Devil Drakes for a Dark Seacher

Mechalich's picture

Sighing slightly Ijien’s dark-skinned hand delicately flipped another of the old, crinkled pages, ever careful not to damage them. She would have been utterly abashed to damage something so old and valuable, no matter how bland its contexts had prove thus far, by simple carelessness, to say nothing of what it would have cost to try and replace such an ancient tome. Carefully her eyes scanned down the page, puzzling out the old runes as she went, and searching for the references she sought, but finding nothing. After only a few moments, she turned the page again, feeling slightly irritated. It had been with great enthusiasm that she had begun this search through Klesparl’s History of the Lawful Gate-Towns: Reign of Factol Ventrym 12-432, but things had not turned out so well. Ventrym’s long, elven reign had been almost a millennium past, if she was converting the dates correctly, for Ijien was never all that confident with Sigil’s calendar, its history having such astonishing gaps. Whatever the precise timeframe, it had certainly been a great stretch of years, and though Klesparl was a competent enough historian and writer it was clear to the reader that he’d become bogged down in reporting the overly regular happenings of the lawful Gate-Towns, and not the more interesting disturbances.

That was a grand shame, and a real difficulty in research. Ijien needed to find a cross-reference and needed one badly, or the whole goose chase would be so wild that there would be no point in actually traipsing about the planes in searching. Confirmation should be coming from Ribcage and it should have happened in the early part of Ventrym’s second century as head of the bean-counters, if only it would reveal itself to the researcher from the morass of Klesparl’s tangled chronologue.

There came a soft steady tapping sound, and Ijien drew her eyes away from the pages, not precisely eager for disruption, but at this point willing to be distracted. Looking back out to the stairwell she saw what she expected, the steady and serene approach of one of the dabus, tapping the bookshelves at regular intervals in order to alert those seated among the shelves that it was coming. This tactic was, Ijien suspected, designed to alert overly paranoid researchers that someone was approaching in place of footfalls, which the dabus, walking slightly above the ground, did not possess. She rather imagined that before the practice had been instituted, however many eons ago, there had been more than a handful of unfortunate stabbings, spell-killings, and subsequent mazings. Such paranoia was not, thankfully, one of Ijien’s many traits.

The dabus stopped briefly before the small table at which she worked, a half-dozen old books spread out there, as well as volumes of her own paper for copying and note taking. A string of symbols burst forth from the dabus’ mouth, hanging in the air long enough to be read with care before slowly fading. This speech was not something Ijien fully understood, for she was no native of Sigil, but she was good with puzzles and languages and words, so she grasped almost the entirety. Besides, the message was simply enough. The Library would be closing soon, and therefore she was expected to clean up and leave.

“Of course,” Ijien replied politely. Many of Sigil’s residents were quite rude to the Dabus, but she always endeavored to treat them with proper civility and respect. Even if they couldn’t properly appreciate it, it was always best to practice such good habits. “I will be done in a few moments and should be down presently.”

The dabus said nothing more, but moved off in silence, doubtless to repeat its message to the library’s other patrons.

Seated again Ijien quickly flipped to another page. She fully intended to pack her things up in a moment, but she’d finish this chapter first. If she found nothing, then she wouldn’t have bother with the book again on the morrow. Scanning swiftly, she rapidly turned through the pages. Four flips of her hand and she found something at last. Then, suddenly she found what she had long sought.“In the darkest of the hours something blasted through the portal, pursued by the Baatezu. It was strange and metallic, and shaped like a great cat, or perhaps a serpent, no one agree on the same thing, and seemed covered in blades. The Baatezu pursued it through the town, and both parties wreaked much destruction before the fiends finally caught their quarry and hacked it to pieces, carrying all of this back to Baator. Similar incidents happened several dozen times over the next few months, until the ruler was overthrown by the people for his incompetence in watching the portal.” Ijien read the whole passage again, coming, and then took careful note of the date. Skipping ahead a bit, passing over the fate of Ribcage’s ruler, she found the next part. “None knew what these creatures had been, but it seemed they came from Baator, and perhaps Acheron as well, according to tieflings who claimed to know of them. The marauders upon the town were said to have escaped from Narlor’s tower in Avernus.” Perfect, Ijien’s eyes flashed in delight, she’d found a reference and a location that would hopefully match the one she’d discovered earlier. That would have to wait though, as the Dabus’ patience was not to be pressed.

“So did you find what you sought?” a small, serpentine voice asked from the opposite side of the table, coming from a small voice now peeking over the edge.

“”Yes Valicarpos, I did,” Ijien told her familiar, resisting the urge to pet the little dragon in its catlike pose. Petting was not something anyone, even sorcerers who had them as familiars, ever did to a dragon, and it would have embarrassed the little amethyst wyrmling to no end anyway. She would not treat him with so little respect. “However, though I’m certain you are not yet tired the Dabus have said it is time to go, and as this is their place we must respect their rules,” she repeated that bit, or something like it, to the wyrmling quite often, it was important for a dragon who intended to have any relations with humanoids to understand such concepts, and what went into breaking them. “So go and put your book back now and then help me put these others away please.”

Valicarpos looked a bit grumpy at this, which Ijien considered understandable, he’d been reading Ice’s Recent Battles of the Gray Waste, a page-turner if there ever was one, but complied with a grace that still looked rather comical coming from someone so small.

