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Dragon Crown Trilogy Book One The Senechal

A novel By Gene Cox Published October, 2012


Gene Cox Books 827 W Harwood Rd. Hurst, TX 76054 genecoxbooks.com gene@genecoxbooks.com Copyright 2012, all rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Printed in the United States of America


Prelude The dirty little man kicked trash around in the alley. The ground of the alley, like the ground of most streets in Dragon Crown, was a mixture of human refuse, horse refuse, and mud. There was no telling what would be unearthed with a kick. The expected smell rose from the alley, but it was doubtful he noticed it. The rain was expected to clean them both but it only made them worse. The little man sat his bag down and reached to the ground. He came back up with a stick. He looked it over. Apparently satisfied he broke the small branches off then took out one of his four knives and carved it into a fairly straight stick. Then he found a piece of charcoal and made it a black stick. He held it out at arm’s length and turned it around, looking it over. A smile appeared on his dirty and unshaven face. He opened his bag and pulled out a full length hooded robe. It was springtime, and a little warm for such a robe but he donned it anyway. Then he waited by the corner of the alley. It was not long before he heard the heavy clumping of boots. They clogged in rhythm, informing anyone who could not see them that it was a company of Dragon Crown Guards. The little man jumped into the street, stuck out his right arm, and pointed the stick at them. Two ladies approaching the alley on the street screamed, drawing the attention of the guard. “Watch out! He's got a wand!” The small company of guards stopped and froze. The sergeant in front quickly appraised the situation. He slowly raised his hands, palms out. “We mean you no harm, mister wizard. We are the Dragon Crown Guard. Now if you would, sir, please lower that wand." “I'm the one calling the shots here,” the gruff voice from within the hood said. “Now drop your weapons." The guards froze in place, more from the unusual situation than from fear. “Or would you rather be barbecued with a fireball?” The hooded figure added. Say no more. The seven guards carefully drew their swords and laid them on the ground. They took their bows off their backs and laid them down as well. “Now untie and drop your pouches. All of them. And hurry!” He waved the stick menacingly. “Do it men,” Said the sergeant. There were grumbles but they obeyed. “Now keep walking down the street. If anyone turns around he will be better cooked than his breakfast!” Looking dejected, the seven soldiers tromped past the alley and down the street. The little man got his bag and filled it with the pouches of the guards. The weapons he wanted he stuck in his belt under his robe. Then he ran to the horrified ladies and snatched the purses out of their hands. Dropping the stick, he ran into the alley and disappeared. A man in an alcove across the street watched the entire show. He was a government official and should have done something to keep a member of Dragon Crown's thieves guild from succeeding in the robbery. But it was very important that he remained unnoticed. He shook his head and looked up at the sky. Dark, gray clouds that looked like they had fought a battle among themselves hung threateningly over the castle. They always did during the spring months. They were low enough that the pseudodragons chased each other in and out of the clouds, biting and screeching at each other. An imp that had strayed too far from his wizard master became lunch, with a few pieces of him left to rain down on the street. Huge statues of Dragon Crown's most important people topped the churches and government buildings. Today, they visited whatever was hiding in the clouds. Castle Dragon Crown was built to defy the world. The bottom was a huge flat topped pyramid, with hundreds of steps leading to the top. On this base a huge black marble castle was built. It was


large enough to contain the armies of Dragon Crown but at present only housed the monarchy and their personal guards. Several towers rose hundreds of feet high, rising above the main portion of the castle. The black marble reflected nothing, only absorbing. On top of the towers extensions were built that reached up to the sky like huge claws. The castle seemed to threaten the heavens and its gods. From the side of the Wise Dragon he studied the castle a quarter of a mile away. He worked for Queen Qualiandra, but he despised her. He had come an hour early. He studied every window in every room of every building. He studied everything flying around in the sky. He studied everyone and everything that walked on the street. The Wise Dragon was where prospective students for the University of Dragon Crown stayed while seeking admission. It was not crowded this time of year but there were students milling around, going back and forth to the university, several blocks away. He wore a beard, round glasses, and a teacher’s smock. A leather bound book was in his hand. Convinced that nothing walking, flying, or hiding was observing him he struck a tindertwig on the wall beside him. It flared to life. He extinguished it and put it back in his pocket. Across the street was a bookstore. A slim woman with several books walked out from the shadowy side of the building. She was wearing a U of DC vest, Scarlet and black, the school colors. She looked like a student yet resented the walk across the street. They both had good reason to prefer the shadows, for one was a traitor and the other was a spy. A pseudodragon attacked one of the student's imps above the street and a bloody wing bounced onto the street. The woman continued across the street taking no notice of the grizzly sight. The citizens of Dragon Crown were still waking up. The ditches beside the street ran with sewage from chamber pots and water from wash basins. Everyone had a cooking fire going. Smoke and the smell of fresh bread and roasting meats clung in the air, reducing the visibility and competing with the street for the stronger smell. The lady joined the man in the alcove. “What you claim is preposterous,” the man said, looking ahead, not at her. “All the women the king has been with – and there were many; have been checked. The king has no heir." “Am – you've missed one." She had a slight smirk and a gleam in her upturned eyes. “Like a spider, women can be very crafty in capturing their prey." “You have proof?” “Yes, of course." “Who is she?” “Not – so – fast,” she said, turning sideways. “You men need to slow down and enjoy the game." “This is my game,” he spat, turning red, trying to control his voice. “Toy with me wench and you will be in the castle dungeons faster than you can yell. First, your beauty will be taken from you. Then the long torture begins." “I have proof. I know the pregnant lady. You will realize that I am telling the truth when I expose her." “What do you want?” “I want ten thousand gold in my bank account in Porsasi. Here is the number.” She passed him a small piece of paper. He memorized it and ate it. “The queen will never pay this much. Not without proof." “The queen has no choice. It will be worth much more than gold to know she has competition." The spy sighed. This was always how his business went. “I'll meet with the queen and be in touch." Dropping her smug grin the lady turned and walked toward the university. Special Agent Kindler of the SIS took his hand off the dagger hidden in his sleeve. He watched for a few minutes.


Satisfied that there were no of observers he walked down the street to one of the agency's safe houses. He entered the front door and continued straight out the back door. He was no longer an instructor, but a common merchant. Three more blocks he walked into in another safe house. He took the stairs leading to a tunnel below then followed them to the three Secret Intelligence Service floors beneath the castle. He dropped his cloak on his desk and went to report to his supervisor, Dimple Garrick, DNI, Director of National intelligence. The cloak and dagger game is a dangerous one, and one never knows for sure if he is being observed. There were many ways, both magical and mundane. The woman returned to her flat in the Lofts area not far from the University. She was not alone. She did not realize it until it was too late. A person with a black mask ran a knife across her throat, slicing it deeply. The scream came out of the gash in her throat spraying drops of blood on the assassin. He cursed under his breath, took off his mask, and exited to the street below. Several days later the smell told the tenants of the building that something was wrong with the resident of 3D.


The Secret Way Society of Albarim

Area: Kilake, Vartis, Vartisian Gulf Subject: Commandant Marcus Pearl, King’s Company Date: 12 Eras, 4692


In 4674 an event occurred in Dragon Crown which scared its citizens more than anything had in their memory. An extremely powerful force splintered several of their larger buildings like they were made of paper. Hundreds died. People were in panic and in shock. They demanded that Queen Dominis do something. The populace of Dragon Crown was scared and stopped thinking. A terrible event occurred, true. But much larger percentages of the population had been killed by plagues and barbarian invaders. But this was different due to the type of attack. Most of Dragon Crown's wealth, and much money borrowed from Chalin, would be spent on a defense of something that had never happened before and would probably never happen again. Queen Dominis saw the reality of the situation, a quality most good rulers have. An opportunity existed to spend a lot of her cities wealth on something that would make her look more powerful among other rulers. She took it. From a single dragon attack a much improved Dragon Crown Navy was planned, built, and paid for. The dragon was a very formidable dragon, yes. The red dragon was known as Aspar. Aspar had terrorized Basil in 4569, Plallin's Cove in 4571 and 4661, then Vendrane and Dragon Crown in 4674. He really did not justify a large Navy, but Queen Dominis could sail it around Surnia and impress other countries, so it was worth it to her. The Navy ships were built in the large shipyards in Olengard, Chalin. The best ship building wizards from Albarim were hired to design and build the magical constructs. The ships were completed six years later. Everyone hoped Aspar would understand and delay attacking Vartis again until the ships were complete. Wizards were paid to keep Aspar away. After a couple of years of no Aspar they claimed to be successful and were paid. Most of the younger population of Dragon Crown wondered why they had such a large navy. It looked humongous when it was anchored close to Dragon Crown. The sailors were mostly halflings. It seemed like thousands of them were lined up in their dress white uniforms on the huge carrier. The older citizens were too busy worrying about food to worry about ships. Thirty four years later, still no Aspar. Pirates were a problem along the western coast of Surnia. The pirates had their own country, called The Shackles. From there, Captain Blonfist, the Hurricane King sent his pirate ships after sustenance for their country. Chalin had a territory known as Sagava south of The Shackles. It was rich in natural wealth and Chalin brought as much of it as possible back to Chalin. But those ships had to pass The Shackles. Chalin had a large navy but they preferred to keep it near their port city Alengard in The Inner Sea. Too many attackers could come from The Inner Sea. Their merchants on their west coast would have to do the best they could. Other countries on the coast of the Acadian Ocean such as Rahdum and Slidal were grieved by Captain Blonfist as well. Queen Dominis saw a way to show off her navy and make money. The Navy would patrol the Acadian Ocean and capture pirates chasing other ships. The pirates were imprisoned and used for various financial gains and their ships sunk or sold. The country of whose ship was spared by her navy paid a protection fee to Dragon Crown. If they didn't there was no more protection. And some say the Navy would let the pirate ships pursue the delinquent country's ships. The Dragon Crown Navy had been on patrol for three months in the southern Arcadian Ocean. They had captured four pirate ships total on three different occasions, each time chasing Chalin merchant ships. The pirate's ships had been sunk and the pirates put in chains in the holds of the cruiser KVG Plallin. The Hippogriff Carrier KVC Dragon Crown had pulled into the city of Gamilar for shore leave. The Guided Arrow Cruiser KVG Plallin sailed to Ripolport to unload her prisoners to the prison camps and her sailors take shore leave there. The Battleship KVB Ornelose and the Supply Ship KVS Eodred took leave in Ripolo’s Cove. The Command Ship, KVM Pearl, pulled into Sandpoint.


