When we reached the capital I was impressed. I was half expecting them to live in shacks, like, well, like us. Instead there was the proper wall and the gates made of sandstone. It wasn’t like the human or demon cities, from what little of them I managed to see in this life, but still it was impressive nonetheless.
There were two guards stationed at the gate. It was open and people could freely walk through. Nrogara approached one of the guards.
“Hey there Mentis, I bring new blood. They ran from humans.”
The guard looks at me and Laura. His face distorts s little at the sight of the human.
Nrogara thinks a little about the question. I was hoping he is not going to do anything bad. He might have picked up on the little extra curiosity about their leader.
“Boss might wanna see them quick.”
“Go. He got here three days back.”
The guard motioned for us to go. When we walk inside we get to see many small houses made of sandstone. Very interesting. I didn’t think they would be civilized enough to build so much. What Val people heard about monster races was that they were mostly brutes who fought with clubs and pissed themselves. This was more sophisticated. Who knew their hands could handle tools.
As we made our way deeper into the city I got to see many different races. There were beastman, which got me excited until I saw a fur covered human sized cat with six swollen tits with nipples exposed. It dowsed out any curiosity I had for them. The beast races were mostly anthropomorphic animals with some human features.
There also were other races which you would hear about in old legends. Minotaur, centaurs, harpies, lamias… Those last ones actually looked somewhat attractive, but still too far off from being anything human. Some of the races I’ve seen near the elves in the great forest, but here they seemed more wild and animal-like.
Soon we came to a massive Arabian-looking palace. It has some Egyptian statues and shapes here and there, small pyramid decorations. It was a mix of both styles. A guard at the entrance threw a curious glance our way.
“New blood for boss.”
After Nrogara’s reply we were led in. Man, this guy was really very well known. Actually our whole mission was going so well. It’s like somebody up there liked us or something. Perhaps Aedim managed to get in touch with somebody.
As we walked through, Laura tried staying close to me, she took my hand in hers to not let me go. We were looking around, seeing amazing artwork. I didn’t expect such expression of emotion from monsters. They surprised me more and more.
After we were led through for ten minutes, we ended up in a large and spacious room. In there on a wooden throne sat a human-shaped dragon! with his eyes closed as if he was meditating… Really, he was only human in shape, he had everything else, the horns, the spikes on the back the big leathery wings. His brownish-green scales were shiny and majestic. I was a little jealous. He acknowledged us with a look and the guard left.
“Lord, I bring you new blood. I seen their strength, I fought the girl. If not for Master’s mercy, I be dead now…”
If dragon-man didn’t stop him, Nrogara would describe every little thing about us in his broken speech.
“I thank you. Now leave.”
“I cannot. I serve Master now.”
“Huh?” I was confused.
“Curious… To have Nrogara’s loyalty you must not be somebody ordinary.” He eyed me up and down, trying to observe me very closely. “You can drop the facade now.”
“What facade? Ha ha…” This situation was very familiar. I had hard time thinking of something to say. Laura also felt tense. “Ah, you must have realized we are not lovers after all!” I let go of Laura’s hand hoping to convince him everything was cool and take few steps away. It stung me as she tried to hold on.
He looked at me curiously and then slowly walked towards Laura. His tail was flat on the ground, snaking behind him in the zig-zag movement as he walked. His wings covered him like a cape, interlocking with tiny claws at the chest. I felt very nervous as he studied me. Something unnerving was about this whole situation.
“What I meant was you not being a werewolf and this girl not being your slave.” As he said it, he took her collar and tensing his muscles a bit, ripped it apart.
My heart sinks. Fuck. Fuck! FUCK! FUCK!!! Just how strong is he? Even in my strongest bear form, I have to use all my strength to bend mithril. And here he tensed only slightly and ripped it to shreds. And he could have hurt Lau… Meriden doing so. I knew he was an excellent magic user, but also being this strong… I would have no chance of killing him.
He steps back, as to show his good intention. I can see Meriden trembling, so I slowly step to her, enveloping her in my arms. She knew just how strong he was. We were totally at his mercy now. I could have tried to run away, but I would not leave Meriden behind. It seems she remembered the elder’s words. I hear her whisper through her tears “Leave, please leave…”
I tried to remain calm.
“How did you know?”
“Ah, there are many rumors. The tale of the excellent warrior princess, whose beauty is unparalleled even at her tender age, except for her five sisters who are just as lovely. Or the story of a massive fiend, capable of speech. I wasn’t entirely sure until I noticed your horns. And then there is also…” He makes a gesture, beckoning somebody to come over. I looked at the direction of the gesture and managed to see an opening to what would be a dungeon, hidden in the shadows behind some pillars.
