Marty, of course, had his own activities to review…
In Kadia – where he was quite helpless in the face of infant cuteness – the Thrall-concubines were continuing to deliver happy, gurgling, infants regularly. There would only be a few more days of that – but it was still pandemonium everywhere but in his private study.
It was such cute pandemonium though! How could he resist?
Still… no more until this batch were at least walking, talking, and startingto make a little sense without resorting to emotional telepathy.
Thrall-mothers… made him jealous though. Each of them had promptly forged a heartrune amulet to provide a constant link to their kids – allowing them to remain in contact with them, and to use their powers to help them out wherever they were on a moments notice. He hadn’t really realized that Kevin had thrown “expertise in parenting” into the package.
The kids would never doubt that they were loved, and cared for, and would get constant support in learning and growing… All on top of Core genemods, Teacher, and the various magical and technological advantages of growing up in Kadia and Escrima.
Doubtless Kevin would trot out the “advertising and recruitment” justification for this particular act of “evil” if asked – but trying to hang that justification on making sure that as many children as possible throughout eternity received constant attention, care, affection, and every possible physical, emotional, and magical advantage, was like trying to blot out the rising sun with a can of spray paint.
There were all-too human flaws there, and adolescent possessiveness, and pettiness – but not evil.
- Excrima, at least, wasn’t doing anything too odd – but then he had just created the place
- In Faerun, the Godswar was in full swing. As usual. Like it or not, that HAD been one of the most memorable plotlines the place had ever produced – and so the blasted thing kept popping up again, even if they had to produce an entirely new crop of deities to participate. It was sort of weird really; in most places being a god was a pretty decent job – not an invitation to your own funeral.
- In Battling Business World the Number Lords saw their power imperiled, and the realm gradually lurching towards a split-and-reboot – and were determined to stop it. If they could not find a more subtle way (and there wasn’t much chance of that in Battling Business World) they were preparing for another massed assault.
- The situation in the Linear Realms was… fluid. The initial softening-up scheme might have failed, and defenses had been added – but the influence of the remaining Horsemen was still being felt. The efforts of Kevin’s Thralls were still boosting the defense in the various other realms under attack – and buying time for evacuation. The forces of the Horsemen were still immense of course – but they were considerably harder to replace.
- Baelaria was rebuilding, but France was taking the opportunity to try and to undermine British dominance – sending agents creeping through the empire. Their old-fashioned sorceries might be harder to distribute than English steampunk technology – but they were far, FAR, easier to carry and use in secret.
In the Dragonworlds, as Markov, Marty’s estates were on one of the minor worlds – although it was seeing more traffic since Ailill had established his testing center / school. Still, the forested mountains were relatively calm, if marginal, territories. They were filled with caves, had plenty of hunting territory, were loosely populated, and were open to claim by any young dragon who could pay the taxes. They were the location of choice for quite a few adolescent dragons who were out to establish a territory.
Markov had dealt with a two more minor challengers since Kruath – bringing his holdings to eight manors, two sizeable hunting forests, and eleven villages, as well as his nineteen slaves (not counting the twenty-odd hatchling-slaves, who were virtually meaningless), and eleven concubines, to go with his thirty-four young offspring…
Of course, that meant that he’d now defeated seven challengers – some of who had defeated two or three other challengers – and therefore was a tough target. Normally the challenges would be dropping off; there were easier marks. His wealth would continue to draw another every so often for some time to come – that was a part of being ensouled in the Dragonworlds – but most potential challengers would now be looking for easier marks… Phantasms or not, “Harem Slave” was not a career that rivals wanted to take up.
The fact that his holdings were an isolated backwater helped hold down the challengers as well. There probably wouldn’t be many more until politics started to rear it’s ugly head… With the kids done with their tutoring, and off to testing, things were fairly quiet at the moment – at least until his slave-concubines produced a few more clutches!
