she asked: "What do you think about the tavern where we´ve met with the dragon grooms? They seemed to have clean rooms there"

 

Edited by Alzira

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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..."

Edited by Isirion

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Alzira understood that recognizing the truth about one´s hero did hurt on a personal level, almost feeling like betrayal but it isn´t, because it is in your own head. You yourself idolized him and that revelation pains. So she said:"I see that you are feeling betrayed and hurt but there´s an old saying: If something looks too good to be true it almost always is. Did Isirion tell you he was all that you interpreted into him or was it you? It seems you created that kind of selfless hero and it would have been wonderful if it were true, I agree. But he isn´t the complete opposite, a monster, either. I don´t always agree how things are done but I don´t think we have that much choice at the moment. Still, we can try to do our best and stay true to ourselves." She paused a bit, then added:"About Leal, maybe he´s impressed by his determination, maybe he wants to use him or maybe he even likes him a bit - I don´t know that, but you could still ask."

 

She paused again, looked at all of them and said: "Now, we have just escaped an attack of the Nebs and I think we all could use some rest but nevertheless we should prepare for the ball. I would like to take a bath or at least a shower to get the smell off. I would like to send a message about our well-being to our dragons as well. I hope they escaped unharmed...Sappo should find Susurro and the rest of them so we can reunite and prepare. We have our Pygmy distraction and thanks to Isirion we still have the invitations."  Alzira turned to Pride once more."Yes, it can be a trap and no, I don´t think Isirion works with the Lady or we´d be dead already. You know how efficient he is." She said with a qick glance at him.  She then plucked Sappo, who eagerly waited to fly again, from her shoulder and send him off.

 

Edited by Alzira

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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...

Edited by Isirion

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"A bathtub!" Alzira beamed at them and under muttering lots of thank yous she vanished into the bathroom. She needed to get all the sticky, grimy stuff off. Soon after she was soaking in a tub full of nice hot water and a few soap bubbles and sighing with pleasure at her little piece of luck. After some time in her happy place she started to think about the well-being of her dragons again.

 

Sappo had taken to the air like a fish to water. He had opened his wings and soared for a short while, enjoying the feeling of gliding through the ether. To the eye of any watcher the Dark Myst Pygmy might have looked like an ordinary messenger pygmy, slacking off between deliveries but although he relished the fresh air and his flight he was still scanning for familiar smells. Foremost the scent of a special combinatin of a White Dragon and a Golden Wyvern, hopefully mixed together.

 

Finally Alzira was relaxed enough to let her thoughts drift off. What was their aim again? Killing people had never been her goal... freeing the dragons seemed much more like it. All had happened so fast: The plan, the forgeries, the training - she still felt blindsided. Yes, Drake and Isirion had been so eager and she didn´t wanted to be the proverbial millstone around their neck and so she had made herself useful, but she hadn´t been convinced.

She thought about the decadent nobility of this city, eager to please the Blue Lady, and their guards who would be probably quite a lot like the Nebs ... If only the head could be severed from the snake´s body... Maybe there was still an other way to use their preparations, but in a more delicate way. Still soaking  an elegant plan slowly formed in her mind or so she thought. The group could still enter the ball, features slightly changed, especially her hair. Alzira would aim to isolate the Blue Lady, a privat audience perhaps wasn´t uncommon on such occasions. Nobles often talked politics and special deals behind closed doors, you wouldn´t want your peers or worse the plebs to know your vantages. Alzira squirmed at the thought of that, one of the reasons she left the security of her "family". But back to the plan: She could try to impress The Lady with the "trained pygmyies" and if that worked she would be asked for a private chat in a room nearby, accompanied by her old and therefore harmless bodyguard, obviously. Isirion would have to accept a few adaptations... The Lady and her possible bodyguard would be taken care of and since they were all in mask and costume, she could play the Blue Lady for a short time, find Leals swarm and "remove" them out of boredom, be seen by a few important guests and then officially retreat in her chambers again, and after changing back leave with the group soon after...
Well, she was sure there were a few difficulties to smooth away but she thought it was worth it. Yes, she was sure, as soon as everybody was refreshed she would tell them her plan.

 

 

Edited by Alzira

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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.

Edited by Isirion

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"Well," Alzira responded,"I think I kind of have a plan." She then moved closer to Felicia and told her what she had come up with during her soaking session. When she had finished she added: "I´m sure there a few flaws we have to take care of first but I think one of the advantages is that we can abort at any sign of detection until during the secret meeting. I still hope there´s a way around killing, but I don´t think it can be avoided. It would be best if someone else would find the lady after we are gone and is suspected of another motive than ours, like internal power struggles by the nobles." She sighed. "There´s been so much death these few days and now I´m even planning one. There is no honour to this, the Guardian will be furious.... Then again it seems the Blue Lady doesn´t deserve any mercy either." 