Ijien set to packing up her own materials, but there was one thing to do first. Placing a blank page beside the one with the relevant entry she whispered a few words in old draconic and called on the sorcerous power within her slight frame, invoking the simple spell of amanuensis. Swiftly as the eye could follow the script copied over, writing by no hand, simply appearing, and filled her note page. A minor spell, but it had always been one the researcher regarded as absolutely essential.

Thereafter she and the little dragon packed up the books, returning them to a cart so a Dabus could place them in order again, and returned her notes to the sturdy dragonhide satchel she used to carry them. A heavy contrivance, for carrying paper, but on the planes one never knew what paper-destroying hardships one was about to encounter next. After losing everything once any arcane researcher worth her spells makes sure it never happens again. A weave of mixed dragonhides that resisted all forms of energy was only barely protection enough.

Her books and papers packed away securely the pair, sorceress and familiar, took the long walk down the spiraling stairs of the library to the waiting streets of Sigil below. She took care to pause and nod to the dabus at the front desk with due respect before leaving, something few in this place did, but she would hold to such courtesies out of stubbornness if nothing else. It also served, for herself, as a way to resist Sigil’s pull towards grubbiness.

As they stepped out in the streets Valicarpos, loping gamely alongside his much taller mistress, spoke up. “Where are we going now?”

“Just back to Talia’s,” Ijien answered, carefully moving through the press of people heading home, for even the wide streets of the Lady’s Ward became crowded in the early evening. “Sigil is not a place to be prowling about at night, especially these days,” she cautioned. She had never liked the factions much, but the city was certainly a shade darker without them, even if members of the Harmonium had always stared daggers at her.

“Would people here really meddle with us?” Valicarpos asked, not at all joking, for he thought joking beneath an Amethyst dragon, no matter how young. “They seem to stay clear of you and I.”

They did at that, a little anyway, and Ijien knew exactly why. She could travel with the hood of her cloak down here in Sigil, and even in a city where fiends walked the streets black skin and whitish hair commanded a certain respect. Few would antagonize a dark elf, especially one who clearly had the sufficient mystical power to make a dragon heel to her, for those who even knew what a dragon was of course. Still, only a fool would trust that reputation, or anything else, in Sigil, which could match any layer of the Abyss for chaos at times. “Random footpads might not accost us,” Ijien explained carefully to the wyrmling. “But more dangerous sorts might. The sort who might think a wyrmling would make an interesting pet for some Golden Lord, or those who can recognize deep dragon lineage and bear it a grudge. No, there is nothing to be gained and much to be risked traveling about Sigil this night. Besides, we may have plenty of risky dealings on the morrow.” Securing the means for a trip to Baator, which, if Klesparl’s writings had been correct would probably be necessary, certainly posed great risks. “So for now, back to Talia’s, it is safe as can be had in this city, and I know you like the flavorings she has her chef use.”Valicarpos brightened at that, as well the little dragon might, for Dame Talia, one of the rare Song Dragons, ran a highly secure inn that catered to dragonkind and their adherents, including beings like Ijien herself, sorceress and deepwyrm drow.

The rest of the walk, through the streets of the Lady’s Ward, was relatively uneventful, though Valicarpos got into a hissing match with someone’s Aoskian Hound and she had to reprimand the little creature for getting into fights with animals, though gently. The amethyst’s store of shame made for a useful learning tool, but Ijien had to be careful with it, she desired to nurture and forged the wyrmling’s pride, not break it. Still, her thoughts were dark. If all went well on this little expedition she was about to undertake she might make a major discovery, but it was an ominous thing to think on. Baator was not a pleasant or safe place to go, no matter what might be learned there.

* * *

“The tower of Drentum nears,” the marrenoloth hissed in its rotted, crumbly voice. “Tell where I should stop my skiff mortal, that I might be rid of you and your wretched baggage.”

“For the last time fiend, if you-“ the rising, angry voice was cut off as Ijien extended a slender arm before him.

“Antagonize our ferryman overtly, and he may consider his duty done and leave us in the Styx, or perhaps dump us ashore in front of yonder Baatezu army,” she said carefully, with as much practiced delicacy as she could managed, pointing to a cloud of swirling devils off in the distance.

A scale-covered and horned face scowled back at Ijien, but at length softened just enough, rage mastered. It was hardly satisfying to the sorceress, but it would do, for now at least. Gralvix had a short temper and seemed hungry to hurt something, which she would be more than happy to let him do, once they reached a stage when it was not going to be a problem for her. The bargain that she’d made with the half-dragon Talon of Tiamat was a simple one, he and the quartet of redspawn firebelchers he used as hunting beasts would serve as her protection on her journey while she paid all the costs, including passage via the Styx from the relatively safer confines of Acheron, whence they had come after leaving Sigil. She had also paid for the papers Gravlix had received for this little pilgrimage, and made a careful copy while he wasn’t looking, which would serve to get her out of Baator when the angry half-dragon had left to finish his pilgrimage.