Politics promptly came along in the form of Vrysylin, a youthful blue, who thought that Markov and his properties would make a great starting point for building his power base!
Still, he was offering options other than a straight challenge-battle – asking if Markov would prefer to submit and become a subordinate (fat chance!) or to make it a coalition-dominance battle! Building a coalition seems to work for the Metallics after all!
Markov considered that… Chromatics tend to be more vicious after all, and he liked the fighting. Still, there would still be both external and internal challengers even in coalitions; it was just that – within the coalition – there was a gentleman’s agreement (enforced by the other members) that the fights were for dominance only, not ownership!
In fact… there might be a lot more fights that way! You could challenge more than once, and have some casual fights, instead of them basically being to the death!
Still, while that sounded appealing, and the existing coalitions were usually open to new members, the older coalitions would only let youngsters join up as VERY junior members and it took centuries to move up!
Ah! That was why Vrysylin was trying to start his own! That way you started off at the top, even if you had a lot less backing to begin with – although getting the first few paranoid chromatics together could be quite a trick! That would be good too!
Besides… building a coalition would involve… holding parties, schmoozing with potential members, challenging and fighting other youngsters in the area (either to set who was dominant if they decided to join or to take ownership of them and their properties to build up their coalition resources if they did not), presenting themselves to the major groups that ruled the population centers as the local “government”, and providing mutual support against raiders, adventurers, and older dragons and other coalitions.
Youngsters – and eventually any older dragons in the area – would eventually either band together or stop them, move out, or make deals for “protection” – either with them (which sounded good unless they were really recalcitrant) or with an older and more powerful coalition (although that choice would make them tributary to that coalition, and leave them almost permanently on the bottom of the heap).
Well, that certainly sounded like… a very Battling Business World way to go about things! He was in!
They put out the announcement on the local network – and held their own duel to settle who was going to be the initial leader! They could come up with a priority list (political power – a standard for older coalitions – going after any metallics in the area, collecting the dumbest and weakest dragons first to build up their numbers, keeping other dragons out of their territory, mates, money and influence, manufacturing facilities, military power, magic, psychic power, breeding werewolf troops, getting their own trading fleet and gate network set up, heaps of treasure, or whatever! There were tens of thousands of possibilities!) after they settled who’d be starting out being in charge!
Vrysylin wound up being very glad that Markov had agreed to a “gentleman’s duel”. Markov’s new breath weapon tricks worked quite well – and “Second in Command” was MUCH better than “Eunuch Slave #20!”
They went with keeping other dragons out of the area to start with; it sounded like something a big greedy green would want! And territorial protection was a pretty basic and easily-understood starting point!
Vrysylin HAD been surveying the other dragons in the area – and there were half a dozen whites and blacks scattered around in less desirable territories who would be easy to either intimidate into joining or defeat. They were kind of on the fringes of the area – but that just meant that they and their territories would make a good buffer zone. There were also a dozen or so other blues, greens, and reds scattered around (including three of Vrysylin’s clutchmates – two brothers and a sister), and one very arrogant young gold, who seemed to possess a good deal of extra power, in the area. He’d apparently moved in on the theory that he could beat up a bunch of chromatics and take their stuff. He might be an age category up, or have notably advanced magic, or both… Still, even if he was two age categories up, he was probably not much more than one above Markov… He could still be pretty tough though! He could even be up on Kelsaru’s level – and that would be tricky…
Marty opted to steer clear of him for the time being… Besides, his presence might be good for recruitment, since he was more powerful than most.
In fact, that had been one reason why Vrysylin had wanted to start a coalition.
Still, if they could take him down early, a powerful gold slave and some high-end metallic slave-concubines would carry some instant status.
OK: they’d go for recruiting two or three more dragons, and try to find out what techniques the gold had, before taking him on.
