Author Topic: Chats with a Dragon  (Read 324 times)

Mercy Merchant

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Chats with a Dragon
« on: (12:46:32/04-29-17) »
Chats With A Dragon, Chapter 01, Part 01

These chats detail some of the talks between a Great Dragon and Sian, his vampire servant.  This chapter deals with how  Sian came to this plane.  These stories might stretch some of the canon, but I hope not too much.  Please enjoy and let me know if this is liked.  Or disliked.


An elderly appearing man sits at the guest side of a table that would barely reach his lower shin if he were standing.  The dark wood of the table is inlaid with designs of cranes and cherry blossoms, a common motif for the person who lives here.  The embroidered cushion he is sitting on is comfortable and lets him sit at the perfect height for the table.  While patiently waiting for his hostess to arrive, the man looks about the spartan room and nods his approval.  From the wood and paper wall behind him to the mats on the floor, the room is an accurate rendition of a formal Japanese reception and dining room.  From where he sits, he can see two paintings of cranes on the wall to his left and a small cabinet against the wall opposite him that sits underneath a portrait of a woman dressed in antiquated Japanese garb.  There is a horizontal stand on top of the chest that displays two slightly curved swords, one somewhat shorter than the other.  A faint scent of jasmine wafts through the air from sticks smoking in two bronze incense burners placed an exact three feet to each side of the table.  The scent is pleasing and not overpowering and from past experience seems to be the only scent his hostess uses here.  Eight small bonsai trees sit in decorative urns on small pedestals placed around the room so as to always have at least two in the sight of a visitor.  He knows that the trees are expertly cut and formed from previous examinations.   

To his right, the man can look through an open wood and paper door to a garden of trees and flowers.  He can hear the gentle trickle of water from a small stream that flows through the space, although it is not visible from his present point of view.  The centerpiece of the area is a Zen meditation rock garden that circles the trunk of a large willow tree.  The woman he is here to visit is kneeling to one side of the raked rocks and he admires her naked profile as she clears her mind and soul.  He has seen her without clothes on many times and has made love to her more times than he can remember.  To his constant astonishment, he still cannot quite recall the exact time that their relationship changed from strictly master and servant to……to what, exactly?  He shakes his head, not even sure that he could answer that question well.  Certainly, it had happened sometime in the third or fourth century of her service to him, but that was millennia ago now.  He has taken countless lovers in the time he has known this woman, but he keeps coming back to her, and she keeps taking him back into her bed.  He has wondered often if what he feels for her is what the humans refer to as love, but hell and damnation, he is a Great Dragon and she is……………something else entirely.  Dragons are not supposed to fall in love.  He admires her spirit and her courage to tell him when he is wrong and she is not afraid to call him out for being a jerk.  He listens to and heeds her advice on many subjects, but especially in the areas of archaeology and the artifacts he is constantly looking for.  For all of her more mundane talents and skills, she is also well practiced as a warrior mage and has used those skills many times in his service.  But, love?  Where does that fit into the lives of a Great Dragon and his vampire servant?

The man’s reveries are disturbed by the appearance of a young woman in the garden, who seems to come from nowhere and makes very little noise as she approaches the kneeling woman.  The new arrival bends low and whispers something in the ear of the other woman and unfolds a robe that she is carrying in her hands.  The woman stands and says something as she slips into the robe and fastens it around her.  The young woman bows respectfully and withdraws back to where she had come from, leaving the other alone in the garden.  The remaining woman bows to some unseen spirit and turns to walk to the door.  A dragon’s ears are supposed to be able to hear almost anything, but this woman seems able to conceal the noise of her movement and he is barely able to detect the soft rustle of the silk robe or the movement of her bare feet. 

She stops for a brief moment at the open door and nods to her guest.  “Master.  I should have been notified of your arrival and I am sorry that you have been kept waiting.  I will have to execute yet another of my staff for this oversight.”

The dragon in man form works hard to keep a smile from his face.  He has heard this same line perhaps thousands of times and he answers her in precisely the same way each time.  “Thank you, Sian, but I arrived early and requested that you not be disturbed.  Please spare the life of the young woman who saw me in.”

The two old friends and lovers smile at each other as they complete the phrases, almost as if performing a ritual of some kind, and perhaps that is what it actually is.  There is a certain comfort and familiarity in the way they address each other, despite the formalities.  The man is one of a dozen people on the planet that know that her real name is Sian, and one of only five who are allowed to call her that without an invitation to do so.  To everyone else, she is one of the names on one of her SINs and passports.  There is a soft click and a hidden door opens in the wall with the sword display, revealing the young woman from the garden.  She stands at the door, a tea service and tray in her hands.  Sian walks to where the woman is standing and takes the tray from her before turning back to the man at the table.  The young woman steps backwards and the door slips shut with the smallest of sounds.  Sian carries the tray to the table and sets it down, kneeling opposite the dragon, and goes through the exacting steps of a formal tea service with the ease of long practice before offering the two cups to her master, who carefully looks at them before selecting one.  He sips from it and nods appreciatively at the taste.  “This is very good, Sian.  If the young woman I saw made this then please do not execute her.  It would be a shame to lose a talent like hers.”