Slowly the marrenoloth poled his way through the languid Styx, in no hurry on Avernus, where those who moved too fast attracted massive blasts of flame from the red sky above. Nevertheless the remaining distance was not far and they soon pulled into a rocky cove. Ijien let the half-dragon hurry his grumpy and ferocious wards off first, staying well centered as they rocked the little skiff. When they were done she turned to the marrenoloth and bowed slightly. “Thank you for the swift and uneventful journey,” she bowed slightly and without flinching took the yugoloth’s skeletal hand in her own, an unpleasant feeling, but Ijien had buried her arms to the shoulders in ruptured dragon gizzard more than once, and this was nothing compared to that. “Please have this, with my thanks,” she dropped an additional dozen or so golden coins into the fiend’s bony palm. The sorceress had learned of tipping from the Efreet, years ago on the elemental plane of fire. Whether it would help any with her reputation among the ferrymen of the Styx she had no idea, but a handful of gold was a small enough price to pay for that chance. Turning away she stepped lightly off the boat onto the rocky ground of Avernus.

“Let’s get going,” Gralvix growled. “I agreed to stick with you for up to five days, but if it’s all the same to you I’d rather be done as soon as possible.”

“Of course,” Ijien agreed swiftly. She had no intention of spending anymore time with this servant of Tiamat than absolutely necessary, and moreover, anything she could do to shave extra seconds off a trip to Baator was valuable. “We should skirt about Drentum’s abode, I’ve no desire to test how well our papers would work so close to a Pit Fiend’s property. If my research is correct, what we seek should be in the hills to our right.” She pointed slowly; making sure Gralvix followed her vision.

The talon of Tiamat snorted, blowing a blast of heated steam through his draconic nostrils, but he set off swiftly and without complaint. Following closely behind the man and those angry dragonspawn Ijien had to admit he appeared to know what he as doing. Gravlix was grubby, mean, uncultured, and wholly given over to his evil mistress, part cleric, part warrior and all wrath, but he was not without skill. She would never had hired the man otherwise. Tiamat was certainly not her favorite dragon god, being far too aggressive for the sorceress’ tastes, but she respected them all, and she’d probably have had just as much trouble working with one of Bahamut’s platinum knights when all was said and done. Of course, here on Baator, the servants of Tiamat had some decided advantages. Despite all this, it was necessary for the sorceress to be cautious. Gravlix would likely abide by his word, but he’d surely take any truly good chance for betrayal, and he wouldn’t fight with all his unholy strength just to protect her. That was certain. Hopefully, the deepwyrm drow considered once again, it won’t come to that.

Gravlix grumbled a little as they journeyed, but made no real sound or attempts at conversation. That was wise and welcome, but it left Ijien feeling a little lonely. She’d left Valicarpos back in Sigil, in Dame Talia’s care, for despite the wyrmling’s protests he was not ready for this place, and a dragon that could be enslaved to devil-kind would make a far more tempting target than any simple drow sorceress or half-dragon priest. It was a gap, not having her familiar by her side, her senses somewhat dulled and the energetic presence not there to watch her back and keep her company. I can endure this, Ijien told herself silently. I have before and will again, in the pursuit of knowledge of life and dragons. If these so-called blade drakes truly exist, and have persisted these last few centuries, then discovering them would be most valuable. Dragonkind was her passion after all, and one the sorceress prided herself on, for few on the planes could be said to be more erudite scholars of all things draconic. Moreover she was an Anatomist, and the pull of new and mysterious living things drew at her like the call of the Blood War to the fiends who now swarmed about her. For great rewards, much would be risked.

Their widely circling course gradually carried them about the tower of the pit fiend Drentum, a lesser general in the Blood War. That tower occupied more of less the same position of the tower of Narlor, also a pit fiend general and now dead some five hundred years. If the blade drakes had indeed escaped from this region of Avernus, which had been much closer to the gate town in those days, though now many miles of former Outlands terrain lay in the way, they should still be nearby, hiding among the grubby hills among the outcast devils and those lesser Baatezu seeking to avoid being thrown at the Tanar’ri.

This space was not empty and the little group’s travels were not unnoticed. Mindless lemures and nupperibos skulked about, looking for wildlife to ravage, but they stayed back at the approach of the firebelchers. Those creature’s breath powers might have been of little use to the natives of this place, by they still had sharp mouths, and brutal crocodilian frames. They were enough to intimidate such minor beings. Gravlix, armored and angry-faced behind them, certainly helped. Even the least of the fiends had a bit of remembered respect for dragons, something Ijien had anticipated and smiled at coolly.

Occasionally more powerful devils passed by them aloft, usually little spinagons but occasionally the more potent abishai and even once a Cornugon many thousands of feet above them all. None took any real notice or bothered with them at this point. Doubtless one or more spinagons would report back to its master and equally certain some fiend would eventually be sent to check their papers, but fiends were busy creatures, especially on Avernus, and an obvious servant of Tiamat, on rocky ground near nothing of particular importance, was clearly low on the list of security priorities.

Io’s blessing that we might stay that way, Ijien silently muttered after another spinagon flew over, about as close to prayer as she ever really came. She’d not been raised to religion, but briefly to follow another dragon and then nothing. Lloth held no appeal to her; indeed it puzzled the sorceress’ mind as to why anyone would bow down before a chaotic and cannibalistic spider goddess.

What faith she possessed she gave to the dragon gods, who seemed worthy of respect and had given her a blessed lineage if nothing else.

