Book V Chapter 10: Liam
"I am Liam of Aensdoun, and this is my girl,Alice; I'm a dinosaur breeder and egg collector," the Dremish Aeneski announced proudly, reaching up to fondly stroke the leg of the green monster standing beside him.
It eyed the members of the expedition with dim curiosity, each breath sending a gust of warm and dank air flowing across the camp.
"A... dinosaur breeder? So you... how old is she? You raised her yourself, I presume," Gabe began, immediately flipping his journal open to take notes.
"About seven years or so-- I found her egg not too long after I arrived, myself, and decided to take my chances. Who'd ever guess that the natives are scared shitless of the greater theropods? It's what's kept me alive all these years. And, well, dripping with krus, if I might add, hah." He grinned.
Na'than tilted his head. "So in other words, you're a glorified exotics dealer. You must have quite the love-hate relationship with the chimaera; was it them that gave you those burn scars?"
"Chimaera? Look at me. Do I look like a chimaera'd be a threa--" Liam caught himself mid-sentence, and grinned. "Well, there are things out here that are far more dangerous than a Sorilian."
Na'th, Gabe and Felld exchanged glances.
"Anyway, enough about me, don't you think? I take it you lot are here to see the ruins, too; follow me." At once, the giant elf scrambled back atop his dinosaur, waving for the expedition to come along.
"So long as I'm nearby, the tribes won't come near us. Alice loves to chase them, since she knows they'll scream and scatter, and there's not a damn thing they can do to pierce her hide."
As the group gathered their supplies, Gabriel inched closer to the stranger and his mammoth companion. "Are there others?" He asked.
"Others like her? Oh, no-- she's the only one I have, and I'm not interested in giving others a bite, if you know what I mean. Keeps the chimaera dealers in line; as long as they think I might eventually breed up one of these babies for them, they don't dare try to pull a fast one on me yet. They'd slit my throat the moment they had all the information they needed to cut out the middleman, you know?" Liam narrowed his eyes.
"No, no, I-- I don't want one, as beautiful as she is," Gabe gushed nervously as the zemoira tilted her head to eye him. "I mean, other large theropod species. I'm pretty sure we had a run-in with a zemoira--er, one of her-- on the way in."
"Ohhhhhh. Oh, yeah, you better believe it. These are the largest dinosaurs on the continent, at least that I've found. Then you have the long, low ones with huge blocky heads and spiny backs, and bulky, dark ones with spiky horns, kinda like... antlers, I guess, but snaky heads. Mind you, they're still pretty big, but not as. "
"You keep your eyes out after I'm gone, and you'll probably see 'em. Aensdoun is a wild continent--like I'm sure you guys know already, there are old abandoned cities all over the place, but no one other than the crazy elves have lived here that I've seen."
Gabe did his best to hide his mounting excitement. He couldn't believe he was actually in Aensdoun, still alive-- or his sudden change of luck, either. Perhaps he'd live to see his home again after all, and have tales to tell, to boot!
"Everyone's ready to go, Liam. Lead the way," Na'than urged gently.
The expedition was on the move again, now with an enormous green guide. Liam invited Na'than up atop Alice's back to speak to him as everyone made their way through the woods and over the lush green fields.
They noted that everything had gone silent around them; no creatures, elf or beast, dared to show their faces with the zemoira around, stomping great craters into the soft earth with its heavy feet.
"Always admired you lot, you know, the Rose and the Court alike," Liam admitted with a boisterous laugh. "Traveling the world, looking for interesting things to find and collect and mess with. Yeah, if not for that whole... rules thing, I'd almost go for that kinda life."
"So they're here as well?"Na'th asked.
"Sure are-- I actually showed them to the ruins not long before you all turned up. At first, I thought I might have to fight a losing battle for my eggs, but once they told me they were just here to do studies for... I don't know, some E-word they used, but it wasn't Erosion.
But I'm good for studies, as long as they leave my wilds intact, and don't start sending tourists over. That's more something the chimaera would do if they could get away with it, anyway." The big man grinned.
Na'than laid his ears back flat, pursing his lips.
He was hoping the other faction wasn't already on the trail, but here it was; they'd likely already had a head start on them.
Hours were certainly better than days, however-- perhaps there were still artifacts to collect, or idols to claim for study.
Then again, with how the Court got with information...
"Did they tell you anything about the area or their plans before you left?"