Sian bows to the dragon.  “Of course, Master.  It shall be as you desire.  Her life is spared until the next infraction.”

The man smiles, knowing that his servant had never had any intention of killing the young woman.  They watch each other for a few minutes then the woman places her cup in its correct position on the table and says, “What service may your humble servant perform for you, Master?”

Schwartzkopf, for it is that Great Dragon, forces his gaze to lift back from where he had been almost mesmerized by the rise and fall of Sian’s chest beneath her silk robe, to the woman’s eyes, noticing a twinkle there as he realizes that he has been caught red-handed.  He feels a warm flush spread across his cheeks as he blushes.  Damn again!  Dragons don’t blush, so how does this woman manage to make him do it so frequently?  He borrows some time by sipping a bit from his cup then looks her in the eye.  “I had hoped to hear of how you came to be on this plane.”

Sian does her best to keep the surprise off of her face as she considers the request.  She knows that her master has already heard the story several times, the first being several thousand years ago when she first came to work for him.  Still, it is not her place to question the dragon on this issue and she bows her head in acceptance.

“On the plane I come from, my race is called the Simpiri.  We are a dominant species and have used our natural advantages of physical and magical power to create and rule a vast empire of lesser races.  The Simpiri feed on the life essence of others to survive.  In fact, the food and drink others consume is not suited to us and can cause us to be ill if we partake of even a small bit.  We are normally unable to withstand the light of the sun for more than a few moments and so are nocturnal by nature and practice.  We can suffer great injuries from simple wooden implements and even touching wooden furniture can be painful.  Our need for the essence of others to survive has led to a number of rebellions among the subject races, but none of those have ever really amounted to much.  There are not really that many Simpiri, but it does not take that many to rule as we do.  None of the lesser races can harness the power of magic but all Simpiri can use that power from birth, giving us a tremendous advantage.”

“The empire is very much based on a caste system and that holds true even for the Simpiri.  Most castes are along social lines based on what a family does and most people will never rise above their caste.  The sole exception is the Visji-Simpiri.  This caste is separate from the rest because it is “available” to any Simpiri.  Most of the members are taken from the nobility, but some few of lesser castes are given the opportunity to join.  For many this is a voluntary joining and considered an honor and privilege to be considered for acceptance, but some are given the option of joining or being exiled for some infraction of an imperial edict.  Once part of the Visji-Simpiri, one cannot ever leave its ranks, which means that all members have given up any hope of advancing in the noble ranks.  There are some Visji-Simpiri that remain quite bitter about this for a long time, seeing this life as a way for their families to keep them from rising to the position and rank they deserve.  The advantages of the cast are that its members receive martial and magic training denied to the rest of the Simpiri, learning to be able to withstand the banes of sunlight and wood and reaching levels of magic power no one else can.”

“Perhaps the greatest strength of the Simpiri are the Valoi, a race of near-perfect warriors, bread for strength, courage, and loyalty.  They are the mortal guards of the Simpiri, watching over them during their periods of rest and protecting them from harm while traveling.  These warriors are hand selected and form the top tier of the mortal warrior caste.  It has been whispered for millennia that the empire will stand only as long as the Valoi do and I could not agree more.  These men and women have sworn life service to the Simpiri for thousands of years, although I cannot remember ever meeting anyone who knew why.”

“The worst of the empire are those that would turn traitor.  These are called Vecni, or Faithless Ones.  The most common Vecni are the mortal subjects of the empire that are given high administrative positions then abandon our goals and doctrine.  Some very few are from among the Simpiri or Visji-Simpiri, which would make them our greatest foes, for they know the secrets of our cities and are capable of doing great harm.  Vecni are under an Imperial warrant of death and even the lowliest slave can kill one and receive great rewards, often rising several ranks at once and entering the caste of the honored freemen.  Many of these Faithless Ones flee the cities to hide in the wastes that border the empire, where they take advantage of their knowledge to lead bands of escaped slaves, smugglers, and others of the criminal castes, often inciting rebellion.”