The Air Force of Dragon Crown was known as King’s Company. It contained five bomber squadrons and ten strike squadrons of mounted hippogriff Marines. The commander of King’s Company was a military genius named Marcus Thalassinus Pearl. He was also the head of one of Dragon Crown's five powerful King’s families – House Pearl. Marcus came from a long line of military geniuses. It began when Waydron Pearl founded King’s Company and 4409. The family had produced military leaders ever since. Marcus was tired and sore from the voyage. He wanted to be alone and relax. He ordered a hippogriff be sent from Gamilar. As he waited, he packed a backpack with food and mead. The hippogriff landed on the hippogriff pad on the rear of the ship and its rider dismounted. Marcus walked to the hippogriff. He wore no armor or uniform and carried no weapons. He wore only shorts, a shirt, boots, and the backpack. He put the backpack on then mounted the hippogriff. It rose on its horse-like back legs, jumped into the air, flapped its wings and was airborne. Its large falcon head bit at the bridle as Marcus spurred it to the North. Marcus rode the hippogriff four miles up the coast to Thistletop. They flew around the large head shaped rock just off the coast, found a deserted stretch of brown sand beach and landed. He took off the saddle and bridle and let the griff feed in the woods. Nothing could please it more. The woods were full of goblins. Marcus knew the hippogriff would return before dark and its roosting time. That gave him several hours of complete peace and quiet on the lonely beach. Marcus watched the hippogriff fly off then began unpacking his pack. He spread out a blanket and put his pack on it. He took a bottle of mead out and took a big drink. Replacing the cork he looked into the peaceful Vartisian Gulf. The slowly slapping waves seemed to be calling him. He took off his boots and clothes and went for a swim. The water was cool due to the cold currents flowing south from the Lands of the Linnorm Kings. They swirled around the Gulf then exited to the ocean. Marcus lay on his back letting the waves bounce him up and down. He swam around a little, and then took handfuls of sand he was standing on and scrubbed his body and hair. Then he swam some more. Gulls hovering overhead wondered if he was somehow involved in their food chain. Brightly colored fish swam around in the crystal clear water he was standing in. Marcus smacked his lips and decided more mead was in order. He walked out of the ocean, put his shorts on, and sat down. He did not know why he bothered, but he did. The cork came out of the mead bottle and much of its contents disappeared. Then he unpacked his pack. From behind the tree line and behind a bush two red eyes observed him. She threw down the rotten fish she had in her hand and her stomach growled at her. Manly lived in nearby Nettlewood. Her tribe made their homes in the briars and thistles that grew there. Manley was young and had yet to marry. But like most young goblin females she longed to marry. She had been caught in the wrong hut and a furious wife had chased her around the tunnels and nettles and finally out of their area. Goblins lived for events like this to occur. They cheered and clapped, running along side the furious and scared goblins. Occasionally they would trip the chaser if she got too close to prolong the entertainment. When the young goblin girl finally found a means of escape they frowned and returned to polishing their treasures. Manley had trudged along the beach for weeks, eating lichens, reeds, and dead fish that floated onto the beach. She even sold her shirt to another goblin for a piece of unidentifiable meat. Manly had watched Marcus swimming. Now the human was pulling things out of his pack. She could smell the meat. She was ravenously hungry. Marcus laid the bundle down and unwrapped it. There was a two inch slab of meat. Manly inadvertently made a vocal sound. She instantly crouched lower. Marcus looked around, shook his head, and then looked for a knife to carve the meat. He had forgotten to bring one. Marcus pulled off a chunk and started eating it. It was fresh and warm. He pulled the loaf of bread of the pack and another bottle of mead. After a big drink he tried to re-cork the bottle but the cork rolled out of his hands and off the blanket. On hands and knees he chased it down. As he captured the runaway cork he noticed a


strange looking shadow on the sand. He looked up and his heart felt like someone had struck it with a hammer. Actually it scared them both. Manley had heard about humans and that they killed goblins. However, she had never witnessed such an event. She had also witnessed many times how for some reason a female goblin could get something from a male goblin and both of them would smile about it. A male getting something from another male goblin would have to fight for it. She was extremely hungry and food was right there. Good food. She was not sure what she was going to have to do to get some of it but her hunger made her try. Marcus had been leader of over three hundred hippogriff mounted Marines for seven years. He had often seen a hippogriff eat a goblin. Goblins raided places for food and junk. But mostly he considered them a nuisance. She wore a ragged hole filled red skirt, a necklace of teeth from various animals, and two leather bracelets. She wore no shirt or shoes. Marcus was thirty, in the prime of his life and manhood. He had been at sea for over three months. But even when he was at his house he could not stand to be around his wife. It was a political marriage, not a marriage of love. And her body was not shapely. Marcus looked up at her face and followed her eyes to the slab of meat. Then he looked back up at her mouth. She had a very big mouth filled with hundreds of long sharp teeth. He had no weapons, not even a knife. Fighting her hand to hand could be a problem. One bite and a large chunk of him would be gone. He decided that feeding her was probably his best defense. Their eyes met. Neither knew whether they were supposed to play the predator or prey role. It was very confusing. Marcus very carefully crawled on all fours backwards onto the blanket. Her face was higher than his. It would be less threatening. He slowly sat down. His eyes still looked to hers. She stood motionless waiting to see what the human was going to do. Marcus tore off a piece of meat and held it out in his hand. Her eyes focused on the food and her body followed. With her clawed fingers she took the meat. She forgot about everything else but the food. She was young and female and had never been in a dangerous situation before. She sat down and devoured the handful of meat. Marcus was amazed at what her teeth could do to the meat. When it was gone she looked back at Marcus. He handed her more and took some for himself. He handed her a chunk of bread. She smelled it with her little doggy nose and set it aside, preferring the meat. Marcus tried not to stare at her, but could not help it. She was sitting close to him, seemingly oblivious to his stares. He handed her a large piece of meat then carefully got up and went to the ocean to wash his hands. When he returned he sat beside her. She stopped eating and looked at him. She looked at his eyes, his nose, his mouth, and his hands. He did not look dangerous. He was just bigger. She went back to eating. Marcus looked at her. She had gray wrinkled skin, a large head, very large ears, a broad forehead and a puggy dog nose. And that huge mouth full of teeth. When his eyes went lower she looked pretty much like a small human woman except her skin was leathery and gray. He pictured in his mind her turning her face to him and ripping the side of his face off. Decisions decisions. Manly looked back at Marcus who was staring at her. His body was different from male goblins but he was still a male. She knew he wanted her. Females easily sense when a male wants them. That was also what she wanted. And he had fed her. Attacking him was the last thing on her mind, but Marcus did not know that. He saw monster. Monsters were not for loving. That would be crazy. But – no one was around. Manly finished her chunk of meat then looked at Marcus. Carefully, she traced a claw of her right hand over his body. She traced his facial features then his chest. It was new and interesting to her. Marcus was staring at her. Except for the monster head she was just a female. He looked into her face, hard. Was it okay? Was it okay? He just had to know. Carefully he leaned over to her and they stared at each other, eye to eye. He felt only peace. Then he looked at her mouth. That huge mouthful of teeth. If only those were not there. Very carefully


he rolled closer to her. Her teeth were at his throat level. Was he crazy or what? Ever so slowly he put his arm around her. She moved and he momentarily froze. Then he continued. At first, they were very leery of each other. As time went on they were more relaxed. She would trace his facial features and play with his hair. At first he had avoided her face. Now he was comfortable looking at her. After the romance was finished, they sat up and finished the food and mead. Marcus's hippogriff called from overhead. It probably thought its rider had caught a goblin to eat. Manly started to run when she saw the hippogriff, but Marcus caught her. He gave her his shirt, which of course was much too big. He gave her all the meat he had, his backpack and the mead. Reaching around his neck he took a gold medallion of House Pearl and put it around her neck. He let her go and she ran to the tree line. The hippogriff landed and Commandant Marcus Pearl boarded. He looked back at the tree line. Was she crying? Marcus returned to the Command Ship and let the griff be flown back to the carrier. That night Marcus lay in his bed remembering the goblin girl. Any man alone on a deserted beach with a goblin girl would have done the same thing, he kept telling himself. For several nights he thought of her. Then slowly the memories faded away.

