Ramira considered… If Ailill really WAS that ambitious, he might actually be able to pull it off! Even if he failed, a gatemaster was likely going to be able to escape – and doubtless had holdings elsewhere… And she could contribute significantly to his chances either way. The young man obviously needed a data security expert desperately!
She sent for some of her slave-experts and security programmers and computers.
Was Ailill be off fighting challengers already? On the other hand… It might be time for a bit of a shock-tactic. She asked the attendants if he was off-dimension – and about challengers – before she set about organizing things.
The attendants admitted that The Master was currently in another realm, and had been for nearly three weeks; something to do with three hundred Death Knights, an army of a hundred thousand or so undead, and some business obligations – although he “should be back in about a week”.
Ramira arched an eyebrow at that. Three hundred Death Knights? Were there that many of the things in the entire Dragon Empire? Still, it was good to know…
As for challengers… That answer came in three basic sections; the cells, the trophy collection and harem (not really separate items), and general procedures.
Well, she knew what the trophy collection and harem would be like. Every powerful young male did the same thing with both of those.
The cells however… She might even know some of the current occupants!
She did. It looked like quite a few young dragons had skipped making a formal challenge – and waiting for Ailill to return – and had simply tried to grab the place while he was away. It would have been a good strategy normally – but Ailill had PLENTY of extremely loyal – and apparently combat-capable – servants.
She knew the figures; across the Empire, roughly 20,000 dragons were born per year – of which roughly 2000 normally reached adolescence. At any given time, there were fifty or sixty thousand adolescents, and almost eight thousand new adults, struggling for position in the Empire.
Apparently Ailill’s operation – at least since he’d opened his school – was attracting quite a few of them. There were 318 would-be challengers restrained in the cells and awaiting the Master’s pleasure – 220 males and 98 females. Adolescents, young adults, and even a few adults. A couple of slaves were getting more cells ready; evidently they felt that they were going to need them…
She did indeed know a number of the cell occupants. There were a few rivals, three of her (many) half-siblings (one whiny younger brother, one annoying older brother, and a younger sister-rival), and several males she had considered as potential partners at one time or another. Well, since they’d been stupid enough to challenge someone with so much power – no matter what the temptation – they would no longer be potential mates even if they were to somehow escape!
A couple of them, including her whiny little brother, appealed to HER to be let out. The slaves had captured them quite efficiently and put them here as they evidently had orders to do – but they apparently thought that she might have some authority – and thought that she was a bronze, and thus might be willing to help them escape from a red dragon.
Besides, what did they have to lose?
Ramira shrugged. She didn’t really have any serious authority in Ailill’s household. And besides, they’d LOST. And to servants yet! Ailill would doubtless be back to claim his new slaves soon enough – and the fools would meet their appropriate fate.
Still, she was a Dragon, not a Slave! There was no one except hatchlings and slaves to run the place at the moment – and she could obviously get away with inquiries and at least minor orders simply as a courtesy.
Now that she’d checked things out, she started issuing some orders. First thing to do – upgrade Ailill’s data security. After all, if she allied with him, that would be in her own best interests. She brought in some appropriate trained slaves and provided their upkeep as a courtesy – although Ailill would probably (given the scale of his operations) never have noticed the extra expenses.
Oddly, the upper-level slaves were quite cooperative – and the lower-level ones took their cues from the upper-level ones. What was… Ah. They were probably using amulets of ESP or some such; Ailill could easily afford to give such things to his servants – and they were an obvious precaution. As long as she actually meant to help, and was issuing sensible and inexpensive directions, the servants would listen to her.
They even provided her with a trio of hatchling-slaves – silver, gold, and copper – as a courtesy gift. She thanked them, and considered what else she could do to make herself more valuable to Ailill – besides attending to minor school matters in his absence. It was evident enough that, while Ailill might have ACCESS to extremely advanced technologies, he wasn’t very good at using them. Fortunately, she was.
Hm… The school needed the diversion level reduced a bit. It looked like the enslavement rate was actually fairly low once a hatchling had passed the initial 80-90% culling though – and those examples were probably good for discipline. It was the mass processings that kept things busy.
Still, there was no need to deprive the hatchlings of their entertainment entirely… She set up a paid gallery for the mass testing failure slave-conversions. That way, the original purpose of discipline should be preserved, but it would be a much more limited diversion.
Ailill’s red dragon hatchlings turned out to be especially fond of showing up when a batch of gold hatchlings was going to be processed – but that was an old, OLD, rivalry, and only to be expected.
The school hadn’t been open for more than a few months – so it wasn’t surprising that minor problems were still popping up.
