Federation-Apocalypse Session 153a – Crimson Empire

Two dragons... (the gate to the end)

Image by Giampaolo Macorig via Flickr

With the death of the prior Dragon Emperor – Mezzenbian the Destroyer, first Asamet lord of the Dragon Empire (in an insane struggle with some adventurers and a squirrel as the cosmic cycle turned) – the power struggle had seethed for a time. The revelation that Mezzenbian had been mad enough to attempt to destroy the universe – rather than merely exploiting the realm for his the good of himself, his offspring, and his clan (in that order) – had brought an abrupt end to five thousand years of tradition. The rule of the eldest and strongest had worked well throughout the reign of the Metallic Dragons, but it had nearly destroyed the realm within forty years of the ascent of the Chromatics – and there were still more than nine hundred years of red dragon rule to come, with the other Chromatics to rule in their turns.

Politics had come into play – the ruthless, cutthroat, chaotic evil politics of red dragons to be sure, but politics nonetheless. The candidates had been forced to gather support, to reassure other elders with evidence of their sanity, and to struggle for the job.

Finnmacaurol of the Bloodfire, Lord of Valendia, was not quite at the peak of draconic power – but he was clever and manipulative, and had claimed the prize. Still, the plots of dragons were slow and deadly; even now, after several years upon the golden throne, he faced schemes and threats – not least from amongst the sons of the prior emperor, far too many of which had notions of succeeding their parent, simply because he foolish, antlike, swarming humans often foolishly conducted their affairs in such a fashion.

He had disposed of those of Mezzenbian’s children who had – foolishly – not yet left the harem within hours of his ascension to the throne.

Soon afterwards, he had launched a search for those who were still young enough to make trouble unwisely – and were thus of so little consequence that no one else of any importance would object to his moving against them. The imperial gate network – as limited as it was – had been very useful in finding them, and they made fine harem guards. Their protests at that decree, and their screams as it was implemented, had been quite amusing – and that was all that had been important about them!

He still wondered a bit how the Gold Dragon Clan had come to have custody of more than a dozen of them, but they had obeyed the law after a bit of legalistic stalling (knowing them, just to make a point of the fact that they didn’t like him, as if that wasn’t utterly obvious), and had quite recently turned in a dozen or so who were in their custody. They, in fact, were still awaiting his pleasure in the cells.

There were still some unaccounted for however…

  • At least a dozen had been confirmed to have fled outside the imperial borders
  • Twenty or so are were in hiding – according to rumors, gathering support for attempts to seize the throne. They, of course, were doubtless pawns of some elder opponent.
  • At least five had vanished into the territory of a young adult red named Ailill – and no further information was available? What were his agents slipping?
  • Half a dozen were believed to be in hiding with the chaotic good metallics, at least some of whom doubtless meant to use them in plots against him.

Hm… According to one report there were nearly fifty who had originally been presumed slain in the destruction of one of Mezzenbian’s villas during an assassination attempt on him – but who now seemed to have been somehow scooped up and bonded to service by a ridiculously powerful group of adventurers.

Bound to a human? Humans were clever, but that would require an incredible amount of magical or psionic control… And fifty of them?

Hm… His predecessor had let that group buy an imperial battle-cruiser and crew to go renegade dragon-hunting in – and, according to the reports, their dragon-collection was being used as… harem attendants, pets, and personal servants.

Well, at least they apparently knew how to handle them properly. He would have to get a full report on a group of adventurers of such power however – and on their supposed association with the transformation-wave that had swept over the empire and supposed ability to teleport straight through the shields of the old imperial palace. Wait a moment… The report contained a series of notes about a squirrel? What was that supposed to be about? He made a note to have the editor thoroughly whipped unless he had a VERY good explanation for wasting his time with notes on familiars!

He didn’t like that note about someone teleporting through the imperial shields though! They were supposed to be virtually impenetrable!

Yes, the shields had been reinforced since, at least if he could trust the drow magi who’d done it. They were some of the best secret police mages though… Finnmacaurol had one of his personal, blood-linked mages double check anyway. Those were almost assuredly loyal! They were all far past their normal lifespans, and were only being sustained by their bonds with him. If he died, they would die with him… If only he could support more of them! There were never enough truly loyal agents for all the things that needed to be checked and done!

[According to his pet mages later report, the shields did, indeed, look good – but they had to admit that they really weren’t much past his predecessors shields, if they were any better at all. The imperial standards were the best there were. If someone HAD cracked them, they must have been backdoored by someone inside – unless whoever-it-was had unprecedented powers].