“I believe that I was one of the voluntary Visji-Simpiri.  I no longer know why I volunteered, but I feel strongly that I was not exiled and I do not feel like I was punished.  I do know that at the time of my story I was numbered among the elders of my kind, having earned my ortice, my sapphire blade, millennia before and was as convinced as any other of the Simpiri of the greatness of my race and that we belonged at the top of the social and economic order.  I was a member of the personal guard of the Simpiri Princess that ruled part of the empire from the city of Tuvalan.  Princess Heklid was third in line for the throne if it should ever be vacated and was a strong sorceress in her own right.  Tuvalan is a fortified and walled city in the eastern quadrant of the empire and is an important hub for trade in that part of the land.  It is also a seat of learning and the home of an important imperial library.  Many of the streets are paved and green vegetation lines the expansive boulevards, making the city a true gem of the empire.   It sits within twenty leagues of the Great Eastern Waste, which is a sort of natural barrier between the empire and the lands beyond.  We know that there are civilizations beyond the borders of the empire, but the wastes keep us separated and we have no reason to spend the treasures of gold or people to try to move an army through the wastes to get to those lands.”

“Princess Heklid had been summoned away to a meeting with her brother, the emperor, and had taken her guard with her, which is why we were not in the city to prevent what happened.  A group of Vecni led a raid of several hundred of their rebel followers in an assault on Tuvalan and the attack in broad daylight had overwhelmed the Valoi soldiers guarding the Eastern Gate.  The raiders had engaged in wholesale slaughter and savagery among the imperial citizens inside the city walls, not sparing any they could get to, no matter if they were Simpiri or not sparing neither young nor elderly in their lust for blood.  Most of the Simpiri were in their resting chambers at this time of the day and so were easy targets for the murdering rebels; many of them slain without waking to even know that they were under attack.  Still, the Valoi were not considered the finest mortal warriors of the age for nothing and they began to beat back the raiders, inflicting severe losses among them and eventually forcing them to withdraw from the city and back into the Waste from where they had swarmed.  The raiders had been able lay waste to a good portion of the city, sacking the imperial library and other government building in the city and either destroyed or made off with many tomes and artifacts of great value.  Princess Heklid returned to her city as soon as she was informed of the attack, to find it still burning in places.  She ordered a quick investigation and some of the results were surprising.  It was hard to believe, but several sources corroborated that some Visji-Simpiri were involved in the attack.  Soon it became impossible to ignore that the city, my Princess, and the Empire had been betrayed by our own kind.  The wrath of Princess Heklid was great and she ordered that these Vecni be tracked down and brought to justice and as many tomes and artifacts as possible be recovered.  To that end she directed that Klarj, an able and experienced sub commander of her guard, form a detail to follow the raiders into the wastes.”

“There were fifty of us when we set out after the raiders; eight Visji-Simpiri and forty-two of our mortal Valoi soldiers.  We made preparations for two days and were well supplied with what we needed to survive before following the rebels and their Vecni leaders into the Great Eastern Waste.  One would need to see and experience the waste to truly understand what I am referring to, but you would be able to since you have seen the depredations of the Horrors at the end of the Fourth Age.  The waste is very much like what you saw when you emerged from your hidden fortress of stone.  Everything is bleak, with even the minimal scrub there barely clinging to some sort of life and it seems to be a law of nature that it only gets worse the farther you venture in.  The land was mostly flat, although there were some rock formations that lent shade to the creatures that resided in such a place.  We crossed two dry river beds of some width and I did wonder at what had happened to this place to leave it in such a condition.  Scattered on the path were some few oasis that allowed us to replenish the water needed by our Valoi and twice we came upon small villages clustered near larger rock formations and a water source.  Most of those that lived in these villages were descendants of people who had fled the empire over the centuries but our orders did not cover them and we treated with them in peace.  Their dwellings were mostly dug into the earth, some of them several levels deep, and they had learned to herd some of the animals native to the area and even found a use for the scrub, proving that necessity can force people to glean what they can if they wish to survive.  The villagers proved remarkably friendly and we were able to increase our food stores in each place.  Those that can survive in such a place are hardy folk indeed and deserving of great respect and we gave them that.  In return they told us of the passage of those we sought, mentioning that the ones that had dealt with claimed that there was some sort of paradise waiting for them in the middle of the waste, although the villagers were quick to say that they had no information of such a paradise.  We thanked the villagers for what they could provide to us and left them in peace.”

“It is not hard to follow the trail of hundreds of people and we made good time, given the harsh conditions.  The Vecni and their followers seemed to be heading on a rather straight path and the stragglers we caught up to told us stories of extreme privation and suffering.  These people were not well prepared for the ultra-harsh conditions and many fell by the wayside, with those continuing stripping anything useful from those that fell behind.  These stragglers provided us with information and nourishment for the Visji-Simpiri among us.  Believe me, killing the ones we found was a mercy as their fellows had not left them any sort of water or rations and the Waste was killing them slowly and painfully.  We questioned some of these unfortunates before executing them and some, faced with imperial justice, even tried to offer information in exchange for their worthless and honorless lives.  They confirmed the presence of five of the Visji-Simpiri in the group of rebels, but they did not know where they were headed, only that the leaders promised a great new world to those that came with them.  These men and women were traitors to their own cause as well as that of the Empire and all received the judgment and punishment they deserved.  After all, there is no honor lost by treating those without honor in such a fashion.”