Secret Way – Jask Ebbesell Venture Captain – Dara Farlane Decemvirate Approved – 12 Rova, 4692 AR


He closed the folio and tossed it on the table between them. Then he looked back up at his host. The venture-captain had been studying the wizard. The man spoke volumes. Those eyes. His eyes were a white brilliant star. He had the eyes and face of a god. There were more lines on his face than in the manuscript he had just read. Those eyes. They produced a stare you would dare not challenge. The wizard wore a rich royal blue vest and coat. He was not out of place in the luxurious surroundings of Shyreach in the Grand Lodge of Albarim. Several belts and pouches hung from his waist, from which many smells arose. Some were identifiable, such as sulfur, bat guano, rose petals, and various incenses. The rest were complex and unknown. Venture Captain Durvin Gest XIV was a Librarian of Special Interest, assigned to the main Secret Way library at Albarim. When someone with enough power, money, or both, wished to gain information, the Decemvirate would decide if they should be told. If they decided to divulge the information, the guest was sent to one of several Librarians of Special Interest who would provide the requested information. The area of interest determined which librarian they were sent to. Durvin Gest specialized in Vartis. He came from a long line of Secret Ways librarians. Many of which had gathered information in Vartis, the area of interest to the Wizard. “This Commandant Pearl plays a part in the information I seek?” Those eyes. “Yes, he will. This is the only copy of this folio. It is rarely read for obvious reasons. We do not assist blackmailers or other criminals of information." The young human girl returned to refill their goblets with wine. The goblets were of the finest crystal. The chairs they sat on were the finest leather. The paintings that hung on the walls in the reading room came from the far corners of the world of Austin. One was obviously Vundari. The Tigers seemed to walk around in the frame. Antiques, not seen elsewhere, sat on tables and adorned bookcases. “I assure you I am not a criminal of information." The eyes burned him. “I did not mean to infer you were, sir. My apologies." The wizard took a drink from his goblet. “Shall we continue?” “Yes, of course." The venture-captain spoke a word, but the wizard did not hear it. What he heard was the voices of many children. Some children were playing various games. Some children spoke to each other. They were soft but got louder as the attic whisperer walked its fleshless form into the room. One hand held a large leather bound book. In the other arm was a doll with pins for eyes. The empty black holes of this fox skull head regarded the librarian. The librarian stretched out his hand and the undead creature handed him the thick leather book. The librarian nodded to the table. The attic whisperer took the folio and retreated the way he had come. The voices of the children retreated with him. The wizard did not appear unsettled by the presence of the undead creature. The librarian leaned over in his chair and handed the book to the wizard. “This volume will especially interest you, I think. It develops several sources of power in Kilake in general and Dragon Crown in particular." The librarian sat back his chair. He reached for his pipe and began to prepare it. He was trying to avoid the eyes. The wizard took the volume. The leather was the finest. The leather was well oiled and cared for. On the cover was the Glyph of the Secret Way. He opened the cover and began to read.


The Secret Way Society of Albarim

Area: Kilake, Vartis, Dragon Crown Subject: Government of Dragon Crown Date: 8 Phast, 4708 AR to 11 Gozran, 4708 AR


Chapter 1 Queen Qualiandra 9 Phast, the third month of 4708, Castle Dragon Crown, 9:00 AM Queen Qualiandra stopped in front of two large black doors. They were not stone nor were they wood. Scenes from the Nine Hells of Xeros were carved on their shimmering surfaces. Two Royal Scarlet Guards snapped to attention, opened the doors, and then stood to the side. After the queen entered they closed the doors then stood in front of them. The queen took every article of clothing off. She folded her robe and dress and put them by the door. Her shoes went beside them and her crown on top. She turned and faced the altar. On a pedestal was a large egg-shaped breathing mass of orange and red, a krakin. The Lords of the Nine oversee the devils in the Nine Hells. A devil who commits an offense against the Nine Hells is slain by being sliced in half with a special sword. The remains are thrown in a pit at the bottom of the layers of the Nine Hells. This pit produces a seething orange red ooze from which krakins are made. The floor in front of the krakin was orange and red as well and seemed to breathe. The queen lay on the floor in front of the krakin, fully prone and fully naked. Behind the altar were three large arches with Scarlet curtains. In the arches were pictures of a large devil in various battles. On the sides were paintings from Styrgia, the fifth layer of Xeros. They were magically enhanced to exist on the material plane. To the left of the altar stood a cleric of Malakon. She was translucent white with glowing black hair which she tied in a large pony tail. It stuck out a foot behind her. Then it fell to her waist. She had lots of hair. Her dark Scarlet lips were closed. Her jet black eyes watched the queen. Her green dress showed much of her skin. She waited for the queen to speak. “What is the will of Malakon?” Steam rose from where her skin touched the floor. The krakin breathed in and out. The cleric let her lay on the floor in front of her. “You must decree that everyone in the castle worship Malakon, or your city will be taken from you. Hear his will Queen Qualiandra Zelara Alighiere. You will soon have a powerful enemy of which you are not aware." The queen's skin sizzled where it touched the floor. It sputtered and popped occasionally. Qualiandra showed no emotion. “I will do as Malakon commands." “Good. He will aid you as always." The smell of burning flesh rose from the floor. It wafted toward and was inhaled by the krakin. “Go. Go with Malakon.” The priestess said. She watched the queen peel herself off the floor. Layers of skin from her thighs, breasts, and legs remained. Small round areas of flesh stayed on the floor where her chest had been. The cleric of Malakon looked at the queen then down at herself. She smiled. The queen dressed and replaced the crown on her head. The pain and the crown drove her forward. She exited the temple. After she left, the patches of skin were absorbed into the floor. Queen Qualiandra led her guards through the castle at a march. Anyone who did not get out of the way fast enough was arrested, taken to the dungeon, and their ankles broken. Qualiandra was born and raised in a royal family of Chalin, Segalian. She was the second daughter of three and had four older brothers. House Zexta was one of the four highest houses of Chalin. Politically they were two down from House Torin, the ruling house. They had awesome wealth


from trading with Chalin's various colonies. Only so many children of a King’s family could be Kings. Her eldest brother and sister took that role. That left her sitting pretty in a life of luxury. Wealth was wonderful, but power was everything. She knew of the womanizing habits of the old fool of a king in Dragon Crown. She decided to share his throne. At the age of seventeen she put on her sexiest dress and traveled to Dragon Crown with the Chalin Ambassador. After a favor he introduced her to King Alighiere II, who was instantly slain by her youthful beauty. In a very short time they were married. It was a scandal but neither cared. Her parents were not pleased. They had plans for her in Chalin. How dare she run off and marry the self-proclaimed king of a colony of Chalin. House Zexta had a large temple to Malakon, a devil many of the Chelinish worshiped. Qualiandra already worshiped the devil when she arrived in Dragon Crown. Queen Domixis, the mother of Alighiere II, who ruled before him, worshiped Malakon as well. Queen Domixis was also distantly related to Selene I of House Torin. When she took the Scarlet Throne she had the Temple of Malakon built in Castle Dragon Crown and a cleric sent from Segalian. Her son, Erdrin, did his best to ignore Malakon. He worshiped the female body. If a few people had to die for him to get the female of his current whim, so be it. Qualiandra was raised in luxury and power. It was no big step for her to be a queen. She was content with her role. She let her husband do what he wanted and she did what she wanted. Together they spent the city's wealth on various projects. Many of those projects were for the monarchy and Castle Dragon Crown. One day while wandering around in the treasury in the underground levels of the castle she found a secret door. It took her a week to figure out how to get in, but she did. Inside were strange markings on the wall and a sarcophagus in the center. Casually she opened it to see who was inside. An aura escaped and infused with hers. She was a new and changed person, but she did not realize it. Inside the sarcophagus was a set of fangs. She took them and had them made into the crown she now wore. Back with a vengeance was her desire for power. She decided she wanted the throne, all of it. She devised a plan to get rid of Erdrin and succeeded. She updated the girls in the harem, had most of the furniture in the castle moved around several times (everyone had to help), and settled in as a twenty one year old monarch. Qualiandra turned right out of Corridor of Fame, the grand central passage on the ground floor of the Epochal Tower, the largest tower of the castle. On the sides were busts and statues of the leaders of Dragon Crown during its three hundred year history. In the arched ceilings above were painted its battles. Qualiandra marched forth purposely. The two Royal Scarlet Guards marching behind her, at a rhythmic clank that was heard down the Corridor of Fame. This told the other Royal Scarlet Guards, wizards, and others, to stepped aside. She was young, but she knew how to eschew power. Her bright red hair made her eyes seem an evil red. She had pointed pinched features of someone in control. She was all business. The crown of fangs gleamed on her head. At the end of the Corridor of Fame was a large spiral staircase which ascended to the top of the tower. Qualiandra and her guards marched to the third floor, the throne room, for her daily meeting with her advisers. There was pain where her skin had been burned, but that just added to her attitude of resolve. The third floor of the Epochal Tower was a huge throne room. The Scarlet Throne was in the middle. There was no other furniture on that floor. The guards stepped inside the doors and closed them. Her advisers, secretary, and scribe stood at attention along the sides of a scarlet rug leading to the Scarlet Throne. She passed through them without eye contact and sat on the throne. She sat slouched on the throne. Legs spread and arms fully