There were the ones – although apparently only Ailill’s children had the authority to use the slave processing machines on their own – that were undercutting their father’s prices, but – oddly enough – none of the teachers or attendants seemed to be upset about it. Perhaps Ailill regarded such disrespect as permissible? He might even have expected it – and be using it to reward those of his children who were clever enough to take advantage of the rules he’d established… She wouldn’t interfere with that at the moment.
That green hatchling had somehow gotten out of its machine without being processed. Apparently nobody had started the system and there was some sort of release or time limit. A few of the kids were fighting outside the school. A few others might be attempting to manipulate other hatchlings into breaking the rules. There had been a few duels – albeit more between the other hatchlings in the school than amongst Ailill’s hatchlings. Many of Ailill’s hatchlings were jealous of one “Eogam”, who seemed to be favored at the moment; Ailill had taken him on a special trip somewhere quite recently, and a number had challenged him over it and lost.
Well, the ones who fell for manipulation were clearly dull enough not to be able to handle freedom – and duels were inevitable within reason. There was no reason why they shouldn’t fight outside the school if they felt like it.
After a few days or organizing things – and making sure that the kids studied a bit more – she went to speak with this “Eogam”.
Hm. Extra-large private quarters, to accommodate a surprising number of other hatchling slaves – nearly eighty of them – and all apparently previously male. Evidently the boy was pretty competitive – and either far more powerful than most of his rival hatchlings or INCREDIBLY lucky!
Not that luck might not be a power in itself.
Eogam had actually mostly been enforcing his father’s rules – although he had used his own talents to persuade quite a few of the youngsters who were about to be processed ANYWAY to let him be the one to put them in the machines, and thus had claimed them as personal slaves rather than sending them to the general palace pool. He’d mostly been just a bit less patient than the instructors – although his personal youthful bias was still showing; he’d only paid attention to male rulebreakers.
Eogam was currently lying around reading and having several of the slaves burnish his scales. The book looked like a distinct rarity – a semi-banned (or at least discouraged) book on psychic powers. Interesting… Could a hatchling actually have developed such abilities?
Of course, it didn’t take psychic powers to read the boy; she could almost see him thinking. No slave collar… coming to see him… an adult… who was she… then it looked like he was reading something – but with nothing visible? Some sort of invisible heads-up-display? Another piece of exotic technology?
(Eogam) “Uhm… Hello?”
(Ramira) “Good day, Eogam. I came to negotiate with your father. Since he is not here, though, and you’re the favored son, I suppose you’ll do nicely.”
(Eogam) “Negotiate? I haven’t really got any formal authority outside the school. I could discuss preliminary agreements I guess, but they wouldn’t be binding until father approved them.”
Well, the boy was courteous enough to use a respectful but non-servile term of address (draconic had some pretty fine divisions there). She had to admit that, even as a favored son, he probably really didn’t have much authority outside the school yet. Looking at the boy he couldn’t be eight years old yet – just barely out of being a literal hatchling.
Still, he had been entrusted with the authority to order any of the other kids slave-processed, including his siblings. He’d used it a fair bit too… That was certainly a strong sign of favor – and he might at least have a way to reach his father and some influence. Worth cultivating anyway. Too bad he wasn’t twenty years older; as a favored son that would have made it proper for him to handle at least basic negotiations in his father’s place.
(Ramira) “Well, can you contact your father? I’m quite interested in an alliance.”
(Eogam) “I can reach him; I just don’t like to abuse the privilege. What sort of alliance?”
(Ramira) “I would like to consolidate our resources. I am a specialist in technology and have several already extant training operations. With your father’s wealth, I believe I can greatly increase imperial technological proficiency.”
Ramira had some mental shields thanks to her Ring of Mind Protection – you could hardly get along without them in the data-security business and draconic politics were pretty cutthroat – but they were hardly perfect against an actual psychic with the ability to read body language no matter how well they did against a magician with a few mental spells. She was mostly thinking of a business alliance at the moment – and Eogam could still pick up that much.
On the other hand, Eogam could get the same data as the attendants and trainers, and the fact that this young woman had been moving some of her stuff into his father’s household was a pretty clear message. He hesitated for a moment to think about it… but Ailill probably would want to hear about this.
(Eogam) “Uhm… I guess he won’t mind. Anything else I should tell him?”
Ramira informed Eogam of the changes she’d made to the slave processing setup – and of the small fee that was being charged to watch the mass conversions. It was mostly to make the point of course. Still, while Red dragons liked to see their enemies and rivals suffering, they also were greedy enough to hate to spend money.
