“Choices are the hinges of Destiny” – Pythagoras
Parvan Star System; Malaval, Throneworld of House Esmer; South Eastern Continent; Whisper Green Provence; 5041.119 I.E.
With equal parts reverance and trepidation infusing his scaled breast, Lord Koldrynth Sonear Di’Shio entered the Nave of Withered Trees. The massive gilded doors of baroque carved darkwood and adamantine slid silently closed, sealing the vestibule behind him. The pathway beneath his talons, fashioned of loosely interlocking flagstones of green jasper and jade, was worn smooth by the passage of thousands of bare feet, and marked the aisle leading up into the Sanctuary. Koldrynth breathed in deeply and began making his way up the aisle, his steps deliberately measured and even, the silk of his robes whispering softly against the stones of the path and dried leaves that crunched quietly beneath his scaled feet. As he paced forward, he used the golden length of his staff of office to tap a rhythmic counterpoint to his steps, his entire approach formal and ritualized. The sharp taps echoed faintly through the vast space, largely swallowed by the arched ceiling dozens of yards overhead. A glorious starscape was projected on the roof interior far above, slowly swirling as if viewing the Serpent’s Eye from an observation point outside the galaxy, shining through the stone branches of the petrified trees that filled the Nave. As he wound his way steadily toward the Sanctuary, Lord Koldrynth strove to ignore the warnings streaming in from his implants, informing him of the dozens of infrared targeting lasers trained on his person, invisible armed drones tracking his progress. After several minutes of pacing, he came to a stop at the far edge of the stone forest, a bare mossy hill rising before him, simulated star field slowly turning above, the path ending at the base of the slope. Ahead of him knelt a score of artfully maimed fey dressed in the simple garb of servants. They faced the hill with heads bowed, and eyes averted, not acknowledging him. To be ignored by such anywhere else would have enraged him, but not here – in the Nave even he was nothing. Here, even Lord Koldrynth Sonear Di’Shio, Eater of All, carefully knelt and bowed his horned head in respect and waited patiently. After a time, a ridge of the hillock split open, revealing a yellow and amber eye the size of a serving platter. The eye blinked slowly then focused on him, gold highlights flashing as it’s huge iris spun and pulsed, fixing him with a gaze that was palpable. A voice filled the space, rich and huge, each syllable falling on its listeners like a blanket of earth on a grave. The fey servants flinched silently at its sound. Koldrynth did not, although his heart-rate sped up uncomfortably.
“Favored Koldrynth. You may speak.” Lord Koldrynth bowed deeply, pressing his ridged skull to the flagstone, then responding in respectful tones.
“Worshipful Duchess, True Blood of Esmer, we have lost contact with the agent placed to observe the Sathoni researcher.”
A low rumble filled the Nave as the ‘hill’ shifted, moving, revealing itself to be a moss covered green dragon of vast proportions, head lifting on it’s hugely muscled neck, swinging both huge eyes, now lit from within by amber fire, to pierce the abased speaker. Small dribbles of dirt and moss fell from the dragon’s head as its jaws opened, showing yellowed, curved teeth the length of swords. Wisps of poisonous fumes seeped from it’s maw, fouling the air. The servants fell on their faces, covering their heads with arms and hands if they still possessed them, silently wailing in fear.
“Explain.” Came the voice, the command cracking the air, sending ravens who had been roosting in the stone trees to cawing, frightened flight. Lord Koldrynth answered, striving to keep his voice calm and his words clear.
“His last communication indicated that the research vessel had been sabotaged. A virus had been placed in the starcaster astronav, causing a mis-jump. The ship survived, finding itself deep in Domain Osorus. They were enacting repairs and determining their next course of action. That was twelve days ago. We have not heard from the agent since.”
“Contact him via ansible immediately.”
“Worshipful Mother, we have attempted this already. His ansible no longer exists. Attempts to contact him directly have also failed. Divinations indicate that he has been terminated.”
A roar shook the Nave, startling drone and servant alike. Overhead, the projected starscape flickered as the colossal hall shuddered and hidden weapon emplacements whirred to action, ready to decimate all who had foolishly angered their draconic mistress. Even Lord Koldrynth’s heart skipped, for a brief moment the terror of his mother’s wrath gripping him. His voice shook as he strove to be heard over the ringing of his ears.
“Blessed Duchess, Chosen of the Reaper, please hear me. We know the vessel’s location as of a week ago. We can still re-acquire them.”
“Fool.” Came the angry reply, a clawed foot stamping in irritation on a slower moving servant, an elf whose eyes had been replaced with exquisitely carved emeralds. “The loss of that agent represents two years of careful planning for naught! We are hardly the only stalkers in this hunt! The sabotage of the starcaster proves this. This is a grievous setback.”
Lord Koldrynth attempted to press his head further into the flagstones. “What are your wishes, Revered Lady?”
The dragon chewed thoughtfully on the legs of the crushed servant for a moment, oblivious to its feeble flailing and ragged screams. “Gather your more competent siblings. Take a fast warship from our personal fleet and go with all speed to the research vessel’s last coordinates. Ascertain its current location. I will contact you with further instructions.” It tossed the remains of the servant to the floor of the Nave, where the survivors quickly gathered it up, dragging it off for delivery to the house necromancers.
“Do not fail me in this, Koldrynth. Do not force me to choose a new Favored.”
“N..No, Exalted Mother. I shall not fail you.”
Lord Koldrynth Sonear Di’Shio, Eater of All, quickly rose to his feet, and retreated as fast as ritual permitted, never turning his back on his mother, not actually fleeing until she was no longer visible in the depths of the petrified forest. He did not wait for the vestibule doors to fully open before hurrying through them, as behind him in the Nave of Withered Trees, Hall of the Lady verus sanguis, Duchess Reythliivmaar of House Esmer, Chosen of the Reaper, machinery hummed into wakefulness and gigantic holographic computer displays began to flicker to life.