extended on the armrest. It was a display of female power. On her right was Field Marshall Casandra Bishop, leader of Dragon Crown Guard, a police force of over seven hundred. She looked tired with dark circles under her eyes. Qualiandra wondered how long her forces would stay together in the current violent political state of Dragon Crown. Beside Bishop stood Sabrina Merrok. She was the very young and very sexy. She was the leader of the Royal Scarlet Guard, the queen's elite guards. Sabrina had been taught to fight by the city's best, Vincent Orbini. Sabrina's armor followed the curves of her body and left her thighs, arms, and chest exposed. She was also Qualiandra's pet. When Qualiandra acquired the throne the Royal Scarlet Guard did not exist, only the Dragon Crown guard. The problem was that Dragon Crown had what was called a Peerage Review. They consisted of the leaders of the five royal houses of Dragon Crown. With a unanimous vote they could countermand her orders to the Dragon Crown Guard. It was an amendment to the charter of Dragon Crown she could not change without raising the extreme ire of the Peerage Review members. With the support of the seneschal and an arbiter they could remove her from office. So she formed her own elite guard of warrior women and let the Dragon Crown Guard go to ruin. On her left stood Mistress of Blades Mariana Fox, Field Commander of the Order of the Dark Forest, Chelinish mercenaries. Fox wore the armor of the Blacknights but her helmet was in her hand. Beside her was Nicoleta Medici, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service of Dragon Crown, or SIS. Nicoleta was the highest ranking spy in Dragon Crown. Nicoleta was a gnome who always wore dark glasses. Through her dark glasses she looked for subtle clues in the monarch. She thought she saw pain. Beside Qualiandra were the State Secretary and Scribe. They would take care of state matters and publish royal decrees. The queen began without preamble. “It is customary in Dragon Crown for the leader of King’s Company to pledge allegiance to a new monarch. This has not happened yet. Why?" “With his boss, the seneschal, on the run from the Red Cretins assassins, he may not know what to do,” Mistress of Blades Fox ventured. That made it uncomfortable, since Qualiandra had sent the Red Cretins after the seneschal. They were probably thinking, “Well, what did you expect? You sent assassins after their leader.” “I need their loyalty." “Then we need a new seneschal,” Fox said. Qualiandra looked at Sabrina. Her beauty enthralled her. It was difficult to keep her mind on business. “Tell those bugs I want a dead seneschal." “Yes my queen,” said Sabrina, slightly bowing her head. “Next, I hereby make a royal decree that every citizen in the castle will worship Malakon. No one will be exempt." Her advisers swayed slightly. “All clerics of gods and goddesses other than Malakon have one month to dismantle their temples and leave the castle. Any remaining at the end of that month will be taken to the Temple of Malakon and tortured until they die. “So let it be written,” said the scribe. “So let it be done,” said the secretary. Qualiandra never ceased to amaze her advisers. She really succeeded now. “Send Bishop A’Beare of the Fateful Church of Phasma to my quarters.” “Yes my queen,” said the secretary. “But you just banned all clerics other than Malakon from the castle, my queen,” said Fox. Iced daggers flew into the Mistress of Blades. “Do you contradict my orders?” “No! No! Of course not, my queen.”


“Well then. Okay” “Any information from any of you?” “No, my queen,” each adviser said. No one liked to volunteer bad news. “I shall be in my quarters. Send the bishop up when she arrives." “Yes my queen,” said the secretary. Qualiandra rose. The advisers faced each other and snapped to attention. Qualiandra walked down the scarlet carpet. The doors were opened by her guards. They followed her to her quarters on floors six to ten of the tower. Castle Dragon Crown had an incredibly tall wall of black granite which was brought in by wagon from Zandoff. When the castle was finished they would have brought in over 14,000,000 slabs of granite. 2,500 dwarfs from Zandoff built the castle. The main walls were completed in 4464. Inside the walls were a large parade ground, three huge towers, and buildings for guards and castle keepers. The parade grounds were built for the Dragon Crown Guard. Now the bright shining full plate armor of the Royal Scarlet Guard was seen, their Scarlet plumes flying in the wind. The two large castle gates in the wall opened for troops to enter and exit, otherwise there were small gates on two sides for those conducting business at the castle. The largest tower size wise was Epochal tower, where the Scarlet Throne was located. The lower three floors were for government use. Several floors were huge ball rooms and meeting rooms. There were floors for quarters where most of the Royal Scarlet Guard stayed. The harem and library were on other floors. There was a large bathing room for the queen, with many attendants. On the top floors were Qualiandra's quarters. The tallest tower was Seawatch Tower, where weapons and magical research occurred. There was housing for wizards and aeries for their familiars. Military Tower stood on the opposite side of the complex. It contained hippogriff aeries and military quarters. Most were unused at present. Floors of paintings and artifacts of Dragon Crown's battles were well maintained. There were an unknown number of floors beneath the castle. Three were used by the Secret Intelligence Service and two for the dungeons. One was the royal treasury. The tunnels below them existed when Dragon Crown was “discovered” in 4407, and its native inhabitants relocated or killed. That evening Queen Qualiandra went to the top of Epochal tower. She could see all of Dragon Crown and much of the surrounding countryside. She let the cool breeze blow through her sheer nightgown and looked at all that was hers. A pseudodragon landed on the ledge of the top of the tower. It looked at Qualiandra and probably thought how did she get here? Qualiandra made him her sounding board. “I have my personal guard of warrior women. Now I will eradicate the undesirable poor and ethnic peoples. I'll use the Houses, shipping, and Navy to make me wealthy. True power is finally mine." The pseudodragon looked at her like he understood. She turned and walked to her sleeping chambers where Sabrina was waiting for her.


Chapter 2 Seneschal Peopolis 10 Phast, Old Dragon Crown, 9:00 am. As the Jaggare River empties into Conqueror's Bay it winds around a peninsula on which the city of Dragon Crown was built. The peninsula is divided by the Narrows of St. Akila, a small waterway. Old Dragon Crown, so named because it was where the city began, is the northern piece of land. A block north of the waterway, Wave Street follows the potato shaped curve of the southern edge of Old Dragon Crown. Between Wave Street and the Narrows are dilapidated residents built with boards found floating down the river and stones found lying along its sides. There are no gaps, only crowded habitats which hold each other up. Laundry was attached to most open windows, flapping in the breeze. These buildings were two or three story. On top of these buildings are built what Dragon Crowns call the Lofts. Tents and temporary housing of all types adorn the roofs. The Lofts provide housing for the very poor, criminals evading justice, and creatures looking for easy prey. They pay the residents of the lower layers a few coppers rent a week and their shacks are left alone. Weak pole bridges and an occasional stone bridge cross The Narrows to the rest of Dragon Crown. There is one large and well built bridge that runs across the Narrows. It was built for the military's crossing. The road is called Mainshore Boulevard on the mainland and Fort Dragon Crown Boulevard in Old Dragon Crown. On the corner of Wave Street and Fort Dragon Crown Boulevard is a complex of three old and crumbling buildings. The main one has a large symbol above the weathered doors which faces the corner. It is a large circle with an eye in the middle. Wings are attached to the top of the open eye. It is the symbol of Daroden. The building is in extreme despair as are the other buildings in the area. The demigod Daroden died in 4606 AR and caused tremendous problems in countries where he was worshiped. Dragon Crown's colonial master, Chalin, was thrown into complete chaos without a divine mandate. Daroden's faithful said Daroden would return but famine came instead and the diabolical House Torin wrestled control of Chalin. A rusty old priest stood before the open doors. On his head was the symbol of Daroden. Skin on his face sagged in many rows. Dark circles surrounded his eyes. A white beard flowed to his waist. He walked back and forth on the porch kicking small stones kids had thrown there. Across the street a small human boy was pulling on the ears of a half-elven girl. Her shrill shriek had animals scrambling about which would normally be in some hole. Women were in nearly every window doing laundry. On top of the buildings makeshift clotheslines held an incredible array of rags. The priest turned and went in his small and dilapidated temple. Rows of empty pews led to an altar, above which was a large symbol of Daroden. Daroden in his earthly and heavenly endeavors was painted on the walls and ceiling. Large white candles burn by the altar. He nodded to his fellow clerics who numbered two until a few days ago. Now there were four. The day would be hot and people were still cranky that the Founding of King’s Company Parade, always held on six Phast, would not be held that year. The parade traveled from Old Dragon Crown down Fort Dragon Crown Boulevard, by the Temple of Daroden, across the bridge, and down Mainshore Boulevard to Jaggare Circle where the city's dignitaries made speeches on the importance of Dragon Crown's military units. The sudden death of the king, the disappearance of the castle seneschal, and resulting confusion had canceled the parade. The military members would usually throw carved wooden trinkets of hippogriffs and Marines to the children. Wives bragged on their husbands and husbands bragged on their wives who marched in the parade. It was like something had happened to Dragon Crown. Before Castle Dragon Crown became the home of the monarchy it was home of the military. The city charter gave the seneschal total control over the pyramid and everything above and below it.