« Last Edit: (00:53:43/05-10-17) by Mercy Merchant »
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Mercy Merchant

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Re: Chats with a Dragon
« Reply #1 on: (12:48:09/04-29-17) »
Chapter 1, The Coming, Part 2

“After days of travel that seemed to fold one into the next in a never-ending passage across some of the most forbidding terrain I had seen to that time, we could see a range of mountains in the distance.  The terrain became much more uneven as we approached the foothills of this range, but there was nothing we could see that would lead us to believe the mountains were less bleak than the waste behind us.  And we were right.  Four days after first spying them, we reached a great mountain range and followed the track of the enemy into a new type of hostile terrain.  The climb was torturous, with many steep ravines to traverse and as little vegetation here as out on the flatter wasteland.  I do not know if the mountains even had a name, certainly we came across no one who was indigenous to the area to ask but the terrain was as rough and harsh as the scrub waste had been.  By now most of the stragglers we caught up to were delirious with pain and thirst and of bare value as sustenance for the Visji-Simpiri among us.  We did find out that we had been seen as the rebels climbed into the mountains and so were warned of possible ambush.  On the second day of climbing, we came across the first group of raiders acting as rear guard and fought a pitched battle with them.  There were two more such battles in the next three days and these rear guard detachments fought like demons, proving that they were more than ready to die to prevent us from reaching the main body.  Although over three hundred of the rebels died, two of my brethren Visji-Simpiri and twenty-two Valoi fell to the berserk fighters of the retreating horde.  After each battle, we honored our dead and moved on, finally coming upon a great encampment of the rebels.  From a vantage point, we were able to see a valley of sorts; a flat expanse that almost appeared to be artificial in the way it varied starkly from the surrounding terrain.  Some structures were seen that appeared to be of ancient construction and mostly in ruins.  How anyone could have lived up here is a mystery, but the buildings did add some credence to the idea that the area was not always a waste and had once been capable of sustaining life.  The rebels below us were camped in the open, making use of the ruins for shelter as they could.  What might once have been wide boulevards radiated from the large structure at the center of the valley.  A group of people were clustered at the flat top of this pyramid-like building that seemed to mostly have escaped the ravages of time and climate, seeming to be working on constructing some sort of device there.”

“We had already killed several of their pickets during our approach and knew that our presence would be detected sooner than later and quickly worked on a plan.  As night fell, we moved through the darkness as if we were the night itself, taking the remaining pickets in our way by surprise and then falling on the main camp like a shadow of death.  Four of us were skilled summoners and brought demons from the abyss to aid us.  These fell creatures roared into the camp, instilling terror and sowing destruction where they went while providing cover for the rest of us.  We fell on the gathered horde with flame and sword, carving a path towards the center of the camp and the structure there.  Some of the rebels fought gamely, but most were in no condition to offer much resistance to a well-trained force and they fell before us by the score.  Suddenly, a bright light sprung towards the heavens from the top of the building at the center of the camp and I could see a massive portal opening there.  The Vecni that had once been Visji-Simpiri were trying to escape justice by going to a different place.  As we approached the pyramid, we could see a line of rebels already passing through the portal, led by three of the Vecni while two others attempted to help secure the area from us.  One of them was apparently a summoner of great talent or desperation because we were suddenly opposed by a greater demon, a mighty creature from the abyss.  The Vecni summoner thrust the mighty demon at us even as we cut our way towards the heart of the camp and the portal.  I saw Klarj, our leader, go down to its attack, feeling when his life essence left him.  The creature managed to kill several of the Valoi near Klarj, proving that this was no ordinary demon.  It is not within me to know fear, but I confess that at that moment I did despair of being able to carry out the orders of my Princess.  Still, my orders were clear and did not leave room for doubt and I pressed forward to attack the demon, cutting deeply into its hide even as my fellows joined me.  It turned out that even a greater demon can fall to such an onslaught and it did no further damage before disappearing as it wailed in pain.  I moved from its where it had been and fought to the top of the building before throwing myself at one of the two Vecni still near the portal.  This one had been a man that I had known for centuries and had counted as a friend and yet he was now a stranger to me, a condemned traitor.  He was exhorting the rebels near him to continue on through the portal, telling them that the knowledge they had with them would be useful in the new world.  He turned to face me, his ortice in his hand, and fought me there.  He was a skilled warrior, having received the same training I had, and taunted me for following a corrupt structure, seeming to almost be playing with me in an attempt to but time.  If that was his intent, he failed miserably as he was no match for my skill and I left his body on the ground, smoking and dissolving from the acid of my aura.  I scooped up his sacred blade for a trophy and continued on to the next; also someone I had used to know.  She was a summoner of some skill, but not enough to have cleanly brought the greater demon across to our plane and her body bore the recent injuries from summoning beyond her ability.  Still, she was trying it again, clearly desperate to bring another across, this one even larger than the first and almost certain to kill her for daring such a thing.  The look I saw in her eyes was of pure terror, but whether from what the demon would do to her if she was able to bring it across or from what I was about to do I will never know.  My ortice blade cut through her throat, interrupting the sequence and the fell creature that was half way into our realm screamed in agony and frustration as it dissolved and returned to its own place of existence.”

