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   Chapter 22 Devoon Revisited

Maldene II: Mysteries Of Olde By Mark Anthony Tierno Characters: 91367

Updated: 2018-04-10 12:03

Swirling spinning colors, shapes, and dreams. Images from out of the minds of countless dreaming entities; images of fancy, of desire. Nightmares scrolling by, dark shadowy shapes. Dreams that become real, more real than life. Fantasy given form, reality as but a dream.

"Where in the name of Indra are we?"

"I have a better question- what are we? Sabu looks like a large purple rabbit and I don't seem to remember having a tail before."

"It would appear that reality has become as insubstantial as mist."

"It's like a bad dream."

"Well, at least brain-boy there has a clue, " came Small's voice. "It is a dream."

"This pointy-eared runt speaks in riddles again, " came Mauklo's familiar snarl from out of a horse's rear end.

"Actually, I think not, " a large fruit tree said with Sheil-Bor(h)'s voice. "It would appear to be the only answer to our present reality."

"You mean, lack of reality, " Eldar the mongoose in the striped business-suit said.

Reality twisted and curved once again. Now they were under water, with beautiful mermaids swimming through a sea of vanilla pudding.

"Now this could be rather tasty, " Eldar said, now a chocolate fish, swimming off in the direction of the mermaids, his pugen another fish close behind him.

"It's all rather simple, " Small said as he floated atop a whipped cream cloud in the orain and green colored sky, the only one whose form hadn't changed. "The Vault was at the end of time and space, which is impossible since time and space have no end. Since it was impossible to get there in the first place, the only way to leave was through an equally impossible route."

"Dreams are without limits, " one of the mermaids said with Sindar's voice, "and so constantly embrace impossibilities."

"Right, " Small said, picking up a foot-long cigar from within the cloud.

"If we're in a dream, " Sabu said, now the cloud that Small was resting on, "then whose dream are we in?"

"The universe itself dreams, " the sea of pudding said with Sheil-Bor(h)'s voice, "and dreaming, creates."

"I'm getting worried, " Candol the cuttlefish said, "I think I got that one."

"Accurately, if metaphorically, put, " Small replied, lighting up his cigar with a long match.

"Well, I'm not too fond of this dream, " the match said in Mauklo's voice, "so, I hope you don't mind if I change it."

Reality shifted once again, solidifying around Mauklo's own dreams. They now stood in a dark forest, the leafless trees reaching high up into the inky-dark sky. Overlooking them was a tall cliff, a large dark castle raised up atop it, lightning flashing around its spires. They stood there, all appearing as they should be.

Except that Mauklo had on robes of royalty, a king's crown upon his head, and all the others were dressed up as servants, the pugen outfitted as a pony in riding gear.

"Now this dream I like, " he said.

"Not me, " Eldar complained, "I don't make a good footman."

Small was still unchanged, the only one there not dressed up as one of Mauklo's lackeys.

"A bit self-indulgent, aren't we?" Small remarked.

"Well, at least it's better than before, " Sabu said, then turned to Small, "Now, you were explaining about this state that we're in?"

"Not to mention why these dreams don't seem to affect you?" Candol added.

"Yeah, well, I'm not affected because I just don't believe in dreams; never had any, " Small replied with a shrug, then picked up with his explanation. "But to continue, every thinking being in existence dreams when it sleeps, some while they're still awake. All their dreams collect in one place, and that place is here."

"Sorta makes sense, " Eldar said, comforting Yosi with a scratch around his ears while he talked. "But dreams aren't supposed to be real and this stuff is."

"That's because, plant-for-brains, of where this place is, " Small answered.

"If this plane is located near the Realms Of Chaos, then that would explain the reality of dreams in this place, " Sabu surmised.

"Which, no matter how pleasant this present dream is for some people, " Sindar said, eyeing Mauklo, "makes it extremely dangerous to be here."

"Perhaps, " Mauklo shrugged, "it just depends on who has the most self-control over his thoughts."

"It isn't as simple as just being located near the Realms Of Chaos, " Small put in, "it's the fact that we're in a place in the Outer Shadows that borders on Hevon."

The import of that simple statement was caught by everyone there. All eyes were on Small.

"Like in, our Hevon Gems?" Eldar ventured.

"You talk of it as if it's a place and not just a set of Gems, " Candol added.

"Well of course it's a place, " Small said impatiently. "Those Gems are just focal-points of Reality, Hevon is the Reality."

Silence settled over the forest. Mauklo's dream faded as his concern now lay with Small's casual statement. His dream faded back into grey mist, the grey mist of half-wakefulness that lay between dreaming and awakening, the grey mist that now surrounded them.

"But, that would mean-, " Sabu began. "Oh, the questions that brings up."

"The possibilities are indeed more than one would have expected from otherwise normal-enough appearing magical gems, " Sheil-Bor(h) said.

"Well, save it for later, " Small said. "Now that I have your minds off dreaming, we can leave the Dreamscape."