Meanwhile, Raphael was selecting assistants… For the most part, generic Thralls weren’t at all bad – but Dreadpuddle’s assistants had to be as varied as possible – and probably needed to have powerful Crusader identities with a boosted ability to shift them… He needed a small army of lieutenants and a seperate army of faceless lab technicians with sob stories about horrible pasts… Philsantias needed some guards as well, since he couldn’t reliably maintain a army of constructs there. After all, he couldn’t spend all his time there summoning things up to fight off dragon competitors…
Philsantias had been spending time on his own affairs… His rewards had included a variety of useful holdings, plenty of local funds, some favors, and (most enjoyably!) a selection of young adult metallics. The original payment had been eight well-trained concubines and eight docile harem slaves – but the upgrades (four females and eight males) had been unprocessed silvers and golds who’d recently upset or seriously disappointed their parents and elders…
Philsantias had had a LOT of fun processing them and breaking them in the old-fashioned way (at the moment, only Ailill, the Emperor, and Marty – who’d gotten a few through the Thralls – had access to Kevin’s new slave-processing machines) – increasing his holdings from a mere five concubines (two silvers, a copper, a bronze, and a blue) and four properly eunuched and broken dragonslaves to seventeen and twenty… And mostly high-status metallics too!
OK, there were a dozen or so hatchling slaves about, but they didn’t count for anything.
Still… If Kevin was around, and running that “testing center” and a bunch of personal territories – doubtless under a dozen different names – Marty was probably around somewhere…
He’d have to try and find him.
Fortunately, while Marty / Markov wasn’t stirring up too much trouble or doing anything all that conspicious, he wasn’t making too much of an effort to hide either – so finding him simply required a few major divinatory spells.
Raphael had those in plenty. That got him Marty’s local ID in short order… Several worlds over of course, in one of the clusters that was mostly inhabited by evil dragons.
Still, just calling might be impolitic. He’d have to see what Marty / Markov was up to locally. An galnet search would be easiest!
Hm… Not all that much about Marty / Markov on the general records. He was evidently playing at just being one of many thousands of young adults and adults out building a personal domain – and the evil dragons were not THAT big on telling people what they were up to.
Ah, wait! Marty / Markov DID have a ChromeBook (a social networking site for Chromatic Dragons) profile – although they didn’t usually let Metallics join – and the elves and dwarves and such that the local dragons ruled over did some gossiping…
It (well, the parts he was interested in) was mostly about who was the best local lordling of course. Marty seemed to count as pretty good – especially for a chromatic – but he seemed to be up to building a local alliance… There were, bets on who would come out on top, speculation as to what the market in hatchling body parts would be like and some notes on how the horrible screaming of some poor young dragon getting spitted and roasted alive (Ew!) were driving the locals in one village nuts – but not too many good indications of how much damage contacting Marty would do to his reputation
From divination… not much. Dragons did talk to each other after all, favored slaves and concubines could be of any color and were often permitted to make calls – and who in his personal quarters would report on a private call to the master? The secret police sometimes took an interest in interplanetary communications – but he could make a simple call pretty much untraceable – and they weren’t normally very interested in youngsters anyway, at least unless they were making as much of a stir as Ailill was.
Raphael) ah well then might as well make a call then.
Markovs hololink went off while he was preparing a new slave… One of Vrysylin’s two clutchmate brothers in fact – not that they ever gotten along. Chromatic siblings often didn’t, and the fool had refused to either join their alliance or pay tribute – and was now paying the proper price! Starting up an alliance had really paid off in enlarging his holdings and harem!
The ID said it was… Some young silver dragon, calling (rather expensively) on the interplanetary links. That could pull in the secret police there… Huh. What the heck did a silver dragon like this “Philsantias” want with a green like him?
He did a search on galnet…
There wasn’t much there. A youngster, and an unusually powerful mage, who hadn’t managed much more than a minimal holding until very recently – when he’d gotten rather a LOT of useful properties and dragonslaves as a “gift” from a much older relative – including some young golds and silvers who had recently disappointed or displeased older relatives and parents, and had been sent to him to be turned into slaves and concubines.