Up into the hills they went, making only brief stops, despite the hardness of the terrain. Feet aching Ijien recognized that she was not quite so youthful as she had once been. She’d not yet seen even three quarters of the way through her second century, but she was no longer a brash elf, spurred on to energetic excesses by excitement alone. It was all manageable though, and she would not complain or dare show weakness, not before this half-dragon, with his dragon-blessed durability and strength. This little walk was not so much, her health was still good and indeed it would have all been perfectly pleasant on some more peaceful plane. At least, the drow reflected with amusement, she had long ago learned one of the key adventurers’ lessons: skimp not on the price of good boots. Hers were lizard man manufacture, from Slaan, and tough enough for the jagged crystals of the quasielemental plane of mineral, the ledges and crevices of Avernus would not cut through them.

Once they had crested another good rise Gravlix stopped, heeling his firebelchers. “Well, where to from here?”

It was a good question. The sources, as usual, had not been forthcoming with much in the way of precision. Carefully Ijien looking about, calling on all she knew of dragonkind and the lesser drakes as she surveyed the land. Hiding from devils meant a place unobserved from the air, obviously, and that was probably one of these narrow creviced canyons she saw spreading out before her on the rocky plateau. Size would matter as well, it had to be big enough that enough of food supply could be found within or would wander in to sustain the drakes, but not so big as to be important for some fiend to lay claim to. Finally it would need to be inconvenient, some place bothersome to get into, hazardous, polluted, or otherwise low in value, so that it was not used as the hiding place of something more powerful, like a true fiendish dragon or one of the outcast devils. All in all, such conditions made for a tricky, and guessing wrong was not an option, for it likely led to the gaping maw of something mean and hungry.

Scanning about Ijien came up with a few good candidates, but she was not at all sure, she was missing some criterion, something that would cement it for her. Her knowledge went deep, but at the moment she needed something a bit further, another flash of insight. Thankfully, there was one available to her. Carefully turning about so she faced away from Gravlix she almost silently whispered a single word. vor, a word in ancient draconic, a word that had power to those who knew how to wield it, and the deepwyrm sorceress did indeed possess such ability. This was part of her true skills, the skills of a Dracolexi, a master of the linguistic power of draconic, and a set of skills she fully intended Gravlix, or anyone on Baator, not learn she possessed. Better such abilities stay hidden.

Insight flaring inside the sorceress as draconic power awakened greater heights of the mind than she was normally capable off, drawing on otherworldly knowledge and insight, she saw what she needed to see; metal composition that was the key. Creatures encrusted with blades surely needed strong ore in their diets, and, looking at the hills for certain telltale glints, mirroring those found in the hordes and scales of certain dragons, Ijien saw the place she wanted, a crevice carved by a combination of fireballs and some long-ago forgotten blood river. “There,” she told Gravlix, pointing carefully once more. “That crevice and we can approach by the opening on the side to the left of us. However, we must not get too close while there are Baatezu about; I wish to make the final approach unseen.”

“Should be easy, once we go in among those rocks nothing much’ll see us from above, only problem is devils prowling around,” the half-dragon looked almost eager. A lone devil, something weak like a barbazu, would be a simply enough thing for him to kill in Tiamat’s name, an offering of her superiority over the Baatezu, and one that wouldn’t be missed. Privately Ijien would rather avoid such encounters, but it was good that her hired muscle seemed ready. They headed in along the approach.

* * *

“This is one lousy place to try and live,” Gravlix spat as they finally made it down to the crevice floor, joining the firebelchers who had made the descent in quick leaps and hopes moments before.

The jagged, narrow canyon crevice was filled with sharp iron-heavy rock and only the blasted remnants of vegetation. Crawling maggots and little spiked animals Ijien did not recognize prowled about, but fearfully, cautious, a clean sign that there were predators about. At least something ferocious oftentimes roamed here, for there was nothing to be seen at the moment, and no tracks or otherwise, not that the hard stone was likely to reveal much on that account. Given all this Ijien had to somewhat agree with the half-dragon’s assessment. Even her boots were stating to get cut up now, and the scaly feet of Tiamat’s servant were bleeding slowly from several small cuts. This was a sharp place indeed, and unwelcoming.

Outwardly, the sorceress ignored the complaint. It wasn’t important anyway, just as the two barbazu they had encountered only perhaps a half hour gone had not been important and now lay in blasted pieces on the stones of Baator. The pair had been someone more dangerous than one would have been alone, and Ijien had aided Gravlix, tossing a few magic missiles to help him somewhat. They’d not done any more damage than force Gravlix to expend one of his few healing spells on the bleeding side of a fireblecher before that combination of spells, crocodilian jaws, and the talon’s massive falchion, brought them down. “Let’s just find what we came here for,” Ijien instructed her hired muscle. “Look for a cave of some kind, I imagine that would be the lair, and make certain you call me and let me do the talking.”

“Right,” Gravlix growled, but he began to search.

There was little enough flat ground to move about on in the crevice, so the search went slowly as they took few careful steps. Ijien was sorely tempted to use her wand and invoke the power to fly about, but resisted. If there were drakes nearby, or something else, they might note the magic being used, or simply sense a flyer on the wind, and she wanted to find her quarry not be found by it.