"Dreamscape?" Candol asked.

"That's what this place is called, " Small said. "Now if you could all just concentrate on where you want to go, we can leave. But make sure it's the same place."

"Of course it'll be the same, " Eldar said, "we know each other's minds by now."

"Okay, elf-brain, " Small shrugged, throwing up his small clawed hands, "don't say I didn't warn you."

They all concentrated. Sabu thought of Maldene and the urgencies that no doubt awaited them there, Sindar thought of the King, and Eldar thought of Dwingale. Candol thought of being safely by the side of the mighty Indra, while Sheil-Bor(h) thought of the one place where he naturally thought they'd all be safe- the home of the Great Sage. Mauklo thought of his secret hideout in the Upper Faultez, changed his mind about everyone appearing there and thought instead of Ha?kldalnsa. Small, meanwhile, thought of the next place where he'd figured they would go, based on something he'd read while staying in the Vault.

In other words, there couldn't be a group of people that had a more disparate collection of ideas on where they wanted to go. To say that they were all not picturing the same destination in their minds would be understating it.

They dream-shifted out of the Dreamscape, tumbling on through time and space in an aimless rush.

R.K.: 9, 994, 23 Lom?r:

The date I give for this entry is an estimated one, for we have been spun through time as well as space and dimensions. We have made a grievous error. By not properly focusing all our thoughts on the same destination we have hurled ourselves through space at random, put ourselves upon a somyundo with neither destination nor goal. As well, such random travel while in possession of the Time Die appears to have hurtled us a bit through time as well, or at least altered the flow of time around us. Sindar and myself are working to slow down our travels, but I fear that we have already been gone for several motabs now, by the measure of those that await us back home.

We're now trying to refocus our minds, this time making sure that we all concentrate together, that we may escape the Dreamscape. Our spinning travels appear to have brought us relatively near a particular dimension and world, so we're all focusing our minds on that as our destination; once there I can then get us back to our own world using my normal spells.

As it happens, the dimension that we thus approach is no stranger to us, if indeed it is the one that my magical talents and Sindar's precognitive powers tell us it is. It is a place with much unfinished business for all of us since last we were there. A place whose Lord threatens us all even back on our home world, a place that, it seems, we are destined to once again visit.


Reality coalesced, congealed into an agreed-upon form. Winds wiped around legs and robes, tossed lengths of hair about. Icy tendrils of air nipped at face and hands, moist rain-laden wind wet them down. A brief storm, conjured forth by their appearance, the winds dying down after a few moments to leave but a light wind and frail but cold rain.

They were on a cliff, just outside the mouth of a large cave. High up the side of a mountain, looking down over a long range, the peaks and valleys below like distant rubble strewn about a vast playground. The sky overhead was as oppressively grey as when they last were there.

"I'd recognize that depressing sky anywhere, " Candol remarked, "we're on Devoon, alright."

"We do seem fated to return to this dreary locale of the Dragon Lord's, " Sindar agreed.

"All this place needs is some livening up, " Eldar suggested, looking down at the grey mountains, "and I got just the thing."

"Eldar, " Sabu began, "I don't think we should-"

Too late. There never seemed to be any spell or force faster than Eldar's whimsy. He pointed a hand up towards the sky, his Gem of Energy glowing forth upon his chest, and sent out a long streamer of multicolored light. It hit upon the distant grey sky like an explosion of fireworks, lighting up the grey with colorful explosions and spinning lights.

"There, that looks better, " Eldar said, quite pleased with himself.

"Yes, " Mauklo agreed, a bit sarcastic, "for a beacon."

"What?!" Eldar protested. "There's no one around here for miles."

Several shapes began to take off from the distant peaks below, shapes of great size and great wingspan, curious over what had made the display.

"Except for a few dragons, " Sindar said, looking down at the distant shapes. "A few hundred, from what I can see."

"Some Ancient, " Mauklo rolled his eyes in Eldar's direction, "I think that training was wasted on him."

"Perhaps we should step inside the cave and discuss this out of sight of the Dragon Lord's pets, " Sheil-Bor(h) suggested.

"I think it kind of livens the place up, " Small said with approval, looking up at the display overhead.

"That figures, " Mauklo said as he walked towards the cave's entrance. "Now come on."

They hurried inside the cave, getting in there just as the first of the dragons flew on by. Outside, Eldar's fireworks were finally extinguished, put out by the magic of the dragons. They entered into the cave's mouth, looking around at what lay within.

The cave was large, more than large enough to house the old dragon skeleton that lay within. A skeleton hundreds of feet in length as it coiled around the perimeter of the circular cave, stone roof distantly high overhead. If the cave's mouth made those walking in look small, then the cave itself lost them within its immensity.

"That's one big dragon, " Eldar remarked, Yosi keeping close to his side, sniffing the air for any threat. "Maybe almost as large as that Son of Traugh we killed a while back."