Well, that was par for the course with youngsters; older relatives did get generous sometimes, and inconvenient or annoying youngsters were often disposed of – but then he hadn’t really done anything to warrant attention…
Markov accepted the call. For a moment he considered making a show of his power and dominance by answering while working on the new slave – but elected to step away. It might be a distraction, and it wouldn’t hurt anything to let the idiot remain intact – and painfully clamped in the restraints – for a little longer.
(Raphael) “Hello, this is Philanstias. You do not know my name here, but I know you from Elsewhere. Several other places in fact.”
(Marty) “Hello there! Where were you thinking of?”
(Raphael) “We were in los Vegas, Cyarkian, and Kadia. It took me a bit to find you here.”
(Marty) “Oh, I get it! So what are you doing here?”
(Raphael) “Mostly trying to get a handle on things. It was a little weird. I wanted to see what some others were doing here before I got too settled in.”
(Margaret) “Well, I’m trying to keep an eye on our other associate’s activities, and starting up a little something for mutual protection.”
The young blue groaned in the background.
(Raphael) “YOU are having problems with protection?… What was that?”
(Marty, cheerfully) “Well, you never know when somebody stronger than you is going to swoop in and pound you into the pavement. And that? That’s one of the things that can happen when somebody pounds you into the pavement. Though I wound up on the “pound” end with that one.”
As the blue groaned again, Philanstias made the connection, even if Raphael hadn’t been paying that much attention during that part of the fun! He knew those sounds! After all, he’d just emasculated eight new dragonslaves himself!
(Raphael) “Hm… maybe I should go check on what defenses I have. So that’s just a boy being… um… I guess that’s normal here… that is just SO WRONG.”
Thinking back, he was so weirded out by how much he’d ENJOYED doing that to eight other young males that he forgot all about the (most upsetting!) rumors that Ailill used some sort of “enslaving machine…” – despite the fact that, if the machines got ahold of a technology like that, humanity was DOOMED!
(Marty) “Yep! Also, you might have several concubines now, so I’d check on that!”
(Raphael, startledly) “Er… seventeen… (thinking back) I guess that they’re probably mostly pregnant now… and I’ve got some kids already anyway.”
Marty thought that that wasn’t at all bad! In fact that was almost as large a harem as he had now!
(Raphael) “Anyway, how are you keeping an eye on him all the way over there?”
(Marty) “I’m keeping in touch with some of his dragon-thralls.”
(Raphael) “Oh. I guess that would work… I guess it is time to make another call then. I should wait some though. I am going to need to get some Thrall-aides in here for better communications now.”
(Marty) “They’re useful over these distances.”
Meanwhile, the blue had started screaming weakly in the background. One of the kids seemed to be yanking on something while Marty was distracted…
He turned around to shoo the kid away from the lever or button – but found that the kid was just using his claws to torment the slave a bit.
He shooed him away anyway! That was Daddy’s prerogative! He could mess with the slaves when he had one of his own!
(Felan, a promising young red) “Aw! I was only tormenting the slave a bit!”
(Raphael) “I think I would be happier not knowing what that was. I will have to get some Thralls assigned to keeping all this sorted out now that I am in this confusing mess. I will talk to you somewhere less confusing.”
(Marty) “Ok, talk with you later then.”
(Felan) “Get some of my own? I might be able to do that! Could I borrow some neat weapons! I bet I could catch a few other hatchlings with an edge like that!”
Meanwhile, Philanstias had discovered that there was a rather high bounty set on him – and on his kids for that matter. Worse, attempting to divine just what was going on with THAT led him to one of the major financial groups – who seemed to be holding the payments in escrow and who also (damn!) seemed to have some VERY good anti-divination wards – and who’d posted it was NOT in the public records.
All right, it really wasn’t THAT high – but it was enough to attract some attention… Maybe he could bribe some of the employees for more information? That seemed to be practically a way of life in the Dragon Empire.
