No Matter How Busy One Is, Taking A Few Moments to Enjoy the Simple Things Is A Universal Pleasure
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She didn’t feel the cold wind as she flew south, flew home. The wind was always cold, and there was no point in feeling it, so she didn’t bother. She had more important things to worry about than the wind. The wind would always be there, until it wasn’t any longer, and when it wasn’t, Zmnatch’gykldyra’djdzarkyln would have larger problems than nostalgia for a breeze that no longer blew.
This was her territory, hard won. Humans called this region the Cliffs of Angels, but they were called the Blood Cliffs by those who lived in them. Long ago a battle had shaped these cliffs, between two factions of former humans. Zmnatch’gykldyra’djdzarkyln and her offspring had intervened in that fight because it threatened their territory, and had claimed the cliffs as their own after the humans had retreated. Now Zmnatch’gykldyra’djdzarkyln had claim to all these cliffs and the lands beyond, and protected them zealously. Few had dared to impugn on her sovereignty of late.
Others saw her as she flew and she them. She paid them no heed, satisfied that they banked in all directions, eager to be clear of her path. Zmnatch’gykldyra’djdzarkyln had no time for petty challenges and pettier attempts to earn favour, and for the moment, it seemed that her petty challengers and favour-curriers had no time to be beaten.
They were her clan, all the others. Her offspring or her offspring’s offspring. She’d spent the centuries watching them mature, ensuring that they grew, that they were numerous, strong, and fearless. Zmnatch’gykldyra’djdzarkyln would tolerate no foolish threats to her supremacy over the clan, and thus there were none. There were serious ones, of course. But those were important, because her ongoing primacy as matriarch was built on the blood spilled quelling those threats. There was one serious challenge brewing, one of her larger female offspring preparing to stake a claim as matriarch, but it was a year off at least, and it would fail.
For now, she flew unimpeded towards her cave atop its cliff. It was a large cave with room for all her hoard and sat in a strong, defensible position. Though the aesthetics were less important than the other aspects, the entrance faced east, which meant Zmnatch’gykldyra’djdzarkyln had the best view of the sunrise, especially in the summer.
There, as she landed, Zmnatch’gykldyra’djdzarkyln shifted forms, seamlessly sliding into the smaller, more compact form she’d been given all that time ago. It was because of this form that humans had come to call her Mathilda, a name Zmnatch’gykldyra’djdzarkyln had grown to like over time, and had even grown to consider hers.
Mathilda folded her wings behind her, striding down into her cave and taking a look around at her hoard. Towering piles of gold, mostly coin bearing the faces of an endless succession of human rulers who no longer ruled anything, from all across the planet. Jewels in shapes, sizes and colours that spanned the imagination, cascading down in a pile that seemed to sparkle endlessly. Every variety of weapon, mostly human. There was a small collection of harpy chain-barbs, some of the launching spears the merpeople used, the mobile catapults used by the now scarce elves. Many of them had been used against Mathilda, but none had been used twice. Now they were all trophies. She had furniture plundered from a dozen places, armour of all types and ornate, elaborate clothing once owned by ornate, elaborate people who were now dead. There were two tall piles of nothing but magical artefacts, which Mathilda couldn’t use but collected nonetheless, because they were coveted by others and therefore valuable. All of it was well cared for. Polished, cleaned, organized.
She’d used to have a pile of bones near the entrance as well, to serve as a sign of why robbing her was a bad idea. But she’d moved that to the back. It was a bit too tacky to serve as the first image a visitor had of her cave.
Everything was where she’d left it. For the better, Mathilda thought, touching the frame of a gilded mirror she’d taken from a caravan of very loud slave traders in the south. She’d scarcely the time to track down more thieves. Not when the last batch had proved so time consuming.
Worth it, however. Mathilda had found the best defence against future thieves was to spread the knowledge of how relentless and ruthless she was about tracking down and punishing present day thieves.
Wrapping her tail around her waist so it didn’t drag on the ground, Mathilda made her way to the back of the cave, to the table and chairs she had set up separate from the careful displays of her wealth that to humans looked like haphazard piles. Carved from cherry and lifted from a manor in the south just a century ago, the humans who’d commissioned it already dead, it was getting a bit worn. Mathilda should swap it for something from the hoard or find a new set, but she couldn’t be bothered right now.
She had many more human friends now, she thought. Perhaps one of them could make some furniture worthy of her. A gift to thank her for all she did for them. A matter to raise next time she saw them. For now, however, she sat, thinking that furniture was one thing humans had gotten right. That and lights that weren’t the sun. She reached up and flicked a small switch, and some artificial lights crackled on overhead, lighting the area. There was a man sitting at the table already. “Welcome home.”
Mathilda nodded, looking across at Jesse as she settled herself. “What have you learned?” she asked.
“You know,” said Jesse, bracelets clinking as he drank from a cup of tea he’d brought with him. He’d once made tea from Mathilda’s stores of spices without asking, but had since learned how best to be friends with a dragon. “Humans do this thing called small talk. I think you’d like it.”
“Small things are a waste of my time,” Mathilda informed him. She owned many small things, but only in large quantities.
“No, like this. How was your flight?” Jesse smiled. “The point is to warm up to the real conversation.”
Mathilda looked at him. “I am perfectly warm.”
Jesse snorted. “If you insist. Calvin and his friends are getting settled in the Dolovin capital. Calvin will be leaving for Enjon shortly, but he’ll be back. Gavin’s family are more worried about the political threat posed by Aergyre than the magical one posed by Samson, which is an understandable mistake. The mages are putting something together to deal with him. They’ve got some sorcerers from Clan Heyjan in town to talk it over, which means it will finally get serious. From what I can tell, all of Solomon’s children aside from Samson, Mal and Mike are in Three Hills right now. At least all the ones I know about.”