"One wonders what killed it, " Candol said. "I wouldn't think something like that has any natural enemies."

"I'd think you'd be more interested in those things, " Small said.

They looked to where Small pointed. It was at the dragon skeleton's head, right at its eyes in fact. For in its eyes were the one thing not made of bone. In the long-dead sockets shone something that would have Quickfoot drooling were he there.

A pair of large red gems, one for each eye, each fitting snugly into the five-foot sockets that used to be the eyes. Their dull glimmer was the only interior light for the cave, reflecting off ice-covered walls.

"They're magic, alright, " Eldar confirmed, "and I also sense that they used to be alive, or at least as a part of the dragon when it was alive."

They walked carefully over towards the front of the large skeleton, their footsteps echoing quietly in the cave's empty interior.

"Anyone want to place odds this thing animates when we get too close?" Eldar asked as they ventured nearer.

"No, too obvious, " Sabu said. "Besides, Sindar's mind would have warned us by now. I am curious though as to what this beast was, what function have the gems, and why it's dead despite the Dragon Lord's penchant for having lots of dragons around."

"Maybe this mystery will give us a clue that will help us against the Dragon Lord, " Sheil-Bor(h) suggested.

Sindar came up next to the dead creature's left eye, running his hand lightly across the surface of the five-foot gem, feeling along its many facets.

"It tingles when I touch it, " Sindar said. "Its magic has been long dormant, but it's still there."

"Apparently, " Sabu said, feeling along part of the skeleton, "after it died its bones fossilized and its eyes turned into those large crystals we see now. Not originally items of magic in themselves, but the fossilized remains of the dragon's own magic."

"Then they could contain whatever magic the dragon had when it died, " Sindar said. "A potent source."

"Yes, " Mauklo said amiably, "too potent to leave lying around for the Dragon Lord to find, let's take it with us."

"You mean let's you take it back to your own quarters to add to your collection, " Candol said. "In the name of Indra, how stupid do you think we are?"

"Do you really want an answer?" Mauklo asked, raising a questioning eyebrow.

Candol remained silent but glared once over at Mauklo before continuing.

"At any rate, " Candol said, "if there is potent magic about these eyes, maybe something connected with the Dragon Lord, then I think it does bear looking into."

"Our first problem would be then to find out what it does, " Sabu said, stepping towards the large gem eyes.

Yosi growled loud just before a bolt of light glanced off the ground in front of Sabu, a bolt that sent dirt and rocks flying about.

"What it does, " came a female voice from somewhere overhead, "is serve the Dragon Lord just fine where it is."

"And get common thieves killed for their efforts, " came a second female voice.

Sabu turned calmly around to face the unseen source of the voice, his sharp Ancient eyes scanning amongst the rocks for who was hiding. A side glance towards Eldar showed that he was casually using his own special senses to scan for any sign of life, while Sindar looked around for any minds that he might detect.

All this while Sabu was in the act of turning around.

"We aren't thieves, " Sabu called out, "but neither are we assassins that hide about in the dark."

The faint sound of feet shuffling softly along bare stone was all that broke the silence. One of the voices then called out again, this time sounding a little bit nearer, but still high up.

"Is this better?" came the second voice.

"And we aren't assassins, " the first voice said, "we're guardians."

Sabu looked up, his eyes seeing through the gloom of the large cave and up towards two shadowy outlines.

"Yes, " Sindar said, "much better than that rock off to your left that you were hiding behind."

There was a brief pause before one of the voices spoke.

"You have sharp eyes, then, " the first one called down. "But that won't help you."

Another flash of light erupted from the dim figures, lancing down towards the group below. No one moved so much as an eyelash.

The light hit right in front of Sabu, dispersing into a harmless display of fireworks but a few feet in front of him.

"We really offer you no harm, " Sabu said calmly as a second bolt also danced off his unseen shield, "we came here from another dimension on our way home. We offer you no threat."

"Unless you serve the Dragon Lord, " Candol said, "in which case may Indra have mercy on your souls."

"Everyone serves the Dragon Lord, " the second one said. "You must be out-worlders to not know that. Or rebels, if any such exist."

"Hmm, " Eldar said with exaggerated thoughtfulness, "she just might be right on both accounts."

"Either way, he would want to have a look at you, " the first one called out.

"So, come along peacefully now, " the second one said.

A great wave of mental force came down towards them, sent out by the second unseen voice. Force of mind enough to melt through rock, ionize air, turn minds to jelly and crush them to her will. A solid wave it came down, straight at them.

Eldar blinked, Mauklo yawned, Candol scratched his ear, the pugen sniffed once or twice. Sindar looked up, bored expression on his face. In a ring around them, the stones had been turned to powder by the mental assault.

"Was that supposed to do something?" Sindar asked calmly.

"But- that's impossible, " the second voice called down. "No one could resist- you should have been-"

"Why don't we stop all this shouting..., " Sabu raised up a hand, there was a flash of light, and the female sources of the voices now stood in front of Sabu and Sindar, "... and continue our conversion at a more civilized tone of voice."