The seneschal had long been regarded as the second most powerful person in Dragon Crown. He could not evict an undesirable monarch but he could trap her in the castle with King’s Company. It had never happened but the power remained. Qualiandra could tell the seneschal suspected her of murdering the king and sent the elite assassin group The Red Cretins after him. He left his plush thirteenth floor apartment of the castle with his wife one night on a hippogriff. He was now disguised as a priest and lived with his wife in a small room in the basement of the Temple of Daroden. “The blessings of Daroden,” he said, nodding. “The blessings of Daroden,” the three returned. The seneschal had learned that much about being a priest. Marin Peopolis had been seneschal for seventy four years. Everyone expected him to retire in three years and leader of King’s Company, Commandant Pearl, to be given the job. Commandant Pearl was in his prime and had proven himself a military genius. He was also the head of House Pearl, one of Dragon Crown's most powerful houses. Marin had been seneschal when Lord Erdrin had become King Erdrin I, first King of Dragon Crown. He had been seneschal when Cadraith and Chadris had become kings. Next was mighty Queen Domixis, then Erdrin II. He did not like the idea of being pushed around by a 21 year old girl. It was extremely degrading. A woman walked into the church with her three small children. The children wanted to go three different directions and were all screaming about something different. The lady did her best to herd them to a pew towards the front. A thump on the head made them sit still momentarily. The lady kneeled behind the pew in front of her and touched her right hand to her right eye. The four priests talked quietly among themselves. The lady was studying the new priest and making mental notes of him. When had she finished, she herded the children back out the doors, leaving a few copper coins in a bowl by the door. At 11 am, Belese, the wife of one of the clerics returned from Reefer Run Market with jigsaw shark filets for lunch. One of the buildings in the courtyard was a kitchen and eating area. Belese went to cook the filets and Marin went to his wife below. The other two clergy were unmarried and went to their rooms. Maisa was 60 when she died three years ago. Bishop Keppira A’beare, the High Priest of Phasma, was present when Maisa's soul was released from her body with her last breath. She caught it in a large flat emerald and put it in the chest of a four foot wooden doll. The chest was closed and nailed shut. Bishop A’beare said some prayers and the eyes of the doll snapped open. She sat up and looked at her dress. For a month she had altered her own dresses to fit the doll. She had sewn all the ribbons and bows on them and bought it socks and shoes. She had received the figure she desired when the doll was made by the carpenter. Then she prepared all her other things knowing she was dying. Maisa's eyes glowed red when Marin walked into the room. The doll stood and walked stiffly to her husband, grabbing him around the waist. She looked up into his eyes and their lips met. Then she closed them for a long slow kiss. When she was content she opened her eyes and looked up at Marry, as she called him. “Marry, what are we going to do. I don't feel safe here." Marin looked over his glasses and smiled. He had a few quirks. First, he hated the red dragon Aspar with a passion. He had seen him over Dragon Crown and had sworn to kill him. It was his first passion. His second passion was his beloved Marines and hippogriffs. He wanted them to be Surnia's finest warriors and rode Commandant Pearl endlessly for more training. “We will be fine, my dear." Marry sat down and let Maisa sit on his leg. He took the brush from her hand and brushed her hair. “We will be safe here. I have many good cards in my hand. Vincent and his fighting Academy. Professor Tep Beezleand the Gray Sorcerers college. Then there is Dritzsil our spy. We have the Dragon


Crown Navy and Air Force at our disposal. Plus, the castle is rightfully my domain. We will be fine dear." Maisa smiled at him and opened her small mouth for a kiss. As a soulbound doll she never tired, something Marin often liked. She lay back in his arms and kicked off her shoes. Marin started with her lips and worked his way down to her throat. Her eyes open momentarily. “You're such a bad boy to do that to a little doll like me,� she teased sweetly. He put his lips back on hers and she reached around his neck. The high cleric of Daroden entered his quarters and washed his face and hands in a bowl on the dresser. As he was drying his hands the door closed. He turned. A humanoid with a bug like mask was standing in front of the door. He was dressed in red armor, had several weapons on his back, and a sawtooth saber in his hand.


Chapter 3 New Taxes 10 Phast, Castle Dragon Crown, 10:00 am Queen Qualiandra had finished her morning meeting with her advisers and was ready for an audience. “Ambassador from Chalin,” yelled the crier. “Darwin Gis Aprei.” Qualiandra wondered what he wanted. Her spies had obtained copies of scandalous love letters of his that had enabled her to compromise him. “Queen Qualiandra Alighiere of Dragon Crown." Aprei entered the throne room. A long scarlet carpet led to the throne. On her right stood her handmaiden, bodyguard, and companion, Sabrina Merrok. Her visible thighs and fitting armor around her waist was distracting. The State Secretary was on her left. The queen sat in the Scarlet Throne slouched down, with her arms out straight out, as usual. Ambassador Aprei had an unprofessional thought about her. He bowed low, his head near to the floor. “Rise.” Ambassadorial Aprei stood. He wanted to moan from being put through such a grueling physical act for a man his age. He held a paper in front of his eyes and turned sideways. “From – Her Infernal Majestrix,Queen Selene II,of the Thrice-Damned House of Torin, diabolical ruler of Chalin, say-eth on this second day of Phast, 4708 Albarim Reckoning. Royal Decree 121, Phast 4708 AR,” He cleared his throat and began again. “The Chalin colony of Dragon Crown will, on the thirtieth day of Phast, send her Navy to the Chalin port the Westcrown. On board one of those ships will be one million gold sails and fifty percent of the taxes collected by the Magistrate of Commerce during the month of Calistri. On the thirtieth of subsequent months fifty percent of the previous month’s taxes will arrive in Westcrown. Thus saith the queen." Ambassador Aprei rolled up the royal decree and stood at attention in front of the queen. The State Secretary motioned for the decree and he handed it to her. His ambassadorial duties complete, he was dismissed by the queen. After he left the queen went straight up like a scared cat. “I want Magistrate Tann and SIS Chief Medici up here like right immediately like right now!” She now sat upright in her chair. Her right fist pounded the arm rest. Her face was purple. A spot of skin was missing from her right cheek from worshiping Malakon that morning. The State Secretary nearly flew down the runway carpet to a set of secretaries waiting outside the throne room. She sent one running down stairs to the government offices to determine whether Tann was there or at City Hall, and to have him brought there with all haste. Another she sent to the SIS underground layers of the castle to summon the cloak and dagger chief. Queen Qualiandra actually got up and paced. She looked over at Sabrina, recomposes herself, and retook the throne. The State Secretary stood behind her desk. “Take – my – taxes!” The words made her turn purple again. Sabrina wanted to comfort her but it would of course been inappropriate. All audiences were canceled for the rest of the day until the Magistrate and the SIS Chief arrived. The crier announced Magistrate Derek Tann first. Sweat poured down his collar as the stern looking man quickly walked to the throne and bowed low, hat in hand. “Arise” Tann reported about ninety percent what he and his ruffians collected. About ten percent of that was scammed by the queen. The rest were “taxes collected.” Of that about thirty percent went to


“monarchy expenses,” keeping her lifestyle proper; castle maintenance, castle expenses, harem expenses, and the Royal Scarlet Guard. The Dragon Crown Guard and civic projects were separate. Fifty percent of this would not allow her to pay her Royal Scarlet Guard and the Dragon Crown Guard. Civil projects were out and what about her personal expenses. It was preposterous. “Tann, I need a little creative accounting." Creative accounting was nothing new to him, but he knew the queen wanted outrageous creative accounting. He could not say no. That would mean his death. But if he did it Chalin would audit him and they would kill him. He stood there. The queen knew his dilemma. “Hide all you can,” she said almost under her breath. The other two people present pretended not to hear her. “Yes, Majesty,” bowing low. The crier entered the throne room indicating another audience was there. She knew it would be the SIS Chief. “Dismissed” “Yes, majesty” Magistrate Tann bowed low then left. “Chief of Special Intelligence Service, Nicoleta Medici.” The half gnome walked purposely down the Scarlet carpet to the throne and bowed low. “Arise” She stood. Her ever present dark glasses seemed glued to her. Her braids stayed in place. “Chalin has demanded a large amount of money from us. Find out their preparation in the event we do not pay them, or do not pay the full amount. I need information as fast as possible. “Yes, majesty,” bowing low as possible with her dark glasses staying in place. “Dismissed” “Withdraw Ambassador Abashe from our embassy in Chalin.” Said the queen after Nicoleta had left. “Yes, majesty." “Inform Field Marshal Bishop that all military leaves are canceled and the same goes for the Royal Scarlet Guard,” she said, looking at Sabrina. “Does anyone know what is going on with King’s Company? Send word for Commandant Pearl to see me." “Yes, Majesty." “I assume if we have problems with Chalin we can no longer count on the Blacknights." Sabrina rolled her eyes, but not where Qualiandra that could see them. “What are our population differences now?” “Segalian, the capital of Chalin, has 82,000 majesty. Westcrown, the old capital 114,000. Dragon Crown has 18,000 and Gamilar 16,000, majesty. Chalin has at least seven times the population of Vartis majesty." “And they have the Slidal magic users." “Yes, majesty." “Well, it's up to diplomacy. We have a navy larger than theirs but they have far more land forces. Their magic users outnumber us many times. Then there are the devils. Speaking of ...." She thought for a moment. “I will be in the Temple of Malakon, send a healer to my quarters in one hour.” “Yes, majesty." Queen Qualiandra stood and Sabrina and the State Secretary came to attention. She marched to the doors which were opened by her bodyguards who then escorted her to the Temple of Malakon. Nicoleta walked to a spiral staircase in the Epochal Tower. At ground level different spiral staircases took you to different levels, depending on your purpose. There was one for the dungeons, one