In the end, after not so long searching, Gravlix was the one who found the jagged hole heading downward. Only moments after calling Ijien over he would have simply jumped down impetuously, had she not forestalled him. “Better to be cautious in this,” she said, trying to sound kindly and patient, though the half-dragon’s aggressiveness was wearying her quickly. The sorceress took a piece of chipped stone and dropped it into the hole instead. It clattered to the ground almost immediately, signaling a short drop, and nothing came growling outward. “Now we can go on ahead,” Ijien gestured for her guard to lead.The hole led to a modestly-sized tunnel, perhaps twelve feet around at most. It was formed of jagged stone, with no signs of consistent patches were steadying wearing had occurred. This led to a few conclusions for Ijien, as she followed Gravlix in the small circle of light shed by the flaming mouths of his firebelchers. First, these drakes could not be all that large, and second, there were not many of them if they did indeed lair here.

No traps awaited them in this cavern, or at least not that Gravlix detected or his brutish pets stumbled over. This was slightly disturbing to the sorceress, for surely anyone present must be alerted to their coming. They were not being stealthy, and indeed Ijien had no desire to try to approach unseen, as that would not serve her purpose, so she was becoming worried that some ambush or powerful guards might await in this place, for surely something existed to drive away curious Baatezu when they inevitably wandered down here every decade or so. Pausing briefly Ijien took the time to whisper a few words and grasp one of the flakes of dragonscale hidden in her components pouch. Invoking the magic she felt her skin harden, knowing it was becoming scaly and solid, and also colored. She had chosen the scales of a gold dragon, so as to provide resistance from fire, but to remain differentiated from Gravlix. It would not do to appear as a servant of Tiamat when she was not.

Shortly thereafter the attack Ijien had anticipated did come, but in a form she did not expect and with shocking suddenness.

The clattering of metal upon the stones at a run, a flash of yellow light flickering off something moving too quickly to be easily glimpsed, and then one of the firebelchers howled in pain. Blinding light flared then, as flames burst from the mouths of the four dragonspawn, and Ijien put a hand over her eyes too late. Sensitive drow orbs were scorched and blinded for a moment and she stumbled backwards, struggling to regain her vision.

Gravlix’s growls split the air, along with the pained and raging howls of the cruel and now wounded dragonspawn. Her vision filled with sparks and blots Ijien saw the light reflected from those fires glint off something metallic, and then a blade? A sword? A claw? Something shot deep into the face of one of the dragonspawn, plowing through the thick skull to embed deep in the brain.

“Stop this!” Ijien shouted, her voice as strong and stern as her orator’s skills and diplomat’s resolve could manage, but it washed over those before her, as they clearly were not listening. “We are not here for violence!”

The protest seemed empty as a second of the firebelchers fell, gashed full down its side, and Gravlix swung brutally at something that dodged away, glittering in the bursts of brightness. Ijien caught a momentary glimpse of strange, shining eyes, but no details as the figure spun about, sliding under one of the hulking dragonspawn, ripping open its belly as it passed.

Gathering her sense of the battle it was not so difficult for the drow to tell who was winning, and it was not her guards. The firebelchers were being sliced apart one by one, and Gravlix had not yet managed to work a way around their reptilian bulk to close with his foe, but she doubted the brutal half-dragon would win once that was done. Yet the sorceress did not move immediately to help the talon of tiamat. She needed to know what she was facing first before she acted, and had no desire to kill the guardian of the drakes within, if that was indeed what they faced.

The final dragonspawn fell, it back sliced apart by a series of brutally rapid blows, and now the drow sorceress could see that this assailant was fighting with no weapon, but only his limbs, though these appeared more than deadly enough. A fighting monk, she guessed, considering the rapid, cutting movements caught in flashes before. As the dragonspawn collapsed slowly to the tunnel floor she finally got a look at the strange attacker, the light fading enough for her native darkvision to reveal the outlines of this being.

A bladeling, Ijien almost gasped. For there was not mistaking that jagged and spiked presence, or the shimmering metallic eyes, though these seemed deeper and somehow more familiar than those on any bladeling she’d ever seen before. The bladeling’s body was carved in strange mystic glyphs, perhaps spelling out some story she did not know, but they were in draconic, she could observe that much.

Gravlix advanced over the now bloody stone, massive curved sword out before him. “Wretch, I’ll cut you open slowly for doing that to my pets!”

The bladeling said nothing, but turned its eyes upon the half-dragon in a furious stare, an impossibly deep gaze that came from far behind the bladeling and looked far past his enemy, all to inspire terrifying fear.

The talon of tiamat roared his anger and was unabashed; charging forward with sword held high, but for the watching sorceress it was an illuminating exchange. She recognized that induction of fear, for it came from dragons. How can a bladeling be a disciple of the eye? Ijien could not reason around that. Yet it decided her in one thing, she would not interfere now, Gravlix would have to decide his own fate.

The talon of taimat brought down his great blade, backed by all the strength of a half-dragon’s arms, but the bladeling nimbly sidestepped it, launching a snap-kick at Gravlix’s legs. Armor tore, but those deadly spikes did not penetrate the scales underneath and the bladeling was forced to spin back.

“Nimble bastard,” Gravlix growled. “Dodge this!” He threw back his head and exhaled. No blast of fire this that burst from his mouth, but a shattering cone of icy cold, the breath of a white dragon a power followers of Tiamat the five-headed could wield.

The bladeling did not try to dodge or twist away from that stream of cold, but spun in through it, covered in the icy stream, but unstopped. Gravlix jerked back, but too slowly. A spike-covered hand lashed out and grasped his left wrist. In a panic the angry half-dragon managed a half-hearted swing of his blade but the bladeling monk twisted slightly and the blade glanced off the many spikes on the body, inflicting no mark at all. His body perpendicular to Gravlix now, the bladeling stepped forward with his left foot, pulled with his right arm, and brought his right leg up and crashing through the half-dragon’s torso, spitting him as fully as a man lanced.