The women were young girls, both dressed in loose-fitting dirty gowns that didn't come down past their knees, both looking like they could use a good long bath. One of them was a blond, hair down past her shoulders, her height a couple inches shorter than Sabu's, with dark blue eyes, light tan skin and a slim beauty. The second one had sad grey eyes, long flame-red hair, skin white almost to paleness, and about the same size as the first one though with a fragile look to her. They stood there, looking around, confused and, as was now apparent to all there, both quite nervous.

"Wow, " came Small's voice from the rear of the group, "women! Do you know how long it's been since I've seen one of those?!"

"How, " the blond's voice matched that of the first voice they'd heard. "My magic- how did you get past- My spell should have prevented both matter and energy from intruding, you shouldn't have been able to-"

"A minor feat, " Sabu shrugged casually.

"They also withstood my mental attack, " the frail one said nervously to her companion. "Maybe the Dragon Lord sent them? Maybe they're here to-"

"Quiet, " the blond said, "we tell them nothing. We've served the Dragon Lord well enough, I will not cower to his servants."

They look scared, Sindar's mind called out to Sabu's, really scared.

Yeah I know, Sabu replied, I don't think they serve willingly.

Of course we serve willingly, the frail one's mind interrupted, you can't fool us with these tricks.

Hey, Sindar thought back, how did you eavesdrop? I had my mind-sending tightly controlled.

"Their tests get trickier, " the frail one said to the blond, "just now they tried to fool me by making me think I'd accidentally eavesdropped."

"Ha!" the blond said, "I knew it. You shall get nothing out of us but service to the Dragon Lord. We won't be tricked into becoming new statues in his garden."

"Hmm, " Candol said, "I seem to remember destroying that particular garden last we were here."

"Yeah, " Eldar added, "right before we made off with those dragon eggs and killed those two priests."

"Now, on that I must correct you, " Mauklo put in, "I did not kill that priest, my spell merely hit a different target than they'd hoped for."

"Wait, " the blond said, "that stuff happened a few rels ago. You aren't trying to tell us that-"

The two women then looked at each other and got very nervous, nearly shaking in their bare feet.

"There's something going on here, " Sabu said, "and I think I have an idea what it is."

Sabu gently put his hand up by the blond's shoulder. She flinched but drew in a breath and firmly held her ground. Sabu lightly brushed the lengths of her hair away from around her neck.

A metal collar, small gems studding its length; complete ring around her neck.

Sindar echoed Sabu's motion, and brushed the hair away from the frail one's neck; she too had on a tight metal collar.

"Slaves, " Sindar said, "to the Dragon Lord."

"These collars are magic, " Sabu said, taking his hand away. "No wonder they're so afraid."

"You would be too if you knew the Dragon Lord, " the blond said. "His power is too great for the likes of you to handle. These collars, for instance, have a magic that I've never been able to master, try though I have to get past them."

"So you'll understand when we tell you that if we don't kill you or bring you in our souls aren't worth a thing."

"Kill us?" Mauklo said, raising an eyebrow. "What could the likes of you do to us?"

"Quite a lot, actually, " the blond one smiled. "I was a great sorceress before the Dragon Lord came, so don't let my appearance fool you. For example-"

Her eyes glowed a deep red for a few moments then faded. In response, the large gem eyes of the dragon skeleton glowed brightly, awakened from their long slumber. The skeleton started to move, its bones to creak as it began to rise from its long-time resting place. Its huge jaws worked, gnashing its teeth, as it stretched out its long bony body.

The blond looked pleased and a bit less fearful. Eldar looked up at the beast with mild curiosity but made no move to do anything about it.

"Interesting, " Sabu said, completely ignoring the huge skeleton jaw now opening up behind his back. "You used no words or gestures to conjure forth your spell. That means you have mastered the art of total mental spell casting, having your mind as the only needed component."

The huge jaws came down slowly over Sabu's head. The others remained unconcerned, Mauklo even managing to look bored. The two girls looked at each other, confused.

"If you're that good a sorceress, you shouldn't be working for the like of the Dragon Lord, " Sabu continued.

The jaws closed down around Sabu. Sabu remained unconcerned, giving but a casual flip of his hand as any sign that he'd even noticed the imminent threat.

The skeleton disintegrated, falling down into a pile of greyish dust and sand. The large gems dropped to the ground with a highly audible crash, rolling about the ground like two large red coins.

"You know, with a bit of training, you could really become rather proficient, " Sabu said.

"You- I- How-" she stammered.

Which was more than the fragile-looking girl could do.

"My spell, how could you-" the blond finally managed.

"Oh that?" Sabu seemed honestly surprised as to why someone would find his feat of any interest. "It was mostly stone anyway, so I just returned that of it which was of the earth back to the earth. What was left that was still bone couldn't hold a shape without all that fossilized stone gone. But about you, how did you get to become the Dragon Lord's slaves?"