“Through the portal, I could see the remaining three Vecni leading the escaping rebels.  One, their leader I supposed, was in a circle of power and casting some sort of spell, aided by the other two.  By now, we were in complete control of this terminus of the portal, having slain those rebels near it and sending the others back.  Our numbers had been decreased by one Visji-Simpiri and half the Valoi and the rebels outnumbered us by several hundred yet.  Some among them panicked, fearing in their hearts that we would prevent them from joining their brothers and fled, but others decided to attack us to retake the portal.  The fighting was fierce and another of us, Diral, fell, along with three Valoi before we forced them to retreat again.  Still, our weakened numbers did hearten some, who must have felt that we were vulnerable, and they did make ready to come at us again when the entire valley below us began to shudder and the portal itself shimmered.  I knew nothing of portal magic, but Lendai did and she shouted out that the portal was closing.  The cowards on the far side were about to doom their fellows to the slow death that would come from not being prepared for the mountain waste in an attempt to save themselves.  I turned my attention to the portal and watched as the Vecni on the other side began to simultaneously go through some motions that seemed to excite the earth beneath us even more and caused the pyramid we were standing on to partially crumble to the valley floor.  Lendai cried out that we had mere moments and I, as senior Visji-Simpiri still alive, ordered the remaining few of us to go through the portal.  After all, our mission was clear; our Princess had directed that we execute justice on the Vecni and recover the artifacts they had stolen.  We might not be able to do the second, but could still do the first. “

“Three and a half of us made it through the portal, along with six Valoi.  Lendai, the only portal mage among us, was half way through when it closed and her body was split vertically in twain, with half in each realm.  That the portal had not been open to another part of our own world was immediately obvious in the effect the transition had on us.  I have been through other portals, such as exist between the important cities of the empire, but never have I experienced such disorientation as I did this time.  We might have been taken then, as weak as we were, but no more than twenty rebels attacked us, the rest already being in full flight.  Even weakened, three Visji-Simpiri and six Valoi are more than a match for twenty poorly skilled and equipped low caste rebels and we made short work of them.  Once finished with the distraction and somewhat recovered from the nausea of translating through the portal, we took stock of our situation.  We were standing in a green field, now trampled by the rebels who had come through the portal before it closed.  The sun was different and a cooling breeze felt wonderful in contrast to the searing heat of the wastelands we had been traveling through for the past two weeks.  Birds I had never seen before swirled through the air above us and even the grass below our feet seemed different.  The three Vecni had disappeared, along with a number of their followers but others had been abandoned to their own devices and were either wandering aimlessly in this new world or fleeing in as many directions as possible.  We moved to round up some of the rebels that had been left behind and questioned them, gaining some information.  We found that these people had no idea where they were, but some pointed out that the Vecni had separated and gone in three different directions and had each been accompanied by several of the rebels.  Looking at my fellows, I detected no weakening of resolve.  We were trapped on an alien world with no way home but still we had our orders from our Princess and honor demanded that we obey them as best we could, despite the situation.  Without discussion, I detailed one Visji-Simpiri and two Valoi to follow each of the Vecni, charging them with carrying out our orders to bring the Vecni to justice and to recover what writings and artifacts we could.  Knowing that this might be the last time we would lay eyes on each other, we clasped hands and saluted our Valoi.  We took sustenance from some of the rebels and stripped others of anything that might be useful then stood for a moment of silence to honor our fallen before separating to our tasks.”

“And that is how I came to be on this plane, Master.  It was sometime close to the end of the First Age here, but of course I knew nothing of that at the time.”

Sian bows her head at the conclusion of the tale, waiting for a sign approval or disapproval from the dragon in front of her.  Schwartzkopf looks at his servant and smiles.  “That is very well done, Sian, thank you.”