The talon of tiamat tried to manage one final blast of deadly breath, but simply gurgled and spat blood.

As the son of a red dragon slid slowly down onto the stones of Avernus, the bladeling turned to Ijien. “You are next, drow witch,” he hissed in a frightful, gashing metal voice.

“Please,” Ijien opened her hands before her, so as to be an unthreatening as possible. “I do not seek to fight you-“ she began.

“This one followed Tiamat, who would destroy this place, so to, you,” the bladeling intoned.

“He was only hired muscle-“ Ijien tried to explain, but the bladeling had begun to charge, so she altered her speech, snapping out instead a single potent word of power, learned in draconic of old. “Yrevpok!

That word of power could topple even mighty beings into spasms of wracking nausea and was the strongest attack Ijien wielded, but she felt it wash over this bladeling and achieve nothing, blocked by the resistance to spells of a powerful monk’s anchored being. She had but seconds more, before the bladeling would reach her and spit her, so she barked out a second rapid spell, and vanished from the place she stood only moments before the spiked arm passed through it. A brief sensation of eternal falling, and then Ijien materialized back at the entrance to the tunnel, having been whisked away by her dimensional door. It was, she recognized, only a temporary solution. Having escaped the guardian’s attack the drakes themselves would likely now be sent forth, to track her down before she could escape and tell of what she had found. Further, the sorceress strongly suspected that attempting to leave the crevice by magic would slam her into some kind of warding, and so she had jumped only this short distance. Her task now was not to flee, but to go back and to reason with this angry bladeling, if that was at all possible. She suspected such an action would take every ounce of persuasive skill she possessed, and a good bit of magic as well.

Rapidly Ijien snapped off a series of spells, unleashing the mystical power deep within, the power that flowed from the draconic heritage she too was heir to. A spell to increase the force and strength of her personality came first, followed by one to speak in any language she desired, then a spell to see creatures hidden by invisibility, to avoid surprises, and last a spell to give her voice and words the strength and persuasiveness of a dragon itself. Hopefully that would be sufficient.

Before descending back into the darkness Ijien used one last, simple, invocation, conjuring a few balls of light to bob before her. There was no need for surprises in either direction.

The drow was less than a minute back into the tunnel when she encountered the bladeling once more. Those metallic eyes where strange, but she thought she caught a look of surprise there before he steadied himself for another charge.

“Please wait,” Ijien implored, though her voice rang with power and authority. She was a female drow after all, and born of dragons as well. No little planar wastrel such as a bladeling would dare to ignore her. “I am not here to be your foe! I seek only the creatures who lie within, to expand my knowledge and understanding.”

“Pretty words, drow,” the bladeling snapped. “But you came with a follower of Tiamat, who seeks not servants but slaves, and on this plane, no one has anything but their own self-interest at heart.”

“I admit that to seek out dragons furthers my own power,” Ijien had no problem saying that; it was true, that was the nature of being a dracolexi. “But I am not here to enslave, only to study, to observe, to learn about something almost lost from knowledge. Is that not a great shame, creatures hidden out in this backwater corner of Baator?”

“You have a honeyed tongue for certain drow,” the bladelling gnashed. “How do I trust anything you say? And why should I even bother, what would I or my charges receive for aiding you?”

Ijien resisted the urge to smile at the bladeling’s admission that he was indeed some kind of guardian. “Perhaps my knowledge could well gain you something,” she offered carefully. “But I know so little or your concerns and this place that it would be hard to say what I might do for you.”

The bladeling paused, which Ijien took as a good sign, considering he was no longer trying to put his hand through her face. Now, however, she needed to wait, and hope the bladeling made her some kind of offer she could accept. She had little sense of the thought process behind those strange eyes. Ordinary humanoids, dragons, and even most fiends, were things the sorceress had learned to read and judge, but the bladeling was surprisingly opaque with his face shielded behind those deadly spikes.

“If I were to take you further, I must have assurance that you present no threat, and could no escape so readily,” it was not exactly an offer, but it was something Ijien could work with, in fact, it was rather a lot, actually. The drow suspected that this particular bladeling hadn’t been talking to anyone in a long time.

“That is a promise I am willing to make,” the sorceress was calm and clear. “If you will give your word in return that I will not be harmed if I offer no harm.”

Bladelings were lawful beings, and monks doubly so. Ijien knew that, if his word was given she could trust it. She had trusted the words are far more suspect and more powerful beings in her many years, and her judgment had not yet failed her enough to lose her life.

“Acceptable, but how can one who strikes with nothing but words not present a threat?”

“Easily enough,” Ijien shrugged, and slowly and deliberately, so to make no threatening motions, drew the narrow rapier she wore on her left hip. It was hardly much of a weapon in her hands, though occasionally useful, but it would serve greater purpose now. Carefully, the drow took the narrow adamantine blade and placed it between her teeth, clamping down so she held it there. In this fashion she would be unable to even begin a spell without dropping the weapon clattering to the floor.

“Very well,” the bladeling nodded, seemingly amused. “I give my word.”

Ijien felt a moment’s relief, and then suddenly the bladeling moved.