"Don't tell them, " the frail one said, "it could still be a trick."

"If we were out to get you, " Sindar answered, "I would have turned your mental attack back upon you instead of just dispersing it."

"It was you then that did that?" the frail one asked. "I sent enough mental energy at you to melt your brains!"

"Our friend Sindar, here, " Candol said, "has quiet the powerful mind."

"But enough about us, " Sabu said, slowly finding a certain attraction to both her mind and her form as he spoke to the blond. "About you?"

She glanced around suspiciously from out of the corner of her eyes, swallowed once, and then answered.

"I was the top sorceress, and my sister here the best psychic around, when the Dragon Lord came. He enslaved us and our people, using many of them to feed the dragons with that he then bred to go off and conquer the rest of the world with. He kept the both of us as guardians to his pets."

"Grounds-keepers, you mean, " the frail one corrected. "Not to mention play-toys."

"He's kept us like this for hundreds of rels while he breeds his dragons. He even used our own magic to help create his big pet."

"Tristurels, " Sindar pondered. "You've been his slaves for a long time, then. What of the rest of your people?"

"What few are left, " the frail one said, "are his servants and slaves, much like we are. Most he breeds as food for the dragons, keeping them back in the old deserts."

"Do you know from whence came this Dragon Lord?" Sheil-Bor(h) asked.

"No, " the blond shook her head. "We first knew of him when he began attacking our cities with his power. He brought with him much strange magic, many unknown methods for breeding his dragons much faster, much that he used to enslave us with, not the least of which are these collars."

"Yes, the collars, " Sabu said, looking at that which held itself around her neck. "No seam or join, a magic that doesn't sense like magic- Sheil-Bor(h), doesn't their make seem kind of familiar?"

"Yes, " Sheil-Bor(h) nodded as he came up for a closer look. "It appears that the Dragon Lord's dealing with Miro has netted him some few scraps of the Ancient knowledge."

"He's said that the magic of these, like that of which he uses for his dragons, is an old and ancient magic, and only someone of a long-dead race could unlock them besides himself. Your magic, I fear, will do no good."

"Hmm, " Sabu said absently, looking down at the collars, "yes well, ..."

Sabu reached over and casually touched an index finger to the center of the metal collar. At his touch, and mental command, the collar unlatched, releasing itself as it broke open where Sabu had touched his finger.

"So, " Sabu said as the girl's eyes gaped open in wide surprise, "what's your name?"

Sindar did as had Sabu, touching his finger to the frail one's neck, causing it too to pop open.

"Yes, " Sindar asked the girl in front of him, "I would like to know the name of one whose mind is so talented."

"And whose magic is so skilled, " Sabu added for the girl that he stood in front of.

Both girls just stood in awe, looking slowly at each other, and then each up at their respective liberators, jaws working but nothing coming out. They pulled at their collars, slowly taking them off and staring at them disbelievingly. Collars that had been around their necks for far longer than they had lived before the Dragon Lord had enslaved them; off and now in their hands. When finally they regained their speech, it was in voices that had found a new respect for those in front of them, for good or bad they didn't yet know.

"Lo-reen, " the blond said.

"And, " the frail one stammered, looking up into Sindar's eyes, "I'm Lo-rey. Glad to m-meet you."

"How?" Lo-reen asked.

"Well, it's just a matter of the fact that these collars are of Ancient design and we just happen to be Ancients."

"A new breed of them, at least, " Sindar added.

"Ancients, " Lo-reen mouthed, rolling the word slowly around in her mouth, her one hand still holding onto the collar, the other massaging a throat that hadn't been without a collar for longer than she might remember.

"We thought only the power of a god could free us, " Lo-rey said, "and there are no gods left in Devoon that the Dragon Lord hasn't long since pushed out."

"We're hardly any gods, " Sindar smiled, "just some people that find those like the Dragon Lord truly offensive."

"Speaking of which, " Eldar spoke up, walking up with his pugen, "as

ich he had found himself imbedded. He pulled himself free, sending a cascade of rocks and rubble to the ground far below.

"Betrayal, " he said, his voice still with its high-pitched whiny quality, "and destroy my house! I will show them. Yes I will! I'll call out my favorite pet and feed them to him. Yes, that'll be most pleasing, it will."

The Dragon Lord stepped out to the cliffside, his face twitching, his left hand shaking with anger. He looked out to the mountains and sent out his call.

"Come forth, my pet, " he said, his voice beginning to lower back down to its previous deep resonance. "We have some naughty people to catch."

Vast fields of dragons, soaring, resting, feeding. Wide open valley, ringed round by tall mountains, mountains also filled with draconic hordes. Powerful creatures, scale-covered behemoths filled with magic, filled with breaths of fire, cold, and even acid. One alone could stand against a small army of men, but there were thousands here.

An army of dragons, waiting.