(Eogam, making up his mind) “I’ll call him Ma’am. Is it urgent? He has a good many projects underway.”
(Ramira) “If he is that busy, it can wait.”
Who knew what the young man was doing in other realms? It would be best not to offend him before she got started!
(Eogam, unable to resist showing off a bit, simply closed his eyes for a moment) “Oh, it shouldn’t be that bad… Father says he should be by tomorrow, and to make you welcome until then. Would you like a few more servants? Has anyone offended you?”
That was kind of impressive. There had been no sign of magic. The child was capable of reaching his father by pure mental power across the dimensions? No wonder he was favored! He had some quite exotic powers for a hatchling so young!
(Ramira) “Servants would be nice.”
Hm… A couple of the hatchlings had been mildly over-rambunctious, but she was a still a guest, and not anyone with any authority over them. Since they’d known that at the time, it would be unfair to ask for them to be punished now. Still, she’d always had a soft spot for her whiny younger brother down in the cells for some reason.
Oh why not. She’d ask for one more chance for him. It wasn’t like he was a serious threat to anyone. Likely he’d only been trying to get in as a minion, and – knowing him – had fumbled the approach.
(Ramira) “My younger half-brother is in your cells, though. Apparently he thought that challenging your father was a good idea. Could you teach him a lesson by sticking him in your personal processing machine and NOT pushing the button? It might make him think more carefully next time.”
(Eogam) “It will set him free in forty-eight hours if no one pushes the button. Is that what you want?”
Ah, so it WAS a deliberate design decision! Either Ailill was a little soft – possibly meaning that he wasn’t really a Red – or he was up to something subtle.
(Ramira) “Yes, that will be fine.”
For him, the shame should be enough. As for the other two… well, Ailill would enslave them of course – but apparently he, unlike most Reds, apparently rarely sold, butchered, tortured, or used his defeated rivals as anything BUT slaves – and they’d been trying to kill or enslave him and take possession of everything he owned – which would have quite spoiled her prospects! Slavery would suit them just fine!
So if letting them out after forty-eight hours was an intentional design decision, why? It looked like the ones who were getting out at the moment were… the class clowns?
Ahh… The button-pushing was mostly being left up to Ailill’s kids (that really was kind of strange), and they were going easy on the ones who were sufficiently amusing.
Well, every school needed some clowns. Still, she had the instructors make sure that the ones who were disruptive, as opposed to simply being funny, got processed – and made sure that the others got a class in being witty and charming. If that was what they were good at, why not?
Of course, Ailill’s first order of business when he got back was to meet the formal challengers.
Ramira waited for that of course – and made sure that she’d be on hand to witness things. Such battles were always entertaining and informative.
There was even a special feature! There was a brief ambush-attack by a young adult copper dragon – but Ailill hammered him to one side, and bludgeoned him into unconsciousness, quite casually. The servants dragged him off and caged him to await the victor’s decision…
Ramira had to laugh. What an IDIOT. Even if he’d won, that would just have left him facing all the rest of the challengers! He’d be lucky if Ailill didn’t put a ring of regeneration on him, skin him alive a dozen times in a row, and toast his feet and other sensitive organs on a grill while they were still attached each time!
Personally, Ailill was a pretty impressive specimen. The way that he’d tossed around a copper dragon that was a little older than he was like it had been newly hatched… She’d never seen that kind of physical performance – or attractiveness – in anyone, including a Great Wyrm Gold. He didn’t seem to be using any enhancing items either… Perhaps his own powers supplanted them? Mmmm… This could easily go beyond an alliance. A romance might not be out of the question once she’d sized Ailill up and spoken with him!
Ailill/Kevin wasn’t feeling very patient at the moment. Thirty-two formal challengers? Mostly reds, golds, and a scattering of the other more powerful metallics? They had better have enough property and slaves of their own to make the battle worth it, or he was going to make damned sure that they had a miserable time until he’d worked off his frustrations…
Still… It was a formal challenge – and there was a girl to impress. It looked like she’d be most impressed by a grand melee too; it was easy enough to read that much – and it would show off his confidence as well as his physical prowess. Besides, if he agreed to face them all at once, he’d be in a position to set a few conditions – such as no magic items and he got the first move. That would eliminate most of the potential surprises – and the sealed arena would keep any of the challengers from getting away and keep his abilities private. The other spectators were mostly hatchlings or slaves, either Ailill’s or his challengers. His hatchlings would know better than to reveal too much – and the others would all be his property shortly.