The woman raises her head and looks deeply into the eyes of the dragon she serves and smiles back at him.  She raises one hand minutely and the door behind her clicks open as the young woman comes through it, carrying a large tray with the evening’s meal on it.

« Last Edit: (00:55:52/05-10-17) by Mercy Merchant »
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Mercy Merchant

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Re: Chats with a Dragon
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Chats With a Dragon, Chapter 2 The Valoi

Sian is putting the finishing touches on her simple practice gi when there is a knock at the door.  She turns to look at a young woman who is putting things away and nods to her.  “Please see who that is, Kaizin.  It should be the Master, although he is a bit early this morning.”
 
The woman bows her head without speaking and walks to the door, sliding it open to show the figure of Schwartzkopf standing beyond.  Kaizin immediately drops to her knees and bows her head.  “It is Master Schwartzkopf, Mistress.”
 
Sian turns to the doorway and bows to the man standing there.  “Welcome, Master.  You are early.  Thank you, Kaizin, you may leave us.”
 
Without raising her head, the young woman rises to her feet and leaves the room through the door, sliding it shut behind her.  The man eyes her as she moves then turns to face Sian when they are alone.  “Is she new, Sian?  I do not remember her face.  She is pretty.”
 
Sian chuckles.  “Yes, Master, she is new and she is very pretty.  She is also very good at her job here and a valued member of my personal staff.  I would be distressed if you tried to poach this one.”
 
The man laughs as she motions for him to enter the room.  Sian bows her head again, saying, “How may I serve you, Master?”
 
Schwartzkopf smiles as he walks into the room.  He stops to view a watercolor landscape that is positioned on an easel in such a manner as to catch the best of the light coming in through the skylight above it.  “Ah, I see you have finished it.  Very nice, Sian.  You get better all the time.”
 
Sian bows.  “Thank you, Master.  And you are here early to discuss…………….?”
 
The man laughs.  “Can’t I just be early for no reason at all?”  At the woman’s look, he holds up his hands.  “Alright, alright.  Why is it that I cannot ever get anything past you?  Is it too much to ask to do that even once?  We have had a sniff of a clue to the location of the Mayatama Chronicle.  How would you like to go back to Japan for a bit?”
 
Sian nods, apparently not surprised at the news, which causes the man to grimace again.  “We have been looking for that tome for quite a while.  Is it in someone’s hands?”
 
The man shakes his head and smiles; he obviously knows something she does not.  Or maybe not.  He silently considers all the times he has thought he knew more than this woman, only to find out that she had known all he did and frequently even more.  The thought brings a slight frown to his face that he quickly hides upon seeing the way Sian looks at him.  Damn the woman!  She has me just as she wants.  What is it about her that allows her to get to me so easily?  He answers her with only the barest of pauses.  “No, this one you will need to pry out of the ground.  That is the good part since it means that we do not have to try to purchase it.  The bad part is that it is located on Hokkaido.”
 
Sian grimaces slightly.  “I will make peace with the antiquities commissioner before digging, Master.”  She places a hand at the tie to her gi and asks, “Will it be necessary to leave immediately?”
 
The dragon shakes his head.  “No.  I knew that you would want to know as soon as possible, but I do not think that you need to hurry there as long as you begin setting things in motion.  And I would like to observe your practice this morning, as I said last night.”
 
Sian nods and bows.  In actuality, he had said it earlier this morning as he got out of her bed, but she is not one to correct his statement.  She motions to the door to her sleeping chamber and walks on bare feet to the exit, almost gliding in near-silence, then opens the door for them to go out into the hallway beyond.  There is no one else in the hallway so Sian walks next to the man instead of the normal step to the rear and left that would be the case if others were present.  The distance is not far and the two walk in companionable silence, soon arriving in the main reception room, where Sian goes to stand in front of a portrait of a woman in very dated ceremonial garb that would befit an empress of Japan.  From earlier conversations, the man knows that this is the Empress Kogyoku, who was also named Empress Saimei on her second ascension to the throne.  He is not positive, but he thinks she ruled during the mid AD 600s, with a decade-long break when she abdicated in favor of her brother.  He knows that there is some history between the empress and Sian but has never asked her for the details.
 
Sian bows low before the portrait and murmurs some words in a version of Japanese that is not commonly used these days.  Standing straight, she holds her hands out to the longer of the two swords in a wooden cradle on top of an ornamental chest that sits on the floor under the portrait.  The weapon leaves the stand and moves to Sian’s hands and she does…..something…….that is almost too fast for a normal person to even see and the sword is slipped inside the braided cord that is tied around the woman’s waist.  She bows again to the portrait and steps back before turning to face her master.  With a nod, she motions for him to precede her and the two walk through the garden to where the practice yard is.  On the way, Schwartzkopf turns his head to look at Sian.  “Tell me about your Valoi, your warriors.”
 