Markov turned back to the blue – and was struck by a charitable impulse… He could take pity on the youngster. Of course – unlike the last one – he didn’t really have any notable characteristics… He had a few minor tricks, knew how to channel his breath weapon into an electrical aura that was fairly useful in HTH combat, and had some skill in managing production facilities – but there was nothing much there past the usual “few random individual qualities” you got in phantasms.
Of course, the boy had annoyed Vrysylin – and his second-in-command would be quite disappointed if the loser DIDN’T turn up among the harem attendants.
He finished the job. The loser would make another serviceable slave, and – as a dragon – the process was VERY enjoyable; another competing rival defeated!
Marty sent it off to alternate between serving its brother and being a foreman at a small textile-manufacturing facility they’d picked up; once it had picked up enough information about the place – and Vrysylin was bored with having it around – it could move into managing it for them.
As for Felan… that was cute! And a good sign of initiative! He patted the kid on the head and let him have several good weapons!
Felan actually made it back eight days later… The “hunting” had been good! What with Father and his allies organizing the area, plenty of hatchlings had run away rather than be taken as slaves with their parents – and he’d managed to catch four of them!
Not that four-year-old dragons were worth all that much…
The other kids were soon agitating for their own allotments of slaves as well… Markov reconsidered handing out mystical weaponry after the a couple of boys failed to return. That was all he needed; some random hatchlings wandering around with some of his kids as slaves or meals and mystical weapons. It would be a lot less messy to just buy some of the hatchlings they’d captured out of the general supply and hand them around… two each should do it!
His human persona found how little hatchling slaves were valued amongst dragons rather… sad… but at least the price was still very high by human standards. They were worth SOMETHING – just not much to other dragons.
Meanwhile, Raphael had become aware that the Red Dragon Emperor had ordered that Hatchlings must be tested – and that the washouts would become slaves directly, rather than being eliminated haphazardly though fighting. In fact, his were scheduled to go in for testing very shortly.
The purely draconic impulse was to just wave goodbye, and see how many came back. There was also a small impulse to ensure that the disruptive little blue flunked out…
Still, they were kind of cute.
He got them some high-intensity magical tutoring. If the blue rebeled against tutoring he deserved to fail. If not, he was still family.
He sent in the money to buy back any failures too. It wasn’t too expensive; he only had seven hatchlings – three silvers [Ergias (M), Liera (F), and Tevia (F)], two female coppers (Rehia and Indra), one bronze boy (Varer), and Segev, the naughty little blue boy.
Ergias and Indra washed out – but Varer got a scholarship offer to Ailill’s school, which he might be heading for in a few months. Segev just barely squeaked by on a challenge-match, and returned with his own young copper slave and a certain enthusiasm for the notion of being a proctor at the school – and getting to slave-process lots of other youngsters.
For the moment, he put Ergias and Indra to work around the house pending long-term assignment to one of the nicer slave-jobs – and made sure to retain ownership to ensure that they got good treatment. They might be sexless slaves now, but they were STILL family.
Varer got to be the new favorite for a while, since he’d done best – and the others had apparently not been trying hard enough.
How could they not try hard enough when their freedom was on the line? Once again, that was just NOT RIGHT!
Still… Classically, slaves in the Dragon Empire rarely got too old or too powerful. Eventually they became too resistant to the binding rituals, and tried to escape too many times, and died for it (well, presumably an unadvertised few did manage to escape from the empire sometimes). Some did get resigned to their situations – but they were pretty much ALWAYS sullen and resentful – one reason why they were always glad to see their master demoted to slavery with them.
However “Ailill” was doing it though… The slaves HE turned out were… happy to serve their masters, and got pleasure-feedback whenever they served well. They didn’t want to resist, or to escape – and tended to make sure that they didn’t develop any abilities that would interfere with… a long, happy, lifetime of servitude. All the drives that would have gone into territoriality, and the desire to reproduce, were going into a desire to be property and obey.