The challengers were quite pleased at that proposal. It was “obvious” – at least from their viewpoint – that Ailill was acknowledging that he had no chance, and was preparing for a glorious death rather than accepting living as a slave. The survivors could settle who would claim his properties – or the metallics could ally and divide them (apparently their intention) after Ailill fell.
Ramira was seriously disappointed. Either Ailill had seriously underestimated how many challengers his new school would attract and was accepting his fate – or he was insanely overconfident. No young dragon could possibly withstand the assault of thirty -two other dragons, including two adult golds, two adult silvers, and several young adult golds and silvers! Reds might be impervious to fire – but they were vulnerable to cold; even if he killed a few of the Silvers, the rest would take him down…
Ailill opened with a powerful, subtle, well-cloaked, and delayed sensory manipulation – causing several of his opponents to see some of the other challengers as himself shortly after the melee would be in full swing. It sufficed to get several of his opponents to attack each other while he was busy with the others.
The battle was horrendous – and went on for quite some time with much wheeling, flying, and destruction – but Ailill revealed himself to be a mage of appalling power, capable of enduring an unbelievable amount of punishment – and apparently near-impervious to magic. He did focus on the Silvers to start with – it looked like cold did hurt him – but after his little display with the Copper, most of his opponents had prepared for a more physical approach.
He was still standing when the battle wound down with three dead challengers, twenty-five blasted and beaten into unconsciousness, and the last four intimidated into submitting. Some would have tried to run, but the formal challenge arena was warded to prevent that.
Ailill dispatched his servants to collect his challengers properties, concubines, and – for the adults – their eggs and hatchlings. He even raised his deceased challengers to add to his collection.
Ramira was impressed. Well, actually she was disbelieving – that was IMPOSSIBLE. Even the Great Wyrms did not possess such powerful magic or the ability to endure such punishment!
Ailill / Kevin invited Ramira along to talk while he continued his catching-up…
(Ailill) “I’m informed that you’ve been helping out while I’ve been away and that you have an alliance in mind?”
Ramira explained the terms, much as she had done for Eogam..
(Ramira) “You can’t neglect your information security and training, and I’m definitely willing to help with that.”
(Ailill) “And in return? Wanting to expand the technology of the Empire is not a bad idea, but it seems a bit impersonal as a motive so early.”
(Ramira) “Well, I didn’t tell your son, but I think the Dragonworlds could play a larger role in the Manifold than they do. It’s a shame that we spend much of our time embroiled in our political struggles.”
(Ailill) “Ah, you’re aware of the Manifold; are you a visitor here? It wouldn’t seem so, but it’s always possible.”
(Ramira) “My particular lineage has preserved certain politically… unpopular… information for generations. I’ve just decided to use it.”
(Ailill) “Well then… I must admit that technology is not one of my better fields.”
(Ramira) “I’m curious. It seems as if you’re giving your hatchlings a grace period of sorts. They’ve been using the processing machines quite frequently. Was the forty-eight hour timer a deliberate feature?”
(Ailill) “Yes, it’s intentional; The attendants and my hatchlings all have the authority to start the machines – but the attendants only start them towards the end of the grace period and, even then, only if they feel it necessary, in case of serious failures, or for the initial percentage who flunk out. The children are allowed to decide the fates of most of the others; those who are popular, or have gathered allies, or are simply very lucky – all desirable traits – may wind up being released. Hopefully they will eventually build some sense of solidarity.”
(Ramira) “It is wise that you’re instilling that in your hatchlings. Too much inter-familial conflict can bring down a household.”
(Ailill, sighing) “At the moment, it seems that they’re more inclined to show mercy to outside youngsters that are amusing than to each other – but the system is very new. Hopefully the enthusiasm for sending each other into slavery will wane shortly.”
(Ramira) “It certainly interferes with their studies. But everyone needs a bit of amusement.”
(Ailill glanced at one hatchling who was being put into a machine and read the sign) “Gambling? How silly…”
He flipped a coin sarcastically and started the machine. Ramira shrugged. It had been the hatchling’s decision to put himself in debt!
The cells currently hosted 438 young dragons – 116 females and 322 males, counting the ones that had just been brought down from the arena. There would doubtless be many more as the challenger’s properties, concubines, and offspring were collected.
(Ailill) “Ah, I see I have quite a few new slaves! Perhaps I should not be at home more often!”
Ramira was considering… That was more dragon-slaves than she’d ever seen in one place outside of the Imperial Palace! Was Ailill seriously preparing for a power play? Even as a long-range plan? If he was really planning for the long term, he was clearly an exceptional red dragon… if he even was a dragon and not some Gatekeeper playing at it.