for SIS, and one for the basement. You could not descend any of them without a pass and purpose. Nicoleta was recognized by the guard wizard who could true see. The State Department has a shadow pad and the SIS had their own. Nicoleta decided to use the shadow pad of the State Department. Nicoleta had a large corner office. Two walls were window illusions looking to the castle from the perspective of the Grand Tower. All SIS leaders had such windows, but only Nicoleta had two. Nicoleta looked more gnome than human. Her human genes only gave her about a foot of height over a gnome. She retained the small gnome figure and long fingers. She had trained in the SIS Academy on the first floor then worked in the fields for thirty years before taking a post as instructor in the school. Most of her stations had been in Chalin and around the Inner Sea. Albarim had been her favorite. After fifteen years as an instructor she was promoted to Director National Intelligence, a post now held by Dimple Garrick. As Director of National Intelligence she was given most of the credit for preventing Shonti uprisings during that period. When the position of Deputy Director of Operations opened due to Smale Mather's retirement, she was given the prestigious post. For twenty years she ran the operations wing of the SIS for Dragon Crown – information gathering. Spy Chief. Analysis was handled by the Deputy Director of Intelligence, currently Viorel Haralan, a man with a large mustache who spent his days piecing together parts of different puzzles. Under the Director of Operations was Silviu Frallino, a half-elf, Director of Covert Operations; Iulian Vasilika, Director of Foreign Intelligence, and Arami Liadon, Director of Counter Intelligence. Under the directors were field agents both home and abroad. At age one hundred twenty she was given the post Chief of SIS when Queen Domixis took the throne. Queen Domixis liked her, and that was all it took. Part of the training floor was devoted to core rogue skills such as stealth, locks, traps, move silently, listen, and disguise. Nicoleta still ran the course with the troops everyday. The physical training course she ran three times a week. Nicoleta lived cloak and dagger. She had a bed in her private washroom and often slept there. She had a nice apartment in Citadel Crest district close to the castle but mainly went there to change clothes and occasionally entertained the Deputy Director of SIS. Nicoleta told her private secretary she would return in a day or two and went to the government shadow pad. She checked in and logged in her designation. Civil workers of her rank needed no clearance to use the pad. The shadow pad was a Shadow Plane traveling node. Dragon Crown had a shadow pad in all her embassies. The shadow caster, usually educated in Slidal, operated it. She would be placed in a shadow coach and sent in the Plane of Shadow to her destination at 100 miles an hour. Shadow coaches came in two models, courier coach and diplomatic coaches. The diplomatic coach came with amenities. There was a bar with snacks and wine. There was a bard for entertainment, and an escort if desired. Diplomats were supposed to arrive refreshed. Dragon Crown to Segalian Chalin was 580 miles, a six hour ride. There was often a stopover in the Slidal, capital of Porsasi, adding another hour. The diplomatic coach was brought to Nicoleta. She picked a bard, one as a companion, and then entered the coach. It contained thick black pillows that could be arranged as desired for comfort. The bar was stocked, and the coach rolled to the launch pad. It would be placed under a spell and sent to the recovery pad in Segalian. Nicoleta directed that there be no stopover in Slidal. The shadow caster, a fairly young wizard from Porsasi, took a pinch of black powder from a nearby container and began a tune with his fingers. The launch pad got darker and darker than lit back up. The coach was on his way.


Chapter 4 Seneschal Abducted 10 Phast, Old Dragon Crown, Temple of Daroden, 12:00 noon The high cleric had not expected an attack. Actually, an attack was the last thing he suspected. No one in Dragon Crown had any animosity toward the church or clergy of the dead demigod. The clerics were neither good nor evil, so no one should have a problem there. The clerics were old men surviving on the smallest of alms. There was nothing in the church to steal. No gold goblets. No silver plates. Nothing. Anything else could have happened except being attacked by a famed and expensive assassin, High Cleric Kobast recognized the person was a Red Cretins assassin. Why was he here? He would soon find out. Kobast's god being dead, Kobast's holy symbol held no magical attributes. All of his divine magic had evaporated long ago. He did not carry a sword or even a knife. “Welcome,” Kobast said, and put his right hand to his right eye. The assassin walked forward and smoothly cut off his head. It fell into the washbasin behind him and splashing bloody water around the room. The body walked around for a second spurting blood out of its neck, then doubled over. The assassin had already left. Berleese was humming a native Vartisian tune, stirring the sizzling jigsaw shark that was cooking in a skillet in front of her. She stepped forward when the dagger embedded in her back. But her hand on the table steadied her. A gasp, then a stream of blood squirted from her lips into the skillet. Her husband kneeled on a prayer bench facing the wall. The Eye of Daroden was on the wall above him. The only noise was his head landing in his hands he held out in front of him in prayer to Daroden. Caramel had washed in the bathing chamber and was walking up the stairs to the main level of the Temple. When he reached the top of the stairs he wiped his brow with a small rag and went “whew.” He was old. The Red Cretins assassin was upside down on the ceiling above him. He kicked his legs down smashing Caramel's face and sending him tumbling back down the stairs. The assassin twisted his neck to ensure his duty had been performed properly. Marin had his lips on Maisa's wooden chest when the lust spell was broken by a tumbling sound in the hall then a loud crack. He helped Maisa to her feet and pondered what to do. Marin knew a contract was out on him, a very lucrative contract. Yet he felt he had hidden himself well. The room was square, with a door in the middle of one of the walls. Opposite the door was a closet, a table with a washbasin, and a bed. Marin quickly and deftly jumped up and put Maisa behind the clothes in the closet and jumped behind the door. The door opened slowly. Marin froze with his back to the wall. He peeked out the crack between the wall and the door. There was a movement in the crack then a thud in the middle of the room. Marin looked to the center of the room. An old wrinkled hand lay there bleeding. The fingers were still wiggling. “Need a hand?” Came a voice outside the door. Then a “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha,” cackle. Marin was over eighty years old. Old for humans, but he was in superb shape. Stamina ran in his family. He had no fear of the assassins now that his presence was known. His worry was that Maisa would be harmed. He loved her even more now that she was in a wooden body. Her wood was soft, but still wood. Marin had only a knife. He grasped it in his fist pointing away from his thumb. He moved it in a square motion in front of him. His other hand was held close to his face, palm sideways. He was ready. The assassin tumbled into the room and sprang up, facing Marin. His sawtooth saber was in his hand. The assassin began weaving his saber in a pattern in front of him. Marin was familiar with the


prayer attack and tried to focus on the Cretins's face rather than his hands and weapons. The problem was you could not see his eyes. Marin was trying to watch his opponent's eyes and hands. The actions would be seen in the eyes before they were initiated with the hands. He stared at the mask, his hand still moving in a square in front of him. Marin felt his will slipping. Try as he may he could not help but see the pattern of the assassin's saber. His eyes started to glaze over. He felt weak. The cutoff hand jumped up to eye level of the assassin and punched him in the nose. The punch was feeble, but it was distracting. With a whirl the assassin looked around to determine where the force was coming from. He knew Marin was not a magic user. A doll stood in front of an open closet. Her eyes glowed red and her hand was raised making spell casting motions. “No Maisa, no!” Yelled Marin. “Well. A saw, and a wooden doll,” said the assassin, looking at his Sawtooth Saber. The assassin's play on Marin' emotions worked and Marin jumped to Maisa to protect her. As he did the assassin raised his saber preparing to plunge it into the back of his target. It had been an easy day. His supervisor would be pleased, as always. Maisa screamed like an elephant trumpeting. When she looked, she was shocked. A gangly looking humanoid with slick gray skin and wide white eyes stood behind the assassin. The assassin was already making his strong down thrust with his saber when a hand grabbed his wrist and pulled the saber into the assassin's stomach rather than into Marin' back. Marin reached Maisa unscathed and turned to defend them, dagger still in hand, making square motions in the air. The gray figure pulled the saber in and out, sawing the insides of the assassin. The assassin double over hard and the blade fell to the ground. Marin looked at the pupil-less wide eyes of the doppelganger. Marin had heard of doppelgangers but had met one. He was fretfully wondering if he wanted to meet one. The doppleganger locked his eyes to Marin, Marin looked at his eyes. That was the wrong place to look. Marin's hands dropped to his sides. The dagger dropped from his hand. Maisa, behind him, was scared to death and put her arms around his waist. The doppelganger then looked into her eyes. Maisa's bright red eyes flared then went out. Her hands went to her side. The doppelganger put his arms around them and the three disappeared. Marin felt groggy. Then he realized he was somewhere he had never been before. Everything was very quiet. The world felt very different. He felt very different, but Maisa was beside him. They were both in very comfortable chairs. There was no discomfort from sitting in the chair. He rotated his wrists. They were bound to the armrests of the chair. So were Maisas. There seemed to be a floor. There seemed to be walls. But they were fuzzy, and very white. But he was alive and so was Maisa. She was looking at him, confused as well. A door opened and the doppelganger walked in. He looked curiously at them, like a cleric would look at you. The doppelganger paced the room a couple of times. Four eyes watched him. Back and forth. “Are you comfortable?” “Where are we?” Asked Marin. “You call this the Ethereal Plane. I call it home." “It is my intentions for you to be comfortable. Do you need anything?” “Why are we here?” “Well then, I assume you're comfortable. I know you have questions. I have answers as well. I very much hope you like those answers. “What happened?” “To begin with, I saved your life. Both of your lives, though I'm not sure what the assassin


would have done with a doll." “The doll is my wife." “I know she is important to you. That is why she is here. I want you to be comfortable." The doppelganger turned and passed back the other way down the room. Nothing is free, thought Marin. “Why – did you save our lives?” “I want something of you.” I knew it, he thought. “First, I saved your life. And I saved your wife's life. And I mean you no harm. Does that help?” “Yes” “Look around here,” he held his arms out to the walls and floor. “It is boring here. I can build and have what I want here by willing it. But that is boring. I want a challenge. My hobby has been to watch your world. I have given you something, and there is something I want in return." Marin looked at Maisa, and then looked at his hands. “Oh, excuse me. I forgot.” He waved a hand and the restraints disappeared. “Like I said, your comfort is important to me." Marin rubbed his wrists. Not that they were sore. Just seemed like the thing to do. “I want to be a part of your world for a short time. I want to experience it.” The slick gray creature faced Marin, spread out his arms, and leaned back his head. “I want to take over the world!” He looked back to Marin. “I want to fight for, to achieve the kingship of Dragon Crown. I want to conquer the ruling girl and her forces. Then you can take it from there." “Well. Why do you need me?” “I want to do it through your forces, your Army, your Navy. Oh how I love your ships, and your big birds. I feel like a kid again, playing with toys. I will assume your identity and take over Dragon Crown. Then you can be the ruler. Like that?” Marin did not answer. He was shocked. “Really?” “Yes. Really.” “And what will happen to us in the meantime?” he asked, looking at Maisa. “All your needs will be met. It is very easy to be comfortable here. I will even end the Cretins threat for you. You probably don't like them." “Yes. I want those Cretins people dead!" “Consider it done. Do we have a deal?” “What if I refuse?” “I will sell your wife as an inter-planar harlot and return you to your material plane with no knowledge of this conference.” Marin lowered his head. The doppleganger let him think. It did not take long. “OK.” “I will place my hands on you for a short time and I will assume your form, mind, memories, and personality exactly. Then I will leave. I'll return once a day to see to your needs. Now sit back, relax, and try to be comfortable.”