They appeared in the middle of this field, the nearest large dragons lying not more than a few yards away. Lo-rey looked nervously about as they appeared.

A head the size of a small house lifted itself up on its long neck to take a curious peek at the new arrivals. It licked its sapling-sized fangs once, decided it wasn't hungry yet, then put its head back down upon its front paws to continue with its rest.

"I didn't think we were going to get so close, " she said nervously.

"For my powder to have best effect, we have to get as close as we can, " Eldar explained.

"So, just what is this bucket of dust of yours supposed to do?" Lo-reen asked.

"Basically it'll make them open to suggestion, " Eldar said as he put his bucket down. "They'll start listening to the first person they hear after they take a sniff of this stuff. But they have to inhale it or it won't work. Here, I'll show you."

Eldar picked up a small pinch of his glittering red mixture and started walking straight over to the same dragon that had glanced over at them when they'd first appeared.

"Eldar, " Sabu knew it would do no good, but thought he'd at least try, "I really don't think-"

"Oh, mister draaa-gon!" Eldar called out as he approached the beast.

"Uh, Sabu, " Lo-reen pulled at Sabu's sleeve as she watched Eldar walk up to within a few short feet of the creature, "is that elf shy just a few brain cells or what?"

"Well, technically he's an Evolin become Ancient, and not an Elf, " Sabu answered. "And as for the rest, well, you ought to see how he greets funnel storms."

Eldar walked right up to the dragon and tapped it on the nose. The creature opened one immense eye, glaring down at the little creature that dared to interrupt its sleep. It rumbled a warning deep in its throat.

"That's all right, " Eldar apologized, "I won't be long."

Eldar then tossed his pinch of magic dust straight up its left nostril, a nostril large enough for the elf to crawl through.

The dragon suddenly reared up its neck, twitching its nose around. Eldar just stood there and smiled up at it as it looked impatiently down at him. It grimaced its triangular face as it prepared to lunge its mouth down at the tiny morsel when it suddenly inhaled deeply, once, then twice, then...

It sneezed.

One safety hint when inducing a dragon to sneeze: don't. Some dragons breathe fire, some streams of cold, others clouds of electricity, but they all breathe something.

Eldar, still smiling, was immersed in a sea of acid. Lo-reen gasped once as she watched what she thought to be the end of the impudent elf. Thick clouds erupted up from the ground, fumes caused by the acid wash dissolving its way through the soil, and perhaps through elven flesh as well. But when the fumes dispersed, Eldar was still there, none the worse.

"Well, " Eldar glanced down at the acid dripping off his untouched clothes, "they needed a good cleaning."

The dragon now had a confused look, as if unsure of anything. Eldar looked up at it and called out.

"There, now that's a nice dragon."

The dragon gave an unsure smile.

"Now, why don't you go and attack those other dragons over there? They've been bothering you for so long by stealing your food, I think it's about time you went and showed them who's in charge."

The dragon nodded its large head, getting an angry look about itself as it looked in the direction that Eldar had indicated. It spread its wings, flapped out a breeze that nearly threatened to tear off Eldar's silvery locks with its force, and took off, flying in the direction of the other dragons.

Eldar walked back over to the others and his bucket of crystalline dust.

"See?" Eldar said. "I told you; it's going to work perfectly."

"And just how long is your concoction good for?" Mauklo asked with a trace of sarcasm. "It will do us no good if it lasts but a rise."

"I really don't know, " he answered, "I imagine it depends on the power of that Master Dragon I made it from."

The sounds of dragons fighting could now be heard in the nearby distance.

"It was a very powerful dragon, " Lo-reen answered.

"Well then, it might last for a few kevs, " Eldar said. "Enough to buy us some time."

"For what we have in mind, a few kevs is more than long enough, " Sabu said. "Let's get to it, then."

"How are we going to distribute it?" Lo-rey asked. "We can't very well go up to each and every dragon and throw it up their nostrils."

"We can't?" Eldar sounded disappointed.

"Fear not, my lady, " Candol raised up his arms, "for know you not that Indra is lord of the sky?"

Thunder crackled across the sky without the priest having yet said a word. He looked upwards, up into the grey cloudless skies, and then over at the bucket of red powder. The sky crackled with lightning, rumbling with thunder, though there were still no clouds. A wind started to whirl softly around the bucket of dust.

Everyone backed well away from both Candol and the bucket of red powder, going out as far as they could without disturbing any dragons.

Candol looked heavenward, arms stretched up, and called out upon the increasing winds, the Hevon Gem of Air lighting up a bright airy blue form beneath his robes.

"Indra!" His voice carried so that every dragon in the valley now heard it and was instantly alert. "Hear me!"

Thunder cracked and a windy fist suddenly drove down from the sky and directly onto the bucket. The bucket was shattered, its contents lifted up into the now swiftly-forming tornado. A red whirling cloud now, rising up swiftly higher, up towards the drab grey sky. The dragons watched, some spreading out their wings to ward against the potential threat, as the redness spread out across the sky. Winds whipped around, spinning the dust across the entire valley, a drab grey sky now streaked heavily with a thin cloud of red dust.