According to this report from his secret service, some of the chaotic good dragons – led by some of the Silvers – were scheming to use the gateway network to jump into the imperial palace.

Of course, that led to considerations of how many of his top officials were trying to use him, and the secret police, as a weapon against their rivals and opponents.

As for this “Ailill”… Something was definitely going on there; he was one of the major architects of the gate network, and was apparently running his own gate network. He was also collecting an incredible number of other youngsters, especially hatchlings – whom the secret police reported he was training very well, but otherwise he was actually… treating them rather kindly. Some sort of sorcerous prodigy apparently, but unaccountably weak when it came to underlings for a red. He could be an imposter of course – that wasn’t too uncommon, and was even allowable if a mortal was powerful and ruthless enough to make it stick – or he might be a good dragon in disguise, setting himself up for a grab at the throne.

Wait, hadn’t there been something about Ailill and a “school” of some sort in an earlier report?

Ah yes; he was the one running a “Testing Service” that claimed to sort out the hatchlings who had a decent shot at success and train them, while processing and training the ones who were headed for slavery with no fuss before sending them back to their parents – and all for a modest share of the resulting hatchling-slaves. Was it possible that it wasn’t just a scam? There were no reports of any problems with the hatchling-slaves that the parents sold or put to work afterwards. Of course, they WERE only hatchling; it wasn’t like they were actually capable of making any real trouble. Even a group of hatchlings was no real menace.

Still, his secret police reported that he was “testing” thousands – or tens of thousands – of young dragons… On checking, he found that there were a few young slave-processed metallics working around the palace even, albeit mostly as toys for his own kids.

A few of which were – unwisely – scheming of course. Some of them ALWAYS did that.

Hm. Perhaps it would be wise to examine one of the Hatchling-toys, and do a little probing for information about Ailill when he retired to the harem for the evening. That might be a bit beneath the Emperor’s station – but who was going to comment? It was his harem, and they were his secret police… Besides, he could always just eat the toy afterwards and say it looked appetizing. Metallic hatchlings did after all.

That gold hatchling did look delicious… and came over most obediently when beckoned, with a surprising minimum of utter terror… It was… very properly submissive and respectful, and rolled over to offer it’s abdomen to his claws, and waited for him to do whatever he wished to do to it.

That was good conditioning!

(Finnmacaurol)  “You were conditioned by Ailill, weren’t you?”

(Hatchling) “Yes Lord.”

Ah, it did have some caution; it was sticking to the minimum responses which gave it some small chance of living – although explanations were obviously available at a word. Still, better to probe its mind directly while asking; any contradictions, shields, or incomplete statements would become apparent that way – and any memories of encountering his predecessors fugitive sons!

(Finnmacaurol) “What can you tell me about him?”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t much. The hatchling and a bunch of its siblings and half-siblings had been sent in for testing by its father, had indeed been run though a lot of automated tests, and had not produced a particular impressive performance by gold standards… Wait, Ailill was actually having automated testing done and adjusting the baselines to match the subspecies being tested? Was it possible that he was actually being FAIR?

That was quite a weight on the “imposter” side of the scales!

So, it had failed the testing without ever meeting Ailill and had been put through slave-processing, most of with was ALSO automated! It had involved… neural reconstruction, imprint-training (apparently rather like the process of turning an animal into a familiar), some sort of neural implants, being (properly) fixed, and rather a lot more. The first bits had been painful – but it had been fairly peaceful after that.

Hm. A hatchling who’d flunked out later on would probably know more – but a quick computer check showed that none of those were on the market. That was bothersome.

Afterwards it had been shipped back to its father, like most of the others he’d sent in for testing, and had been sold, also like most of the others. It knew that successful testers – and at least some of the slaves that Ailill kept – went into more advanced training programs, but it didn’t know much about those. It was actually quite happy with its current status, and accepted it completely. Serving it’s master well as a great pleasure to it. It still wanted to survive of course – but mostly so that it could continue to serve.

That was… dizzying and unprecedented. Unless the blasted thing had shields that could stand up to HIM, it was… actually reliable. It literally lived to serve. Even the most terrorized dragon- slaves normally wanted to escape, to flee the empire, and to grab a territory of their own where they could heal themselves and spawn a brood.

Reliable minions. That would change a LOT in dragon society! And that pleasure benefit… that was so useful that it actually made eating this one a waste of family resources!.. He sent it back to the child that owned it. A good “test” of his own there. Which of his offspring would be bright enough to recognize the benefits of having a genuinely loyal minion?

The hatchling-slave was relieved – both for itself and because it would continue to get to be of service to it’s master.