Chapter 5 Medici in Angorian 10 Phast, Chalin, Segalian, Dragon Crown Embassy, 7:00 pm. Vartis is more an area of the world of Surnia than a country. Some consider Dragon Crown to be the capital of Vartis but it does not control or rule the rest of Vartis. However, some of the surrounding towns it does rule. When Qualiandra Alighiere became Queen of Dragon Crown she did not become Queen of Vartis. The other cities of Vartis – Gamilar, Ripolport, and Kaer Magna, have their own governments. The country south of Vartis is Slidal. The country south of Slidal is Chalin. Chalin does have a central government that resides in Segalian, which is fairly central in Chalin. Segalian resides on the southeast corner of Lake Sorrow, so named because off the many bodies floating through the lake to the sea when the diabolic spell casters wrestled control of Chalin from Daroden worshipers after their god died. Daroden became a living god in year one AR, Albarim Reckoning, So called because Albarim was founded on that day by Daroden. In 4580, King Gaspodar of Chalin built a large temple for Daroden to reside in on the shore of Lake sorrow. In 4606 Daroden died and left Chalin ruler-less. The diabolic spell casters took control and used the pyramid built by King Gaspodar as their capital. The government of Chalin was moved from Westcrown, a southern port city, to Segalian. The diabolists crowned one of their own as Abrogail I and built her throne room in the pyramid. The pyramid had seven layers of five floors each. It had a large eye of Daroden carved on the front that was removed. Around the pyramid was built a large granite fortification wall. When the Azantian “found” Chalin (one of its many findings), Segalian had been a city by a previous culture. It was built in a circle about a mile and a half diameter (Dragon Crown was one-mile by one and a half miles). It was carved in the soft but sturdy rock. Inside that huge circle a seven pointed star was carved about 40 feet deep. At the northern-most point of the star the seven layer pyramid was built. A one hundred foot cliff borders the pyramid and Lake Sorrow. The area become known as the Blood Puss Escarpment because those not favored by the government were thrown down the cliff. Some of the bodies were eaten by animals and monsters. Some rotted. When it rained it looked like bloody puss running down the escarpment. South of the Capital of Segalian was a parade yard. This was also the only entrance to the keep. The Dragon Crown Embassy was several hundred yards south of the parade ground and bordered the Blood Puss Escarpment. In one of the basement floors of the embassy was the shadow pad. A diplomatic shadow coach arrived there just before 7:00 pm. Since there was not much to see on the Plane of Shadow the coach had no windows, only a door, which was sealed. The resident shadow pad wizard opened the door. What had been a silent room was blasted with high volume bard music. Nicoleta Medici, jamming out, glanced out the door and composed herself. The bard stopped playing. Arranging her braids, Nicoleta stepped out of the shadow pad and into the embassy. Embassies have a front, a back, and a hidden middle. They all do. The purpose of embassies is to facilitate diplomatic channels between countries and to spy on each other. The only rule was that you don’t get caught. The top floor of the embassy was for Ambassador Jester Abashe and his personal secretary and staff. Ambassador Abashe was currently in a shadow coach on his way to Vartis. He had been summoned by the queen. The first floor of the embassy was a tourist bureau and front offices. The second floor was embassy staff. The SIS had two floors below the basement. As chief Medici made her way along the halls of the SIS complex, agents and secretaries


stepped aside. They were not afraid of being hit by a spell but out of respect. And when she visited their embassy they knew that something was up. Nicoleta, in her dark sunglasses and braids had a very unusual walk. Actually, it was a spell cast into a necklace she wore. When she was in front of you, you could not gauge the distance to her very well nor can you tell how fast she was walking. She could be in front of you or ten feet away. You never knew. The doors to the conference room were opened and she entered. The head of the table was vacant. Three other people were present. Iulian Vasilika, the Director of Foreign Intelligence, maintained an office at Castle Dragon Crown and Dragon Crown's Chelinish Embassy. Dragon Crown was technically a Chelinish colony and the relationship was sensitive. See Healy was also seated at the table. He was Director Vasilika's embassy agent. Agents came in three varieties, declared, undeclared, and blind. Declared agents are reported as spies to the host government. The host government then knew they were spies and followed them around. If they were caught in the act of spying they had diplomatic immunity and are sent home. Undeclared agents are usually gardeners or other embassy staff. They are not supposed to be spies yet are. If caught, they also had diplomatic immunity and were sent home. Blind agents have no diplomatic cover. If the host country proves they are spying they have no diplomatic immunity and are usually tortured and killed. Agents can also be plants, walk-ins, or moles. Moles are placed in low positions and expected to work their way up in an organization to a place of power. The drawback of a mole is that it could take ten years or more for an agent to be fruitful. A plant can come from various ways. One is to cultivate a relationship with a person who has access to the information they seek. They might then be converted to an agent for the following reasons: 1, Money. 2, Their country sucks. 3, Promise of extracting them to another country once their spying is complete. 4, Help of another type. Money is the most common. Quality intelligence information is very valuable. Walk-ins are people who make known to an embassy they wish to work for them. Very good agents have been found in this manner. The problem is they are sometimes plants (put there to give false information), or double agents. The search for and capture of double and triple agents was the job of counter intelligence. In the Dragon Crown SIS, Arami Liadon, a Shadowsmith Drow, filled this position. Also at the table was an SIS secretary. The embassy had secretaries and SIS secretaries. When sensitive or secret information was involved, an SIS secretary was used. Chief Medici made her way to the head of the conference table and took her seat. The other three looked at her in silence. Greetings were a waste of time. Nicoleta looked at her director and agent. They stared back at her dark glasses. She never touched her glasses. They were never out of place. “The queen is disturbed that a decree has come from here that Dragon Crown is to pay taxes to Segalian. She wants to know how serious Abrogail is about this and how she might react if Dragon Crown paid less or no taxes. She also wants to know what military forces she has against her. “Qualiandra has not been queen very long, but surely she knows the numbers. She is from Chalin. Segalian is a metropolis five times the size of Dragon Crown. Chalin is an organized country. Vartis is not. A large contingent of Hellnights, The Order of the Dark Forest, are at Castle Vraid, only a few miles South of Dragon Crown. She could never succeed in a military confrontation without the help of a god or goddess. Surely she knows this. I say surely because I do not know. She is very young and new at this. I am having her every move watched and studied. Soon I shall know. “In the meantime, I want to know what Abrogail's true intentions are with Dragon Crown and everything we gather is to stay here. No information is to be sent to Dragon Crown. The analysis of Deputy Director Harlan will have to suffice. I don't want any chance of interception. Healy, dead drops only. By the book."


“Yes, ma'am." “Iulian, I want all SIS rooms double swept for scrying. Magical defenses are never to be removed for any reason except by my order. I want something concrete, reliable, and fast.." “Yes ma'am,” they both said. “Now. I'm hungry. Can you get us into Vogurs Sorrow?” “Yes ma'am,” said Healy. “Of course,” said Vasilika. The four rose. The secretary remained and the three SIS agents walked out of the conference room to the embassy garage at ground level, and is an enclosed area where the coaches are staged. The northern star point of Segalian has several main parts. South of the capital are seven large apartment buildings. In one, embassy employees live, including employees of the Dragon Crown Embassy. Abrogail wanted them together in case 'something happened'. Only the Ambassador and Deputy Ambassador were allowed housing in other parts of the city. However, the embassy housing was comfortable and adequate. Chelinish state and city workers live in the other six. South of the apartments was the Clock of Time. This tower was built prior to the Azantian influx and still worked. There were seven clocks in this large tower. One for the second, minute, and hour of the day. Then there was a clock for the date and month. Then a clock shows the year in hundred year increments. The last clock showed the age. There were seven ages. The Age of Darkness, the Age of Anguish, the Age of Destiny, and the Age of Enthronement had passed. Currently the dial pointed to the Age of Lost Omens. The Age of Manifest was next. The dial looked like it was fixing to tick there. Around the large tower was a square of buildings. Some of Segalian's most prominent establishments were located there. Vogurs Sorrow was one of them. The full name of the restaurant was Vogurs Sorrow, Seafood from the Sea of Sorrows, but it was shortened to Vogurs Sorrow. Fishermen went to the bottom of Lake Sorrow enclosed in capsules and captured strange fish in special traps and returned with them. They were the best delicacy of seafood in Segalian and served only at Vogurs. The embassy's altered coach had been prepared. Two men and a woman stepped into the coach and the door was closed by a footman. A driver and a SIS security guard climbed to the driver’s seat and drove the two horse coach out of the garage and to the restaurant. They were of course followed, in the standard three by three format. Agent Healy watched them through a hole in the back of the coach. After two or three blocks the coach following them would turn off onto a side street. A horse and rider or coach would turn onto their street and continue to follow them. This happened again in two or three blocks. Then the first one followed again. The restaurant was for the rich and for those with a large expense accounts like Medici had. They ate Papatsi blaze, Kornch salad, and drank Watsinki until they wobbled in their charis. The SIS had an agent which worked at the restaurant. They noticed her but of course no one indicated her presence. She was there to eaves-drop on the conversations of rulers, spies, and other powerful people that ate there. She knew nine languages. After the feast chief Medici was returned to the embassy and caught a shadow coach back to Dragon Crown. Director Vasilika and Agent Healy were driven to their apartment complex. They were of course followed, but this time by House Torin's own elite security team.