They were likely to live far longer, and happier, lives than their combative, breeding, masters. All they’d be missing out on was the direct sensations of sex (unless they were breeder females, or used illusions, or telepathy, or other means – all of which were well within reach of even a dragon, even as a slave – to experience that too) and the pleasures of raising their own kids.
Of course, they got to play with their bosses kids, and not having their own meant that the enslaved males and non-breeding females also missed out on seeing 99% of their kids winding up dead or enslaved.
A lot like the Thralls really – although the effect didn’t go quite so deep; with the slaves mostly being phantasms, they had no souls to bond.
That “cheerful happy enslavement”, “protective lesser evil”, “pleasure from service” was so… so KEVIN that he probably should never have had any doubts! The kid practically had it trademarked! He could just see it on some infernal personnel list… “Sanwell, Kevin, Demon King of Voluntary Slaves and Pleasure in Servitude…”.
Nah, that made him sound like he was the patron of bondage fetishes or something. “Demon King of Pleasurable Servitude” perhaps?
Meanwhile, it was time for Markov’s kids to go in for testing too – although he was down to a mere twenty-five from the original thirty-four… Two green boys (Shantis and Baffin) had disappeared while trying to catch other hatchlings, one green boy (Tethen) had lost out to one of Vrysylin’s hatchlings and was at his new master’s heels, one of the silvers (Andras) had lost out to Felan in a hatchling-quarrel and (as property) was exempt from testing, and five of the girls of assorted colors had run off to avoid being tested! A STUPID thing to do! Once someone caught them, they’d go straight to slavery, without any chance at all!
Well, there was no protection against true idiocy.
Still, he too had given into human sentiment and had done his best to have his kids tutored and prepared for testing – as well as having similarly arranged to buy any washouts back and to put out a standing purchase offer for any that wound up losing challenge matches and belonging to other kids.
He still had four male (Seidan, Korven, Vedic, and Aben) and seven female (Eriss, Kantha, Devi, Maya, Vrinda, Bitha, and Rani) greens, three male (Tokif, Varifen, and Thamor) and two female (Adele and Riassa) blues, two male (Aimon and Felan) and one female (Ghislaine) reds, a male (Eduar) and female (Melita) silver, and a male (Osbric) and three female (Adie, Famke, and Kaschi) blacks.
Three of the greens wound up in challenge matches – Aben (who came home with a copper slave), Kantha (who brought home a copper slave), and Vrinda (who lost, and became another hatchlings slave). Two of the blues – Varifen and Thamor – did spectacularly well, and were offered scholarships, while another (Tokif) had to fight a challenge-match, but came home with a gold slave! (That was quite impressive! Markov congraluated him, and let him personally process and emasculate one of the near-adult slaves he’d been taking! That would be fun for the kid and extra humiliation for the slave).
Among the reds, Ghislane – the young female – was overconfident, and washed out, while Felan wound up fighting a challenge-match and taking another silver slave to go with Andras. He got congratulated and got to process one of Markov’s adult slaves too! He was doing REALLY well, and might well be headed for becoming a dominant male!
Among the blacks, Osbric washed out, Famke did very well (not quite well enough for a scholarship though), and Kaschi lost a challenge-match, and became another hatchlings slave…
Markov congratulated all of then who’d done well – and set the two new slaves to reasonably comfortable jobs around the house…
That was awfully overprotective parenting by dragon standards of course. Those two had comes so close to washing out that they had had to fight a challenge-match – and they had then proved that they really were losers. Any normal dragon would just forget them…
Still, now that they’d be competing primarily with each other – rather than against the testing system – it was time to establish some ground rules.
Most of them were pretty standard – but he did limit sibling-enslavements to three per kid, with any excess going to him. That would happen fairly often of course; hatchlings did tend towards rivalry.