The winds then changed, suddenly driving downward. Like a hammer, the winds drove the dust down to the ground, coming straight towards the dragons in swiftly-swirling eddies of red. The dragons reared back, claws out, some taking to the air, defending themselves from the windy attacks, ready to resist whatever pounding it might give them.

But the winds did no damage to the giant creatures. The windy tendrils just wound themselves up into their nostrils, up into their lungs. Hundreds of dragons gasped, hundreds more wiggled their noses uncomfortably, while even more made ready to sneeze.

"Uh, " Small advised, looking out at the collective sneeze about to take place, "I suggest we duck. Now!"

Sabu tapped once with his staff; a glimmering hemisphere surrounded them.

"Consider us ducked, " Sabu replied.

The dragons then sneezed, all more or less at once.

The valley suddenly erupted in an explosion of dragon breaths; fiery eruptions, winds of cold ice particles, acid spray, pyrotechnic displays, clouds of twinkling particles- all filling the valley and closing in around Sabu's invisible shield of force.

When the force of the great sneeze had died down somewhat, they looked around at the result.

"I do so hope we've done more than just give them all a cold, " Lo-reen said.

"You should have more faith in my potions, " Eldar said. "Look."

A sea of dragons, and all they could see had bemused or puzzled expressions on their scaled snouts. All awaiting a suggestive voice.

"Just keep the orders nice and simple, " Eldar advised.

"We should order them to endeavor to see the wisdom of combative measures and assail upon one another, " Sheil-Bor(h) suggested.

"And by the time they'd figure that one out, " Mauklo said, "the potion will have worn off. Here, allow me."

Mauklo cleared his throat, the sound now suddenly amplified many times. When he spoke, it sounded as if his voice came down from the sky, going out to all parts of the valley, a loud voice from on high.

"You will all attack one another and any other dragon you see, " his greatly amplified voice ordered. "Furthermore, if you see the Dragon Lord, you will know him to be an imposter, not the real Dragon Lord. You will therefore not listen to him and as well want to attack such an imposter to your kind master."

Mauklo then cleared his throat once again, this time his voice being reduced back down to more normal levels.

"Now, " he said, "I suggest we leave, and quickly."

Around them dragons started to stir, to growl and swipe at each other. A collective anger rose up amongst the thousands of dragons there as each turned to its neighbor as enemy.

"We do not want to be in the middle of a dragon war, " Lo-reen said. "Trust me, it's messy."

"I don't know, " Eldar cocked his head to one side as he watched the first of the dragons start to take to the air after one another, "I think it'd be kind of exciting to watch."

"It would be most interesting to see the tactical measures that dragons take when battling one another. Perhaps then we could use those observations to train our own dragons to better combat the hordes of Traugh, not to mention what could be learned about their social interactions when-"

A feminine hand covered Sabu's mouth, stopping his intellectual rambling. Sabu's eyes followed the hand over to a rather impatient and determined Lo-reen.

"I'll be blunt, " she whispered hoarsely into his ear, "if we are to be some rise mated, which logic at this point dictates that we probably will, then you're just going to have to learn when is the right time for that sort of stuff. Understand? Just nod."

Sabu nodded his head up and down once.

"Good, " she said, slowly removing her hand, "now get us out of here and then you can talk about it. Leave a magic probe behind to record it all if you like- that way we don't have to stick around."

"A wife with a firm touch, " Eldar grinned, "just what Sabu needs."

"A probe- of course!" Sabu said, almost slapping himself with realization. "That way I can watch the dragons interact and observe the cross-dimensional energy flows as we travel back to Maldene."

"Whatever, " Lo-reen sighed.

Sabu put out his hand and concentrated only briefly; a small ball of metal appeared there. Another wisp of thought from him and the object floated up; a motion with his hand and it was sent skimming along the ground.

"There, that should take care of recording the events, " Sabu said.

Around them the dragons were now in full battle. Claws struck, dragons whirled through the air, bolts of fire and steam erupted everywhere. The ground began to shake with the warring titans, the air to reverberate with the cries of battle.

"About that leaving thing, " Small reminded Sabu, tugging on his robes, "I'm thinking maybe all this will look better by remote."

"Ah yes, " Sabu raised up his staff, Orim's ring on the hand that held it. "Sindar, you have a fix on home?"

Sindar's mind crossed dimensions in but the blink of an eye, his mind reaching out across distances that were more than merely spacial. His mind touched upon a familiar force and locked onto it.

"I've located Tedelnosho, " Sindar replied after only a tid. "It's not too hard to find."

"Good, link up with me, " Sabu set his staff to glowing.

Sindar touched his mind upon that of his friend, allowing him to feel the link back to Maldene that Sindar now maintained. Sindar didn't even need to concentrate now to maintain the fix on home, to keep his link with Sabu.