Chapter 6 The Great Tower Meeting 11 Phast, Dragon Crown, Great Tower, 10:00 am. On the southern side of the waterway between old Dragon Crown and the rest of Dragon Crown stands what is called the Great Tower. It began as another one of Queen Domixis' 'I am going to impress everyone,' moves. Its construction began in 4684 and was to be three hundred twenty feet tall. Queen Domixis' successor ended the tower at two hundred seventy feet, not seeing the need to bankrupt Dragon Crown for fifty feet of tower. The walls at the base of the tower were twelve foot thick and consisted of large layers of granite, lead, black marble, and steel. The nineteen floors of the tower were completed in 4688. There are two entrances to the Great Tower. One is a door on the third floor that a bridge connects to. The other is by hippogriff, the top two floors being aeries. The Great Tower was considered a brilliant defense construction for a military tower by anyones standards. The bottom floors were weapons for the Marines. It was suspected that many secret weapons existed in the vaults below the tower. Floors two to six are the Pearl Military Academy of Hippogriff Riding, the only one of its kind. It is staffed by twenty senior commanders and provides both recruit and advanced training for Dragon Crown's Marines. Many of the single enlisted Marines live on floors seven to fifteen. At 10:00 am, two hippogriffs flew around the city screeching loudly at each other, a strange way for the well trained hippogriffs to act. Only a handful of people paid any attention. From the pattern and number of screeches they knew the message. Those concerned told their staff and coworkers that they were going to lunch, but instead they zigzagged their way to the Great Tower. An urgent meeting had been called. The guards on the bridge to the tower were notified and those attending would be allowed to pass without delay. The first was Vincent Orbini, head of the famed sword school, Orbini Academy. Vincent rarely taught anymore, leaving the work to younger instructors. He still dressed in tight fitting full black clothing with a black cape. His beloved jewel handled rapier hung at his side as always. One reason he wore gloves was to keep from tarnishing the silver on the handle. The other was that he was missing two figures from fighting a previous student of his, Sabrina Merrok. His walk and his dress proclaimed who he was. Next to cross the bridge was a gnome. His name was Tep Beezle. Professor Beezle was head of the Gray Sorcerers Academy of Dragon Crown. Professor Beezle took small steps and hobbled forward. He was stooped at the shoulders and was over three hundred. No one knew how much over. Despite his age he still wore bright clothes; a brown jerkin with red stitching, green shoes, and much jewelry, probably magical. He had a devoted wife and assistant, Cissi, also called Miss Purple Eyes, and hundreds of kids. Homecoming was quite an event in their family. Admiral Aton Allberd ran the Dragon Crown Navy. The Naval yards were in Vendrane, a city in the mouth of the bay Dragon Crown was located in, and was 40 miles west. Most of the Navy enlisted lived in Vendrane and officers had houses in Vendrane and quarters in Dragon Crown. The admiral had nearly King’s status and had a mansion in North Point and in Vendrane. He strode across the bridge purposefully, his pot belly and pipe leading the way. He believed in winning wars by blowing up everything that wasn't ours. That way everything was ours.


Everyone saluted smartly as he made his way across the bridge. Commandant Marcus Thalassinus Pearl was in his large office at his large desk pouring over maps when the alert had been given. He arrived at the conference room first. Dritzsil had nice accommodations at the tower. He was there for his job, but his off time was spent on his own plane. Dritzsil was a chain devil from the Nine Hells of Xeros. He was Seneschal Peopolis' spymaster. He timed his arrival at the conference room to be the last one to arrive except the Seneschal. He tried to feel important. No one argued the point. Feelah, his erinyes field agent and lover hovered not far away, but noone knew it. The doors flew open. Two Marines entered and snapped to attention. Everyone stood. “Seneschal Marin Peopolis,” called a sergeant. Marin walked to the head of the table and pushed the chair out of the way. He liked to talk standing. “Be seated.” Everyone did except Dritzsil. He did not sit. He backed up a step and turned to the seneschal. The seneschal put his finger tips on the tabletop and looked over his glasses at his staff. He waited for the proper gravity to descend on the moment. “There is a citadel in a jungle on the island of Medeolanthus 1500 miles south of here. Is everyone aware of what that Citadel contains and of the powerful forces that dwell there?” Marin was nearly yelling. He did not mean to. It was just his way of giving military orders. “It is known as The Scarlet Citadel. Dritzsil, give us an overview." Marin stepped to the side and the spymaster walked to the front of the table. Dritzsil looked nearly blue, and had irregular patches of black hair that was combed back on his humanoid head. His eyelashes were very full and a brown and yellow color. Large blue ears lay close to his head. He wore a chain wrapped around his lip and chin that then descended down his front. When in the material plane he wore red tattered cloth that covered most of his chains. Large black boots and gold bracers of armor completed his apparel. Dritzsil wore a gold handled sword forged in Phlegethos in the Nine Hells. Only three had been made. Dritzsil looked at the four floating glowing orbs in the corners of the room. They would prevent scrying and spying from the ethereal plane. Feelah, his wife and chief spy would not be able to hear or see the proceedings. Her normal job was to spy from the ehtereal plane. “The Scarlet Citadel lies twenty miles west of the port town of Ilizmagarti. It is five miles south of the northern coast of the island. It was built before the Age of Lost Omens and is their command center, training ground, and resort center for the Red Cretins assassins. “The central section is a round complex one hundred yards across and twelve stories high. A spire crowns its top. “The lower levels are called Ruvanti and are their training grounds. A garden area called Sivalik is a paradise for retired officers and current leaders. Around the central complex are four spires. One spire is the Flayneas, the home of the Blood Mistress, their top commander. Another is living quarters for the Veranti and two are treasuries. Below Blood Mistress Jakolin are the Veranti High Killers. They lead the organization and interpreted the will of their god, He Who Walks in Blood, the Cretins God. There are thirty four of them. 100 to 200 trainees are there at any one time and about thirty generals lead the forces present. 100 to 200 fighters would probably be present. There would also be from 450 to 550 assassins."


“Dritzsil, I want an exact count and accurate map of the grounds and citadel by Starday." “Yes, my Lord.” Dritzsil did not enjoy calling a human 'my Lord', but it was the title of someone you served. So he used it. Dritzsil retook his place on the right hand side of the table. “Admiral,” the booming voice of Marin demanded. “What is the readiness of your fleet?” “Our hippogriff Carrier, Dragon Crown, is clean and ready to go. The Plallin has loaded a new updated three-inch ordnance. We are very excited about it. It can carry agents of air, water, fire, or air." “Good, good." “The Ornelose has her new portal installed and is being tested." “Will it be ready by Starday?” “Sir, this is Oathday." “I'm aware of what day it is!” When the air ceased vibrating the Admiral continued. “Yes sir, I will ensure it will be ready by Starday." “Good” “Your command ship is ready as always. The wizards are in advanced mapping classes as we speak. Oh – our supply ship. Probably half full of various ordinances. No food supplies." “We sail at noon Starday, admiral. Two days from now. We will need three days food for us and the hippogriffs. I want 300 casks of alchemist's fire, 100 casks of holy water, 25 of sassone leaf, and 50 of black lotus extract. And the Plallin can now deliver air agents?” “Yes sir." “Good. 50 barrels of Insanity mist. Be offshore five miles by 1:00 pm. I want the air wing to arrive at 2:00 pm.” “Yes seneschal." “Commandant” “Yes seneschal." “You heard where your air wing has to be at 2:00 pm. Starday. Make sure they are there. Everything that can fly. All extra Marines piggybacked in. Those new weapons you have been talking about, bring them.” “Yes, seneschal." “Gentlemen. Dragon Crown is 300 years old. We have fought marauding barbarians. We have fought pirates. But never has King’s Company and the Navy launched a full scale battle on a target. Gentlemen, we will throw everything we have against the Scarlet Citadel. They are worthy opponents. They are all well trained warriors. We will annihilate them and their headquarters. Nothing will be left. Their citadel will be dust. “As force commanders you know how to lead armed forces. They will have their pay, of course. But that is not how generals and kings and queens take over countries and takeover worlds. No! Their fighting men and women are animals and monsters that must be unbridled! They have a natural craving to acquire wealth; to rob, rape, plunder, and kill. Things they cannot do in their own country. That is why they take the job of warriors. They must be totally unleashed to the point where they are unstoppable by any enemy. They must know that if they can take it, they can have it!” Slightly lowering his voice, “This gentlemen, is how we will beat the Red Cretins assassins. Our warriors will be well paid for their work. Our supply ship will be riding low in the water coming back with all the treasure from the Scarlet Citadel. Two out of three parts of the


treasure will be distributed to every man and woman and monster who takes part in the campaign. War souvenirs will be allowed." No one dreamed it could be this good. Vincent Orbini, Professor Geezlebottle, Dritzsil, Admiral Allberd, and Commandant Pearl all jumped to their feet, beating their hands together, yelling at the top of their voices, pounding their chests and stomping their feet. The riot went on for minutes. “Commandant Pearl will lead the King’s Company squadrons to the Dragon Crown Starday.” “Yes Sir.” “The rest of you, we will meet here at 8:00 AM Starday and then sail to the fleet. Any questions?” Everyone applauded again and stomped their feet They all nodded to each other and left one at a time spread out over a thirty minute time frame. In the hall a woman was doing a very good job of mopping the floor.


Dragon Crown Trilogy, Book one, The Seneschal