From there a big black cat comes, completely covered in black leather and cloth. She has another person in tow. A demoness, barely twenty years of age. She is beaten up and covered in blood, little too dark to be human’s.
“We picked her up about a month ago. She had some truly impressive talents. If I hadn’t met her personally, she would still be hiding and spying on me. Too bad, she got too close. I must apologize for her condition, we had to make sure at whose employ she came here. She was remarkably resilient to most kinds of torture.”
The girl looked like she was very far away from this material plane.
“I had to use some more exotic methods. Don’t worry, her mind remained fairly undamaged. She is just under an effect of my spell.” With that he waved his hand, undoing his magic. The girl’s eyes focused and started to look around. She was rather confused. When she saw me, she had a slight smile and then immediately looked at the ground, ashamed. Her mission was not a success.
“What are your intentions for us?”
“I believe, it is as good time as any for some negotiations. if you can convince me of your good intentions, you will walk out of here alive and unharmed.” he makes a slight pause to emphasize his point. “If I see any ill intent, I will make sure to keep you alive long enough to see all your treasured wives bear my children and then kill them in front of you.”
The man knows to strike where it hurts. I uncontrollably wince at his words. Meriden clings to me harder.
“It doesn’t seem like we have any choice.”
“A wise decision indeed”.
He walks to the back of the throne room to a small doorway, which leads into his personal study. There are some more doors to his bedroom and a room with a massive bath. I don’t hesitate to follow him, as I need to do everything I can to get Meriden out of here.
We huddle together around a table with chairs. Dragonman sits on one end, us three on the other, Meriden holding onto my hand. Panther girl and demoness are still outside.
“My name is Regios, one of the Dragons. From what I gathered from the agent your wife sent, you must be Zern of the Val’Kira tribe and this is Meriden of the Val’Hoona. Truly a beauty in her own right. If I bothered with humans, I would probably duel you for her hand.”
He chuckles at his joke and I try to smile as well. I don’t know what he wants with us, so I’d better stay silent and entertain him.
“I must commend your wife, she trained your spies well. If I didn’t have two millennia worth of experience I would surely dismiss her and not look her way twice.”
That doesn’t help my thinking. Technically I myself am older than him, but my body is young and my memories lacking. Is he like me and Bella? Or is he just ancient? Why was there no commotion before if he is this old?
“Now, let’s get down to the heart of the issue. Before we begin, could you…” He made a circular motion around his face. “I like to see my opponent face to face.”
I transform into my human form, leaving Nrogara with an open mouth. He clearly didn’t expect to be serving a human…like thing with animal features.
“I hardly constitute your opponent. And I must point out I have no wives yet. I am engaged to three of my six beloved girls, five of which are back home. But I will pass on your praise to Leah when I see her.”
I try to be honest with him. Honesty is something to be treasured, so I hope he appreciates how open I am. At least I will hope he will spare Meriden and others if negotiations go sour.
“Ah, yes, yes. I am hoping to meet them someday and hopefully as allies. You have interesting people around you. Six princess brides, all of them mesmerizing and each one unique. I heard there was one who became a Star-Whisperer. Aedim is her name?”
“Yes, you are very knowledgable. She is very talented in the arcane arts, although I doubt anywhere near as talented as you.”
“Ah, perhaps she is not as powerful as me, but she is talented. Hearing the whispers from heavens is something I’ve strived to achieve, but never was able to. And yet you are going to be eternally bonded, body and soul, in the near future. I must be honest, I feel jealous that you are the one who has his hands on the only mortal, other than elves, who attained such ability in the last thirteen hundred years.”
He stops as if trying to remember something. I take in all the information he is willing to share. Regios really does seem like somebody very old.
“And you used what’s called ’meditation’ to achieve such result. I am intrigued by such prospect. I came across monks around the world in my time, they talked about it. But mostly it was talks about looking inside, breathing and waiting. I actually spent about five years atop the Siren Peak. And I all I got was a cold. Can you imagine a dragon with a cold?”
He chuckled at his own joke once more. I actually thought about something else. What kind of pandemic would dragon flu be if unleashed on the world? I might have just thought of the first weapon of mass destruction in this world. Bio-weapons are not outlawed here yet.
“The girl had some training with it before she came here and I ’borrowed’ some of that knowledge for myself. I’ve been practicing your methods lately, I must thank you for it. I made some breakthroughs with my previous bottlenecks. Where have you gained such knowledge?”
This made me ponder for a moment. Should I reveal myself to him? I decided to be truthful, but do I have to be this truthful? I decided to start from afar.