 

After a short moment she asked: "So, what´s your idea, and what do you think of mine?" Now it was her who looked at Felica expectantly, hoping she knew a way solve this dilemma or maybe it was possible to combine their plans for an even better outcome?

 

Edited by Alzira

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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...

Edited by Isirion

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Luckily there weren´t that many White Dragons in this city, even less in company of Golden Wyverns. Finally Sappo caught a whiff of a well known smell. He followed it down to the ruins of the underground arena and into the cage area. There he found both dragons and greeted them with his blue flame. Susurro recognised the Black Myst Pygmy at once and awaited him eagerly:"What news do you bring?" The little dragon relayed his information about the new location of the group and about their plan to still infiltrate the ball as soon as Susurro and Golden Myth were ready to listen. The White Dragon decided to give Sappo a message as well. "Tell them that we are well and in the ruins of the arena. We will help any way we can. Anything to add, Mythy?", he asked the Golden Wyvern.

 

In the meantime Alzira thought about the different approaches and how to integrate them. She still had troubles with so many dead, but the plan seemed sound and should keep innocents safe.  Alzira told Isirion "Well, here we are. How do you think we should combine our ideas for the best outcome?  You know me by now, I don´t like killing, especially innocents, but I believe if we work together we can minimize the deaths involved." She mostly concurred with Isirion´s strategy anyway. "Hopefully only the decadent nobles would attend said event and no greedy footman or valet will take a sip of that accursed vine but I think Ihave a solution for that in mind: We could spread a rumour between the servants that the vine is spoilt, so they won´t try it but they won´t warn their masters, will they?" She looked at Isirion, missing her dragons´ moral support. Most of all she wished it all over .

 

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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."

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Alzira wondered again when that had been and why he had been working for her. Thinking about that a frown appeared on her face just for a fraction of a second. She concentrated on Isirion again and although she had so many questions sitting on the tip of her tongueshe requested: "Please teach me her mannerisms and I have to train her retorts and whiplashes too." She thought it best to concentrate on the things in front of them, the success of their operation was depending on it. She could ask about his life later, no need to irritate the source of her information.

 

Sappo was almost at the inn as he spotted the miserable figure of Fingers begging not too close to their accomodations. The alleged beggar looked tortured at his surroundings with a wary eye at his pygmy companion. He looked pitiful insomuch that people were giving quite generously. As soon as the black Pygmy had found the blue one he started chattering, asking to assemble a few pygmies. Leal seemed reluctant to follow Sappo´s request until he offered to escort the beggar to their room. They swiftly changed places and poor Fingers was steered by the threat of hot burst of flames toward the main entrance until he explained the little dragon that for a beggar it would appropriate to take the back door. No problem for Sappo! He didn´t understand humans´ interest in specific doors anyway.

 

As soon as they arrived Sappo swished to Alzira and relayed Mythy´s plan. Alzira liked the idea and shared it with Isirion: "I think we should train the little ones so we can strengthen the captured dragons so they aren´t solely dependend on us. Sappo has already sent Leal to ask the messenger pygmies for help. This will make the uproar much more effective," she added. Then she pondered: "Shall we stay here or go to our dragons and start organizing from there?"

 

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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?"

Edited by Isirion

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Alzira almost stared at Isirion wide-eyed. Somehow she hadn´t expected that he would reveal so much of his past but she had asked for this, for his help and in a twisted way she had to know this in order to base her performance on this. She wondered what would have happened if not for the fire, her involvement would probably have stayed to the sidelines.

 

"Focus!", she told herself, "Focus!" She needed all her wits to figure out the Blue Lady and her quirks. She even had to become her. Just thinking about that gave her the shivers. She was kind of accustumed to this mind-set of manipulating other people through her upbringing, but what she had experienced so far were mere shadows in relation what she had learned about her target up to now.

 

Back to the two man, Alzira was going to hurt fingers´ feelings and his trust into her although he had helped them despite his cowardice. She needed an angle to force the thief´s hand and that exactly was the point! Considering what she was about to do she squirmed inside but she had to steel herself. She took several deep breaths, adapted her voice a bit and said to the poor man in a most regretful tone:"It´s such a pity that your hand is at stake since you just have one left." Then she turned to Isirion, trying to sound bored and a bit disapointed,: "Such a shame but reluctance in obeying claims a price. Despatch his daughter."  She looked at Isirion, waitig for his assessment and the next moment she turned to Fingers apologising, the words tunmbling out of her mouth:" I´m sorry, I´m sorry, I really beg your pardon!" She felt sick inside. "but I had to see your reaction without you expecting it."

Edited by Alzira

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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 pymy 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 an hour of non-stop-flying, Chet finally raised his hand and commanded his boys to stop, then he turned Bat around and said: "Curse this day. Perhaps we really should not 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 very, very 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 should do about 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!"

Edited by Isirion

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