Hatchling-slaves weren’t really very effective minions of course, but they would grow… He gave the order to acquire more of them for his personal service before it really occurred to him that this “Ailill” was collecting thousands of hatchlings – and might well be giving the same treatment to his defeated challengers. He might already control enough power to turn moving against him in to a major war!

Further checking would be wise before making such a move – but this “Ailill” had just shot up to the top of the priority list!

Well, he could simply send for an advanced student – and apparently the students were allowed out at times, which meant that some had surely been defeated and enslaved outside the school. It would be easy enough to dispatch the secret police to locate and buy one of those – or to simply snatch one.

He opted to take all three routes. Multiple points of view might be valuable – and if was asked to send a student, Ailill would certainly provide one if he knew what was good for him. It might be best to provide a little cover though… Oh, just telling his messenger to say that “The Emperor has received good reports about your program and wants an older student to talk to so that he can  evaluate and possibly make use of it” should be quite good enough.

Gold for cleverness, Red for a matching evil viewpoint, Silver for chaos, or White for being too stupid to hold anything back?

White. Definitely white, at least for the official student who had a decent change of going back home. It wouldn’t pick up much of anything he didn’t want it to report.

One white youngster – at least out of the earliest hatchling stages, if not yet adolescent – turned up fairly promptly, and seemed to have had hurried etiquette coaching. He could still take offense of course – it WAS only a child and no one of any importance would care – but it would be best not to unsheathe his talons without a reason.

The juvenile approached and submitted mostly properly… It had, of course, been fitted with a breath weapon neutralizer collar and claw restraints and such by the secret police before the interview – and seemed to be too foolish to realize that it could be rendered unconscious by that collar with a single word from him. It wouldn’t even remember what had happened when it woke up.

For a moment, Finnmacaurol considered just devouring the stupid thing’s mind – but it would almost certainly be BORING. Questions and answers – with a little bit of mind-probing – were probably the way to go.

The ensuing questions – “How does he do the training? What does it provide other than the listed services and curriculum? Are there any unusually nervous red dragons present?” – got him most of the course choices and information, a first-hand view of the classes, a description of the slave-processing systems (the white had no idea how they worked of course, but he was very familiar with the various options and the results, since he’d gotten to pick the options on another hatchling a few times and had gloated a lot), the reds he knew were mostly just other hatchlings, and was aware that graduates were going to be given some concubines and servants and starting money and gear…

He also knew a lot about the general physical layout of the school areas and knew something of the gateway network Ailill was using (which apparently rivaled the imperial network) – and the hunting asteroids and carnival and other recreational services. He thought that quite a few of the previous Emperors young offspring were to be found amongst the slave-staff though, partially due to some sort of old imperial grant…

Oh scorch it! He’d ordered his predecessors hatchlings disposed of, and that was where they’d went! Had HE started this?

General information on the Dragon-School can be found in these log segments:

  1. A Draconic Interlude Part I: Discipline.
  2. A Draconic Interlude Part II: Coursework.
  3. A Draconic Interlude Part III: Academy.

Still… that was a ridiculously extensive collection of graduation benefits and resources for a young red. Either the boy had been a gatemaster for decades, and had been using his talents to run a trading empire (which was just barely possible), he was getting massive support from one or more of the other families, or he’d defeated an enormous number of challengers under various local ID’s and was using their resources – or more than one of those.

Just as annoyingly, the boy was still in the adolescent age bracket, and thus could get away with defying a minor summons… Youngsters in that age were traditionally allowed to sort things out by themselves, so that the strong would survive, and to be crazy enough to defy all authority in any case. Given the strain that he was already placing on tradition, by collecitng his predecessors offspring it would risk unsettling his rule to try to break any more of them. It would look like he was starting to go after ANYONE else who had collected a little power or become prominent – and that would unsettle the coalition that had put him on the throne.

Hm. That was about all the white seemed to know… He used the knockout word and sent it back with some memories of an interview about the school with a functionary – possibly because “the emperor” was considering having some of his own, more annoying, children processed – since Ailill offered that service as well. Even if the information was already public knowledge, it was quite reasonable for the Emperor to demand a personal dragon courier when he wanted to know something…

This Ailill did seem to have some style though!

At a guess, his predecessor would have called out the imperial legions and stormed the school! After all, who knew what Ailill might be up to in there, training a reliable force of who-knew-how-many young dragons!

Of course, that would be quite ridiculous. Something like this needed to be controlled, not destroyed. After all, perfectly conditioned servants meant perfectly conditioned potential spies, janissaries, and assassins!

He would pay this “school” a visit! He gave orders to gather the retinue and ready the imperial battlecarrier and escorts!

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