Lo-rey's eyes widened as she truly appreciated what it was that Sindar had just so casually done.

"Your world is in a different dimension, under a different collection of stars, " she said, "and yet you sent your mind across to it and located it so easily?"

"Tedelnosho kind of sticks out, " Sindar said, a shy grin flashing across his face. "It's no big trick."

"No big-" she began, astonishment on her face. "It's amazing!"

A wind started to whirl around them, the swirl of dimensions, the beginnings of a portal, centered around the tip of Sabu's staff and expanding outwards to encompass them all.

"Hold on, " Sabu warned, his voice carrying above the noise that dimensions tend to make when they meet. "We're not riding in a sleem this time, so it may not be too smooth."

Flashes of light started to whirl around them, a few at first, then more, faster and faster.

Overhead, a large shadow suddenly loomed, a thunderous roar accompanying it. Several eyes looked up to see the largest dragon they had yet seen, a dragon that they had only briefly seen once before when it had been chasing them at the end of their first visit to Devoon. It was titanic, an immensity that dwarfed every dragon in the valley, making the rest look like rowboats next to the large ship that was the Dragon Lord's favorite pet.

"He's brought it!" Lo-reen exclaimed, fear evident on both her and her sister's face. "We'll never-"

"Escape?" called out a familiar deeply resonant voice from atop the large creature. "I would think not."

His red and black robes fluttering in the wind created by the flapping of the great dragon's wings, the Dragon Lord rode atop the creature's neck, a small figure looking down at them from on high, his voice carrying magically down to them.

"Sorry we had to leave your dinner party so untimely, and sorry about the mess, " Eldar grinned as the swirling lights from Sabu's spell ever increased, "but we'll be sure to send over a maid to clean it all up."

"You've all been very naughty, " the Dragon Lord calmly scolded, "I'm afraid I'll have to punish you when we get back."

Lo-reen and Lo-rey exchanged glances but briefly, deciding all they needed to in that brief moment, a mutual decision.

"We're not going back, " Lo-reen called back, her voice defiant, a strong lift new to her chin, as she wrapped an arm around Sabu's waist. "We know now we would rather die than continue to serve under you."

"That, " the Dragon Lord's voice started out a high-pitched whine, then paused as he settled it back down to his normal calm resonance, "can be arranged."

"I really don't think any of this will be necessary, " Mauklo said calmly.

"And why not?" the Dragon Lord's voice rumbled deep and thunderous.

A large claw suddenly swept across the Dragon Lord's back, followed by an explosion of fire. The great dragon he rode atop found itself suffering from a sudden claw mark as well. The Dragon Lord was unharmed as he looked around him, shocked at what he saw.

A large cluster of dragons was swooping around at him and his mount, attacking both with claw, bite, and breath. They were like large flies pestering the bulk of the great creature, though flies that were in an ever increasing swarm. The Dragon Lord found himself being attacked by his own creatures, a storm of wing, claw, and fire erupting around him.

"What is this-" his voice shrieked back up to its high-pitched hysterical whine. "How could-"

"For some reason, " Mauklo said as Sabu's dimensional gate now swirled a blinding array of flashing colors around them, "they seem to be under the impression that you're an imposter. I can't imagine how they got to be thinking that."

The Dragon Lord cried out his protests, his cries becoming unintelligible screams in the noise of the attacking dragons. Around them Sabu's portal was now fully formed, a whirling vortex of color, noise, and darkness, enveloping them all in an enclosing sphere, as but a hundred feet above them the dragons waged war upon their own lord.

"We've got to leave now, " Eldar smiled, making a motion of tipping a hat that he didn't have on. "Nice party you throw, though."

Sabu's gate began to carry them all through his vortex, smooth and controlled this time, kept under his full control. The sphere of light, sound, and darkness began to shrink, as it pulled its occupants across the planar barriers into the great void between dimensions. But one last cry was heard coming out from it, one last call to challenge.

Lo-reen's voice carried out loud and strong, amplified by her own magic to make sure that the Dragon Lord heard it well.

"We will be back!"

The vortex disappeared in a flurry of flashing lights as the draconic battle raged around the Dragon Lord and his favorite pet. A thousand or more dragons battled both each other and their lord, still faithfully carrying out the suggestions induced by Eldar's special alchemical mix. The Dragon Lord looked around himself, anger on his face as he watched the portal disappear.

His scream carried loud and long upon the winds, echoing throughout the valley. Fury was in every fiber of his being as he spurred his great dragon forward. Ignoring the battling hordes about him, he was now determined for but one thing.

A wave of his hand sent a hundred large dragons flying back through the sky, a wave of power that sent them away from their lord and master. He screamed incoherently as he spurred his dragon forward, flapping on into the interdimensional void as its wings carried it across more than just normal space.

"We'll see who gets who!" the Dragon Lord called out, his voice nearly cracking with its high-pitched strain.

The Dragon Lord gave chase.

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