“Have you, in your two thousand years, ever met a person who claimed to be from the beyond, reborn or transported?”
“Hundreds have claimed to be such things. I’ve met about two dozen heroes or villains who were summoned here, some of whom I helped summon myself. They were interesting people, but they had heads full of air. Always blabbering about adventuring and following the road. Too much have drama for my tastes. They often wanted to get a ’harem’ going. Whatever that meant. Always bringing as many girls as they could with them.”
Meriden clasped my hand tightly, painfully even if not for my fiendish strength. Her expression no longer showed fear, now it was a strained expression of trying to restrain anger and killing intent. I responded by lightly squeezing her hand to reassure her of my good intentions.
“In some worlds, there are many various works of fiction. Some people use fiction as a type of wish-fulfillment. They write about traveling the worlds, time-travel and adventure. A common prospect is a ’harem’, having many females to tend to your ’needs’, often never marrying and settling down. How successful one is in attaining such ’harem’ is open to interpretations, as some people find it amusing to surround their main character with voluptuous women, often longing for the hero, and having said hero be oblivious to their advances and never making a proper decision.”
I put both of my hands on Meriden’s as she still tries to crush mine. She does not like what she is hearing.
“I personally don’t think it warrants a choice if you love them all. I love Meriden as much as I love Elaya and Lilith. It would kill me to have to choose just one. Sadly, many worlds have the notion of monogamy, where you have only one partner for life or something similar. Anyway, what I mean to say is, people out there read such fictions and then try to emulate them when they get a chance.”
Meriden calms down a bit, her face relaxing. I try to comfort her even more when Regios asks a million-dollar question.
“So, in those works of fiction… Is it common for the hero to get nosebleeds once he sees a woman in the buff?”
“What?! Don’t tell me, there actually were people who did that? The only times I got nosebleeds were when Meriden would smack my face into the ground. I never understood people who wrote about that.”
We sat there for a bit, silent. Meriden calmed down, she now was unconsciously rubbing my hand. I felt very warm inside, it was unusual for her to show affection so mildly, like the others.
“You seem to be very knowledgable on the matter. Are you saying that you have been summoned to lend aid?”
I throw a sideways glance at Nrogara, who sits with a bewildered look. I think for a moment and then decide to go on.
“No, I haven’t been. I was reborn in this world, once my previous life had ended.”
Now Regios changes his expression from a previously cheerful one to a serious one. He might not have had a good experience with my kind.
“I must say, amongst the hundreds I’ve met who made such claims, only five had a somewhat believable story. Their ambitions were not good for the inhabitants of this world. Three of them I had to put down myself, as their wish for world dominance, as well as their way with magic and technology would not bode well for others. The other two found their own demise on their own volition.”
He has mistrust in his eyes. I should be careful what I say next.
“Yes, I have somebody just like that back home. Sweet little thing, spent a lifetime getting tortured, then torches two worlds after that. I am working on her right now.”
I try to show the brightest smile I can muster, but he didn’t seem to like my attempt at humor.
“Ahem, I am a somewhat special case. What I do get with each rebirth are skills that may be beneficial to me. It is how I know of meditation and sowing. I also get knowledge of languages and various other things. What I don’t have is any memories of my old self. I know not who I was a lifetime ago or two lifetimes ago. Only my skills are kept each time. I am just as much a native to this world as you are. My morals are somewhat transferred along as well, but I ensure you that I want nothing more than to keep the ones I love safe and happy.”
I give Meriden’s hand one more squeeze as to tell her it is her I am thinking about. The dragon looks at me while formulating his thoughts.
“What makes you think I would believe what you say?”
“Of course I can’t straight out prove my claims. But what merit would it be for me to lie? You have two thousand years of a lead ahead of me. Your strength is clearly greater than mine, your magic even more so, as I have little to no talent for the arcane. Would it be wise to lie to you, only to go into hiding hoping to devise some sort of plan of fighting you, a dragon who can simply outlive me. I would imagine that getting killed and carrying on in another life would be a simpler solution.”
He stays silent as he thinks over my answer.
“I am here on a mission from the elders, to gather information of a possible threat to me, my family and my tribe. If there wouldn’t have been a threat I would be back home, preparing for my next Rite. As it happens, you seem to be at the center of it, so here I am now to investigate. Believe me, I would rather be back home, having a bath with six beautiful girls. But their lives might be in danger, so here I am. Do you think I would do this if I didn’t care for them?”
“There could be a hundred different reasons to be here… But, I believe you. You are either an incredibly good liar or a sincere fool, to tell me your tale so blunt and straightforward.”
“I hoped to offer you the truth as a sign of my goodwill. I thought with me being truthful, you would at least spare my family if I were to perish after being deemed an enemy.”