Sian nods.  “Of course, Master.  The Valoi are exceptional warriors, trained to be among the very best in the world.  On my home plane, they are a caste unto themselves and form the core of the Empire’s armies as well as serve as the personal guards of the Simpiri.  They are all mortals and so need to be replaced on occasion to account for age, illness, death in combat, that sort of thing.  Most of the replacements come from the families of the Valoi but some are hand-picked from the normal warrior caste so as to provide fresh recruits.  Some of the Valoi can trace a heritage of service that spans thousands of years.  Training academies were established to continue their training after selection.  There are few, if any, that can match their skill, talent, bravery, or loyalty.  They are to me what I am to you, Master.”
 
“When I came through the portal from my plane to this, I was accompanied by two of my Simpiri brothers and six Valoi.  We separated into three groups to pursue the three Vecni traitors, each of us taking two Valoi.  There is no set limit on the number of Valoi a Simpiri is allowed, but I have kept the limit to two to represent the two who came with me.  Suziki and Shoko are direct descendents of the first Valoi I traveled with, making them very special to me.  Suziki’s son and Shoko’s daughter are training now to take their mothers’ places in their own turn.”
 
The two step pas the garden wall onto a path of paving stones that are carved with phrases taken from the tenets of Zen Buddhism and the Samurai Code of Honor.  The man can hear Sian softly chanting the verses to herself as she walks on the stones.  He can also now hear the sounds of conflict from ahead of them as they approach the practice yard.  Another of Sian’s servant, this one a man, bows low to his Mistress and her Master as he opens the heavy wooden door to the yard beyond.  A man and woman in their early teens are squaring off against each other in unarmed combat, overseen by an instructor.  Nearby, Schwartzkopf can see several pairs of men and women going through similar training.  All activity in the yard ceases upon the arrival of Sian and the man as everyone turns to bow low to them.  Sian motions for Schwartzkopf to take a seat on a padded bench under an awning as she goes to the center of the yard.
 
The instructor in the center of the space calls the youngsters to his side and they all move off to a place of observation as two women stand from a kneeling position.  They had been still enough to be easily mistaken for statues and they move onto the sand of the training yard with a grace and style that defines them as warriors.  Both are armed with an odd-looking long sword of about four feet in length, although one has hers in a scabbard at her hip and is carrying a pair of six foot-long spears.  The one with a bare sword approaches Sian while the other stands on the edge of the sand and waits.  Bows are exchanged Sian draws her katana and faces the swordswoman, Suziki.  The two begin a dance of death that is as graceful as it is deadly and naked blades flash and touch as razor-sharp edges barely miss cutting into flesh.  The battle wages back and forth across the sand as blades whir at a speed that is nearly too fast to follow.  Both women are experts with their weapons and closely matched in ability, but Suziki is the better warrior and her skill begins to tell against her mistress.  Finally, after what is actually a long fight for two swordswomen, the conflict ends as Suziki’s blade cuts through part of Sian’s gi and delivers a narrow slice to her forearm.  The few drops of blood is all it takes to end the fight and Sian bows her head low in defeat.  When she looks up, her eyes are bright in admiration as she congratulates her opponent in a language only a handful of people on this plane can understand.
 
Sian gets little time to rest as the other woman calls out something in the same language and tosses her one of the spears she is carrying.  With a speed and grace honed by centuries of practice, Sian sheaths her katana and snatches the spear out of the air in one smooth movement.  She steps back and bends over a bit, keeping the spear aligned with her upper torso as she grasps it in the center.  She and Shoko move together and their weapons blur with the speed of their movement as they battle on the sand.  The hum of the blades whirling about is louder than the noise coming from either woman as they compete to be the first to draw blood.  A first-time observer could be excused for thinking that this was simple sparring or that the movements were choreographed in any way, but the experienced observer would know that this is not sparring but a fight that could end in serious injury or death to either or both women.  As with the swords, Sian is a very skilled and competitive warrior, but she is below Shoko’s level and the difference in skill begins to go against Sian.  In the end, the contest is never in doubt and Shoko buries her blade into the chest of her mistress, causing her to collapse onto the sand in a spreading pool of blood.
 