A thrusting swordpoint of an arm flashed past her head, dancing along the edge of her long hair, but not so much as brushing it with eyeblink speed. Ijien sucked in a slow breath around the heavy rapier blade, but never flinched. It wasn’t the first time anyone had tried that trick on her either.

“Come,” the bladeling gestured, and started walking into the darkness of the tunnel.

Ijien followed, and lisped slowly around her sword. “I am called Ijien Deepseeker, would you honor me with your name?”

“Eyepoint,” came the terse response.

Carefully, Ijien followed Eyepoint, taking her time in plotting her steps and glancing around. Though the bladeling might not harm her, she did not want to be surprised by anything else. Besides, any distraction was worthwhile to avoid considering the ultimately rather lousy taste of adamantine in her mouth. Typical of monks, this guardian was a brisk walker, and it was some work for the drow sorceress to keep up.

They shortly passed the point where Gravlix had fallen. His body remained, blood now running down slowly along the stones from the half-dragon and his dragonspawn. It made for some rather distasteful walking for a moment, as Ijien dodged red runnels with quick steps. Eyepoint seemed not care, of course he didn’t wear any sort of footwear either, such things rendered unnecessary by the many spikes projecting from his feet.

The pathway steepened for a bit, and then leveled off again, finally widening out graciously at about the point Ijien’s teeth were truly starting to ache. The jaw muscles of elves, even ones with a bit of dragon blood in them, were never designed to carry around rapiers.

Little, simple things that they were, the globes of light Ijien had conjured were insufficient to illuminate what was clearly a vast cavern expanding about her, but she noticed this only in passing, as moments after they stepped through something moved in the shadows.

A second later it broke into the light and the sorceress’ rapier clattered to the floor, as her mouth was hanging open in astonishment. The blade drakes had made their appearance.

They strange dragons were not especially large; in fact the sorceress estimated them among the smallest drakes she had ever encountered. They massed perhaps the same as a large bear or very large tiger, similar in size to the smallest of landwyrms, the plains type. Drakes they surely were despite this modest dwarfism, for they had powerful, snapping wings and all the proper bodily build. Their eyes burned as tarnished silver, fierce and fiery yet concealing so small amount of intelligence. All these things impressed Ijien, for though she was a scholar of dragons a true love for the great creatures had never been silenced in her, but it was the blades that awakened true astonishment. They came from all surfaces, even the bony edges and spurs of the wings, shining metallic blades coating the body. It was like the blades that covered their bladeling guardian, and yet not. Where his blades were made of many substances and chaotic in their profusion about the body, these blades were all streaming metal, and organized, flowing from front to back in a complex pattern, coating the drake in such a way as to maximize deadliness but hinder movement not at all.

“Magnificent,” Ijien whispered, unable for a moment to say anything else.One of the drakes moved close to her, breathing hot streams of air down on her face, and she stared back into its eyes. It appeared about ready to pounce for an instant, but Ijien was not worried. The ring upon her left hand bespoke friendship to all dragons, and so none would willingly harm her if she offered no violence of her own. Regardless, Eyepoint raised a hand. “Peace,” he said simply, and bent down, casually fingering her rapier by its sharp point, and then handing the hilt back to a surprised Ijien. “I can see you bring no malice upon us here.”

“I would not,” Ijien spoke, switching her language as she did so, no longer using the common planar tongue, but the draconic language instead. “These are impressive and unique beings, and I am amazed you have hidden here for so long, without the Baatezu destroying you.”

“It has not been easy,” the bladeling’s raspy voice held a peculiar combination of anger and sadness. “Once there were many more, but now only a struggling few remain. Every foray is a risk. Dozens could reside here, and did once, but now I can count all who remain upon my hands.”

“The devils wish to make us their pets,” the drake before Ijien hissed, anger in his deep and potent voice. “And Tiamat would do worse; she would try to breed us with her minions, to create new forms of dragons, all her slaves.”

“I sense there is a long tale to tell here,” Ijien began, and pulled her satchel forward from the back of her waist where it normally hung. “I should like to hear it, if I may, and meet you all; there is much to be learned here.”

“Only if they wish to share their secrets,” Eyepoint gestured, and the heads of several drakes now clustered about those few lights. “Why should you be deemed worthy?”

“I am a scholar,” the sorceress began. “Dragons and all their kin are my subject, and sorely neglected here upon the wide planes. Your tale, of drakes of many blades, is lost to the multiverse, only the barest whispers in dusty histories record you at all. I would set the truth to paper, that it might be shared, and made known to those we seek it for the proper reasons.”

“Like Eyepoint, bound to us,” another drake, and this one the listening drow could identify as female, spoke. “You are distant kin, and shall know us.”The sorceress settled to the floor, and with pen and ink began to listen to the long tale, learning the history of the blade drakes, their lives, their powers, and their secrets, all in very rough form, but it was a great store of knowledge poured out upon her. Many hours passed in that telling and Ijien renewed her glowing lights several times. When it was over she was exhausted, and curled up briefly against a stone wall for a few hours of restless sleep. Restless, for though she felt secure among the drakes, the stones beneath her yet belonged to Avernus, and this was still the air of Baator she breathed.

Eyepoint wakened her with a surprisingly delicate touch, no pain or prickling, all too soon. “Now we must decide what happens next,” he spoke gruffly, as if nothing stretched from this moment that he approved of occurring.