(Ramira) “Well, you asked me if I was a local. How about you?”
(Ailill) “Oh, I was originally a visitor – but I like it here!”
Well, he might not originally be a dragon – although dragons traveled the worlds too – but he had certainly adapted well if he was originally a human or something.
Meanwhile, Ailill had been amusing himself looking over his new slaves. THAT was pretty typical for a Red!
(Ramira) “You can never have enough servants – as long as you can keep them under control.”
(Ailill) “Well, that is one reason for the neurosurgery and other controls! It works quite well!”
(Ramira) “You do have an impressive operation. I would love to know your supplier.”
(Ailill) “Well, I suppose we can discuss that. After all, there’s not much point in trying to hide things from the person handling information security!”
Ramira grinned. That certainly sounded like a statement that he found the deal acceptable to her!
(Ailill) “Hm… and 46 special prospects! An unusually high number!”
(Ailill) “With the potential to be greater dragons. If they care to accept a special offer, they may qualify for some special privileges.”
(Ramira) “Hmm. You’ve piqued my curiosity. Do tell me about this offer.”
(Ailill) “Why not? (Ailill had the 46 separated out). Now, I have a proposition for all of you. You don’t have to accept of course; you are also free to choose death or normal slavery – but…”
Ailill / Kevin gave the hatchlings and youngsters his standard thrall-recruiting spiel and fielded a few of their questions.
(Ramira) “Well, you explained that very well. That IS an excellent offer.”
The young dragons (well, quite a few of them were youthful visitors in local draconic identities) all took the offer. It was better than being made into magical components or toiling under someone else with few to no benefits!
Ailill / Kevin was a bit disappointed that Ramira didn’t want to be a Thrall – but she was probably too powerful anyway. She was obviously interested in acquiring a few though. Of course, that was really no surprise: they were powerful and useful and completely loyal – which was a distinct rarity in the Dragon Empire.
Ailill / Kevin spent quite some time working his way through the cells – selecting some of the females as concubines, enslaving the males and other females (although he did offer the ones he’d brought back a choice of death or slavery), and collecting trophies. It was traditional to handle at least the basics of slave-processing personally with challengers. Ramira was rather relieved in a way… for all his power, Ailill was still a typical young male in a lot of ways!
She considered for a moment when he got to her younger sister. She’d just smirked at the fate of her annoying older brother – served it right! – but the younger sister might well wind up as one of Ailill’s concubines if she didn’t intervene, and that would never do. She asked that her younger sister be assigned to her after slave-processing. Her older brother could serve wherever it was assigned.
(Ailill) “Oh? Certainly. Any special modifications you want made beyond the slave-basics?”
Ramira considered – and added “spaying” to the basic list. It was a standard option after all – and the girl had foolishly challenged a far superior specimen.
The alliance – well, given the scale of Ailill’s operations, even Ramira herself had to admit that it was employment – proceeded well. Ailill didn’t give Ramira much of any authority over his hatchlings – but he was certainly be willing to provide money, servants, and magical aid.
She did find out more about his extradimensional holdings – even as she turned down his casual attempts to add her to his harem. Not that it wasn’t rather tempting – but she wanted to at least know what he really was! He was obviously a powerful… whatever he was.
A visit to Kadia cleared that up. Everyone there claimed that he was that dimensions creator god.
Well, that would at least explain how he could handle thirty-two other dragons at the same time. It also meant that he was DEFINITELY the right “Red Dragon” to partner with.
Ailill / Kevin took the chance to hint that there were even more benefits available to his mates and followers – and Ramira wound up accepting an office as chief of electronic and data security – as well as a loyalty bond and the extra powers that came with it.
He also took the chance to explain what she didn’t know about souls, the differences between lesser and greater dragons, and his meddling with dimensional overlays and other powers to make sure that most of his kids – at least with greater dragons such as herself – were also born as greater dragons with souls.
Now that would also help push the Dragonworlds interests out into the Manifold (something that was semi-impossible otherwise) – although the fact that Ailill / Kevin intends to bind his children’s souls to him so that they’d return to him for new bodies if they were killed might well upset the culture of the Dragonworlds more than a bit; they’d always fight to the death and would have quite a pile of advantages.
That was a bit troubling – but he was a powerful being, might generally made right among dragons, and a dragon that potent would shake things up eventually anyway. The strong won out in the end – and Ailill intended for his bloodline to win out.
Ramira didn’t want her bloodline on the losing side either – and concubine for a deity was hard to beat anyway. It wasn’t like Ailill had a shortage of concubines, so his interest in her was really quite a compliment – or at least an indication of massive possessiveness.