Schwartzkopf half rises at the sight of his servant laying on the sand, bleeding to death then he sits back down, shaking his head as he remembers that the wound given her, although fatal to most, is as nothing to Sian.  Indeed, even as he sits down, the bleeding stops and Sian sits up, shaking her head.  She calls out congratulations to Shoko, who comes forward to lend her mistress a hand.  By the time Sian stands, the wound is already closed and healing, the only sign that she had even been cut being the red stains on her gi.  She steps forward to meet Suziki and Shoko as they walk to her and they stand together for a few moments.  A stranger looking at them would see nothing, but someone who has seen it before would know that something passes between the three of them; something completely foreign to most people yet completely understood by all three of the women.  The man rises and comes onto the sand and the two Valoi warriors bow to him and then to their mistress as they step back a few feet.  Schwartzkopf nods to them then to Sian.  “Amazing.  It is still amazing every time I see such a display.  Thank you for allowing me to observe.”
 
Sian bows low to him.  “Thank you, Master.  Perhaps one day I will be standing instead of being left in the sand.”
 
Shoko and Suziki both make a short, wordless sound and bow again.  Given the depth of loyalty and respect between Sian and her Valoi, an observer might be forgiven for thinking that the two had snorted.  Sian gives them a look and turns back.  “It seems that my loyal Valoi are pretty convinced that will never happen.  Sadly, I am of a like mind, but it is in me to dream of such a thing.”  She pauses and flicks her eyes to where the boy and girl are standing.  “I must speak to my future Valoi, Master. Please excuse me.”
 
Sian waits for the man to nod then walks over to greet the two youngsters.  Both seem to be thirteen or fourteen and are dressed much as she is.  They bow very low to Sian as she walks up to them.  Shoko’s son, Yuki, is a year older than Suziki’s daughter, Arigo, but it would be hard to tell that by looking at them.  The two are close friends and competitors, both trying to live up to the legends that they have heard from birth.  Based on the words from their various instructors, they will be true Valoi in their turn.  The tutor standing behind them does also bows low.  Sian looks at the older man and smiles.  “And how are your pupils today, Master Yon?”
 
The man frowns.  “They are no better than they were yesterday and the day before that.  It is a wonder that you continue to pay me to tutor such as these.  They should be scrubbing floors, not wasting my time.”
 
Sian nods.  “Thank you, Master Yon, for your patience with them.  I am sure that you are doing the best you can under the circumstance.  Please give them another chance.  After all, I may soon be in need of them.”
 
The older man shakes his head and frowns even more, even though there is a twinkle in his eye that only Sian can see from where he is standing.  “I will do as you ask, but only because I respect you.”
 
Sian bows to the man and turns back to her master, motioning him back to the observation area, where she joins him.  The two spend an hour watching the two young people practice and they both note a great improvement over a practice session they had observed just two weeks earlier.  As they stand to leave, those in the yard bow to them.  Kaizin meets them at the door to the house, holding out a silk kimono.  Sian slips out of the bloodied gi and into the kimono, careful to not let her katana drop to the floor.  During this changing of clothing, Schwartzkopf makes no attempt to hide his look of admiration of Sian’s body.  He has seen it many time and yet it still never fails to stir his blood.  Sian enters the reception room and goes to the wall with the portrait and chest, once again bowing and saying some words to the portrait before placing the sword back on its rack.  She backs away from the wall and turns to face the dragon, motioning him to the door.  “Thank you for visiting with me, Master.  I will dress and be out to begin setting things up for the dig.  I have people to contact and an appropriate gift to find that will appease the Antiquities Minister of Hokkaido.”
 
Schwartzkopf nods as he steps into his shoes.  “Thank you for allowing me to see the practice today, Sian.  I am sure that you will one day defeat them.”
 
Sian laughs.  “Only in my dreams, Master.  But that is the way it is supposed to be.  If I were better than they are, they would not be true Valoi and might lose their sense of purpose and I would lose yet another small fragment of my first life.”
 
He laughs with her and adds, “Do you still need such reminders after so long, Sian?  Your life is here now; at my side.”  He pauses, wondering if he has gone too far and changes the subject.  “Remember the dinner function tonight for the University.  Be ready by 1600 so we can do the meet-and-greet.”
 
Sian ignores the first part of what he has just said, focusing on the rest.  “Of course, Master.  We will be ready.  Is your speech prepared yet?”
 
He laughs and shakes his head.  “No, but I am about done with it.  You know my patience for such things is limited.”
 
Sian smiles at her master and lover.  He has never been one for standing up in front of a crowd, even a mostly friendly one, and giving speeches.  He is most comfortable in front of a class, teaching students about magic in the world and its effects on everyday life in the Sixth Age.  Yet, for all that, he is surprisingly good at making speeches and is a primary means of generating the donations that help keep the Charles University afloat in difficult times.  He gives Sian one last look as she bows then he leaves the room.  As she turns to go to her sleeping chamber, her mind is already furiously at work thinking of what she will need to do to get the expedition going.
« Last Edit: (02:44:34/05-10-17) by Mercy Merchant »
"Speech"  *Thought*  <Matrix>