"Aw, no," Liam admitted. "I did most of the talking, really-- the lady didn't even give me her name."
Typical Court tight-lippedness; Na'than sighed. "How many of these cities have you seen?"
"Personally? Seven or eight, all over the continent. Once you see the big stone dragons, you know one's nearby. Most of them are intact, too-- other than when dinosaurs or other big critters manage to knock them down, the Aeneski won't go near 'em, for fear of getting cursed. But oi-- you can see for yourself, there!"
Liam pointed across the rolling hills-- in the distance, a ring of stone dragon idols stood in various states of weather and disrepair, their heads lifted towards the sky and wings spread at half-mast. Farther ahead, a crumbling stone ring seemed to mark the gates of an ancient city-- and behind them, small figures flitted back and forth, some on two legs and others winged.
Na'than rose his voice.
"We're coming in on a city, everyone. The Court is here; do not speak to anyone outside of the expedition and Liam here unless you are given explicit authorization. Felld, send several of your crew to study those idols; my captains will take Thornes and Silvermane guards with them.
"Everyone else, forward, and keep your eyes peeled for stray artifacts!"
Liam watched with fascination as the expedition around him suddenly divided itself into neat groups, white wolves and spiked leupaks standing side by side with researchers and archaeologists, some sprinting off into the distance to reach the dragon idols while others continued ahead, talking excitedly with one another or looking on with determination or anxiety.
The Court saw the newcomers approaching and immediately began to disperse throughout the site, scouring the walls and grounds in double time.
Na'than slid down from atop the dinosaur's back, neatly landing on his feet and striding with full confidence into their midst without missing a beat. Nearby, a pair of Erosion dragons eyed the Rose expedition with silent suspicion.
The ruined city was a magnificent sight; ancient, weather-worn and cracked stone was carved and stacked into graceful arches and pathways as far as the eye could see.
Ornate floor tiles stuck up from overgrown grass and caked mud, mixed in with the bones of creatures old and new alike.
There were surprisingly few buildings of any kind; everything seemed open-air, with wide-open flat areas, tall stages that overlooked former meeting places, and garden walks long overtaken by wild vines and strangling roots.
Just behind the once-great city, a grove of enormous Anshe trees swayed their many branches in the soft winds, glittering green and golden under the twin suns.
As everyone gazed over the lost paradise, the Court combed through the area, scooping up even the tiniest bits of rubble that could possibly have meaning, all while gazing at the Rose members standing at the gates as though daring them to disrupt their operation.
Felld pursed his lips, watching as Na'than made his way through the ruins, speaking to several Courtesans as they led him farther back.
"They'll not give up an inch of this place. They'll expect us to share our findings with them, though," the leupak laughed without mirth.
"Is this typical?" Gabriel asked, astonished.
Felld smirked. "Always, always. The Court are as hungry for information as we are-- they collect and catalogue it, and eventually they might feel inclined to share tiny bites, yes. But they lust after the knowledge of all civilizations, past and present-- all the better to rule with. It's fascinating how they find a way to worm into every throne room the world over, don't you think?"
But Gabe frowned. The Court was an order of mentors and advisors; they were responsible for guiding every country away from decisions that might result in conflict and war. Was that not a noble enough cause-- and if they were a bit stingy about historical discoveries, wasn't it a fair enough price?
"They serve a purpose just like we do, I think," he admitted cautiously.
But Felld snorted. "You'll learn soon enough."
His eyes fell to the ground; with a sharp gasp, the leupak swiftly snatched up a small trinket, slipping it away into a pouch slung around his shoulder without a moment's hesitation.
The researchers nearby watched him, then immediately began to comb the perimeter for anything worth retrieving for study.
Meanwhile, Liam's eyes were upon the trees behind the city; his stern eyes grew wide as a flash of brilliant, iridescent red shone through the leaves.
"...if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to camp and check on the hatchlings. Lovely meeting you lot-- good luck!"
Without another word, the Dremish elf kicked his heels into Alice's back; she screamed a sharp farewell before turning tail and charging away across the rolling hills.
Gabriel and Felld watched him go for a moment before turning to squint behind the city ruins.
A gasp fell from Felld's mouth.
"... Dreamwaker's girth. Gaunthier, did you see that?"
"I saw something, but I don't--" he began.
"No, there. Look! Was that a dragon?!"
Next Chapter: Book V Chapter XI
Category: Book V | Story