Regios looks at me for a moment.
“You seem to be fairly certain you are an enemy to me.”
Meriden once again tries to break some bones in my hand. I think she wants me to stop talking, as we were on such good terms a moment ago, he might have let us both go.
“I am here to learn about a possible conflict between the monster races and rest of the world. My elders are certain that if monster races are allowed to thrive and prosper like they do now, the war will be imminent. And I cannot allow that to happen. It is my duty to stop the monster population from growing further. And it is you, who seems to be the center of these events, which makes me your enemy.”
Regios looks at me with regret. I can understand that he found me interesting and hoped to gain some insight from me. Now it seems he has to kill me. Not that I wouldn’t like to avoid that.
“It is truly a shame, you would prove invaluable to me. Just the mere knowledge on meditation could speed up my progress by hundreds of years. And I really hoped we could negotiate a peace treaty amongst us.”
“It really is. You seemed to be a good fellow, perhaps we could have become friends. But I cannot let the darkness spread and threaten my people. Maybe in another life.”
Regois’ eyes suddenly flare up and show amusement. That really confuses me.
“Zern, you spoke to me truthfully and I respect that. If we were to fight and I killed you, I would send your fiancée home unharmed. I have honor. But before we go into the whole killing one another, would you care to entertain a thought of mine and explain to me why you believe that I am the darkness that plagues these lands?”
Huh? That is the thought that haven’t occurred to me. Elders and other races all regard monster races as vile and evil because of their apparent violence and disregard for life. Now that they overcame that, they are deemed even more dangerous and evil, enough to warrant a possible war in the future.
But, as I walked amongst these people I don’t see the evil intent in them. Yes, they are brutish and empty-headed for the most part, but not evil. They have the capacity to care for one another and to do well. Mieltzkin was glad to have us stay in his inn, Nrogara recognized our strength and mercy and decided to serve me, even the Orc guard had enough intellect to recognize his mistakes and apologize. Who says that having a peace treaty with these people would be something impossible?
We thought that the rising of monster population was directly connected to the darkness. But the changed around here began before the first whispers about it, almost like it happened in preparation. It could be a total coincidence, but what if it is not. What if Regios knows of the darkness somewhere in his lands and he decided to prepare for it.
Also, According to the dragon, he was around for two millennia, why would the whispers of the darkness only start now? If Regios was around that long and he ruled these lands, than he probably had some kind of plan to instill peace amongst his people, perhaps for years before today. He might’ve decided not to go through with that idea until much later, but was forced to act by the appearance of a sudden adversary… The darkness?
We firmly believed that the darkness was trying to raise an army amongst monsters. But it was the other way around! The monster races wanted to repel the new evil power, so they went ahead with the plan that was years in the making.
They have little need for new lands and resources, they have plenty. They won’t need to expand and go to war with anybody. Even if that happens, there is plenty uninhabited land around – nobody apart from monsters wants to live in such dangerous places. We have no reason to fight, the war with monsters is meaningless! In fact we have a common goal! We can be allies in this matter and fight hand in hand!
What’s more, we would gain more trading routes – monster territories cover about the quarter of the world. We teach them some skills and we got more workforce! Monsters are strong, we could really use them. Combining our efforts, we could propel the monster races into a more civilized state, while at the same time gaining more resources, trademark skilled labor and military forces. We could only benefit from such arrangement.
Furthermore, there never was a need for the spying and no need for my mission. I could have been back home, having naked bath time with my loved ones. Instead I am all the way across the world having a conversation based on the biggest misunderstanding in history. All we had to do was approach them peacefully! All I had to do was to say s few words and pull some strings. I would be home getting teased by Lilith. Oh the humanity!
Regios looks at me while I think about this issue. My expressions are extremely easy to read as I don’t even bother to mask them. He gets a smile that only grows broader as emotion on my face change. He can’t help but laugh out loud when I perform a double-handed facepalm on myself.
“Now, if your intention is to fight me and shrink back down the monster population, I would have to kill you and eat your brain. However, if your main goal is to cleanse the darkness in these lands, I believe there is no reason for us to fight. Perhaps we could unite with this common goal in mind?”
I can’t help but smile. This was a huge waste of time. Well, we could have spent it more productively. So stupid, nobody thought that talking could actually work.
“I guess you are right. We should start forging peace…”
With those words we shake each other’s hands with large grins on our faces, as if we were friends all along. Meriden and Nrogara clearly confused and wide-eyed from what has happened. Well, I don’t have to explain anything, at least not now. It is better to think about the terms of the peace treaty. It will need a lot of booze.