“Ah, yes,” Ijien had anticipated this. That was the trouble with learning secrets; the hardest part was taking them home with you once the learning was done.

“You do not wish to stay here forever,” the bladeling began, stating the obvious. “Yet for us to let you free represents a great risk, for you could be captured and what you have been told used to destroy of enslave those I protect. Worse, you, as a scholar, might reveal it freely, in the name of knowledge. I cannot let such risks be taken, yet I have no right to hold you here. So a solution must be found.”

“Hmm,” Ijien thought about it, considering the possibilities. “I should like to think I can escape Baator without any trouble. I have papers that should serve, and the distance is not great in any case. I could reach the Styx in only a few jumps via translocational magic, and once there summoning a Marrenoloth is simple enough. Once off Baator getting out of the Lower Planes and to safe locales is not especially difficult.”

“Perhaps,” Eyepoint admitted. “Nevertheless, the knowledge you possess makes you a risk wherever you go, for the devils wander the whole multiverse just as any other race.”

There was no way for the sorceress to refute this. Indeed, Eyepoint was generally correct, anything she did with the information she had gained would endanger these drakes in their hiding place. It was something of a new situation for her. Usually anything she learned upon the planes regarded beings who could well defend themselves and there was nothing a few reports would jeopardize, or occasionally, she simply did not care, normally one dragon one way or another meant little. Never before had she learned something that could determine the fate of an entire race, however reduced time might have made them. Yet, as she considered, Ijien realized that it ultimately would make no difference. Here on Baator these drakes were doomed. Eventually their numbers would dwindle to too few to sustain them, or something powerful enough to win past Eyepoint would find them, or some other calamity. Anything standing in opposition to the devils on this plane with less power than a god was inevitably doomed.

Considering this depressing thought, and wondering if it would have been better had she never brought herself and that foolish Gravlix here, the scholarly sorceress had a startling, shocking, and truly innovative idea. “If devils wander the whole multiverse,” Ijien began. “It would be best to have the whole of it to hide in, not this little spot of rock alone.”

“I don’t understand,” Eyepoint’s confusion was clear.

“Only nine drakes remain,” Ijien spoke matter-of-factly. “That will not last many centuries more, to stay on Baator is to die, even if you silenced me forever here and now. However, you might be able to survive someplace else.”

“Leave?” the bladeling’s voice was riddled with a totally uncharacteristic shock, and Ijien smiled slightly, it was not all that often that she managed to fully surprise someone who had a millennium or two behind him.

“Why not?” the sorceress asked, tossing her head slightly in one of the few coy drow motions she actually knew. “Gravlix had a permit allowing him and such spawn as he commanded to move about in Avernus and to leave the plane. That would get us by Baatezu guards.”

“I see no half-dragon or Tiamat whelps here,” Eyepoint retorted.

“True,” the sorceress admitted. “And invisibility will not fool Baatezu. However, to generate the appearance of a half-dragon and his leashed hunters would not be difficult. I have no illusion spells, but, unusual though they may be, blade drakes are still dragons.”

“Ah, hmm…” the bladeling stared at the drow with impossibly deep glimmering eyes. “Yet where would we go?”

“Occanthus perhaps?” Ijien offered. “The home of your people, and I imagine these drakes would find it similarly hospitable. It also has the advantage of being hostile enough that I doubt the Baatezu would have much luck finding you there.”

“I see,” Eyepoint decided. “You should go and ask the drakes themselves, though I doubt they will object. No one here has any love for this wretched plane. I shall go and see if there is a suitable spell scroll about. Should there be, and this plan succeeds, I will be forever in your debt.”

Ijien smiled lightly. Of course, she knew the bladeling spoke only for himself. The drakes might consider the sorceress to have done them a great service if this slightly mad plan succeeded, but only fools tried to call in debts owed to them by dragonkind.

* * *

Later, as the shores of Avernus grew mercifully separated by ever-widening stretches of the Styx, Ijien allowed herself to breathe properly again and think on what she had just presumably accomplished. Probably it was not much, in the great scheme of the planes. Even if the blade drakes made a new life on Acheron it would be millennia before their numbers were such to have any real influence on planar goings-on. To her, however, it meant a great deal more. Far and away beyond anything she had done prior as a scholar, this action had rendered a very direct service to dragonkind, something she had long hoped to accomplish. Have I taken a side today? She wondered, not truly knowing the answer. Perhaps I only took the side of knowledge and of dragons as a whole. Thinking back to the pages in Sigil that had led her on this strange and fortuitous journey, Ijien wondered if perhaps Io had guided her hand slightly, helping to insure the survival of one of his myriad children.

Ultimately Ijien found no hard answers there, and took solace in smaller things, concrete things an Anatomist learns to appreciate, for the great ones always seem to slip away. Patting her satchel reminded her of them: much learned of dragons and a new living creature, a new ally made in Eyepoint, and even a tidy little sum, for the drakes had been forced to abandon their hoards, and Ijien had been welcome to some of the more highly compact forms of wealth. I look forward to not worrying about the cost of paper, ink, or any other supplies for a few decades; she chuckled mildly, until silenced by a cold look from the Marrenoloth boatman.

The look served as a reminder, a true scholar could never cease poling along that dangerous river called knowledge, and dragons swam in hers. Ijien Deepseeker, child of dragons and the planes, would have it no other way.

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