Mathilda nodded. Though it would be challenging to slip something by Jesse, the possibility that there were others they didn’t know about did exist. Solomon had been a prolific man. Not one Mathilda would have been interested to work with if not for a request from his father, whom she’d respected. “And they’re safe?”
“At present.” Jesse set his teacup down. “Dominic isn’t in the capital anymore.”
Mathilda thought about that. She only knew Dominic by reputation, but reputation was everything. “That isn’t important,” she decided, resisting the urge to push him further. Jesse would have told her where he was if he knew. Mathilda had long ago realized that information was among the most valuable items in her hoard, and the only thing she could give to those who deserved it while still keeping for herself. In recent centuries, she had stopped insisting on accounting for each and every favor traded between the two of them. “What else?” Something passed in front of the cave.
“The Coral Witch is sailing south. They’ve been approached by Kein.” It was said without inflection, as if Jesse had no stake in it.
“It’s about time,” Mathilda muttered. “I suppose he could have wasted time swimming around a little longer if he really wanted to push us all to the brink.” Had he taken much longer to remember there was a world above the ocean, Mathilda would have gone down there and pulled him up above the waves herself.
Mathilda heard a clink of metal, a muffled voice. “That’s almost everything, I think,” said Jesse, also hearing it. His polite smile finally reached his eyes before he returned to business. “Do you care about the civil war in Kyaine? I think you should. Sam’s involved.”
Mathilda didn’t, but Jesse was probably right. “Find out what you can about it. We shall speak soon.”
“I know about it already, but you just got home,” Jesse said, standing up. “I’ll let you rest. One thing before I go. I need to borrow the Ironheart Hammer.”
Mathilda glanced over at one of her piles of treasure. The Ironheart Hammer was an artefact with the power to reshape souls. She’d come into possession of it some fifteen hundred years ago after it had been left lying in a treasure vault belonging to some deposed human king or another that had been guarded by nothing but a metal door and two men with spears. “It had better not have a scratch on it when you return it.” Every item in Mathilda’s hoard belonged close at hand, but this one made an interesting masturbatory aid, and Jesse was the only human Mathilda had met who seemed to understand the importance of respecting such treasure.
When Mathilda looked back, the Hammer, made from black metal that never warmed, was sitting on the table in front of Jesse. He smiled at her. “It won’t. Have a good day.”
“Of course I will.”
“That was more small talk. You’ll get the hang of it. Make my excuses, will you?”
And he picked up the Hammer and stepped backwards, disappearing into his hold.
Mathilda leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms under her breasts. They were strange things, breasts. Why did humans like them so much? Beatrice and Lillian sure had enjoyed them, as had most of the other humans she’d been with. Mathilda supposed they were interesting enough—and a survey of a number of humans had determined for Mathilda that hers were superior to those of humans—but she wasn’t sure why they’d been such a priority in the shapeshifting process. Perhaps the fascination with them was learned. She’d have to spend some time getting to know human women so she could get more first-claw experience with them to determine the appeal. There was another shuffle. “I can hear you, Malachi.”
A soft curse, and around one of the piles of treasure came an adolescent with black and gold colouring, eyes on the floor, holding a small trinket in both hands. “How did you know it was me?”
“There are few who enter the cave so brazenly,” Mathilda told him, beckoning him closer.
“It could have been Michael.”
“Michael is quieter than you,” Mathilda said, as he drew nearer the table. “Are you trying to steal that from me?”
Malachi—Shmayln’kydra-htchvn’nsksa’hgnrkk, but he too was more than comfortable with his human name—shook his head rapidly, holding it up. It was a coiled gold necklace with blue stones set in it, and she saw that he was telling the truth. This was not part of her hoard. “I wanted to give it to you. I found it.”
On inspection, Malachi had small cuts on his arms and chest, a split lip, a bruise on his face. He was bleeding down his leg too, a long cut on his hip. “Were you fighting?” Mathilda asked him.
“Did you win?”
Another nod, this one accompanied by a grin. “Against three guys. And they were all bigger than me.”
Mathilda patted his head between his short, straight horns. “Good boy. If that’s your plunder, you should keep it.”
Malachi nodded, but held it out anyway. “But I took it for you,” he explained. “I already took the stuff I wanted to my hoard.”
“Ah, I see,” said Mathilda. “So I get the leftovers.”
“No! That’s not…what I meant…”
Mathilda laughed, took the necklace. “It’s lovely, son,” she told him, holding it up to the light overhead. “I appreciate your thinking of me.” She put the necklace on.
Malachi grinned wider. “I have something for Uncle Jesse, too. Is he already gone?”
“He is. You know how he values his quiet, and mine was not his only stop today. You know he will return soon.” Jesse had made it clear he would be visiting on Mal’s independence day next month.
“Okay.” Malachi hesitated, then gave her a hug, which was extremely inappropriate at his age. But she let him do it and even hugged him back, stroking his left wing.
There was a pop behind them. “Gross,” said another voice.
Mathilda let Malachi go, turned to face Michael. “I’ve told you not to sit on the table.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Michael, sliding down and putting his bag on a chair. He’d been wearing it on his back where his wings should be, which was another human innovation Mathilda was forced to appreciate—being able to carry many things without losing the use of his hands was an enviable ability. “Hi, Mom. You just got back, right?”
Mathilda nodded. “I will have to leave again in a short time.”
“Yeah. Did I miss Uncle Jesse?”
“By a few moments. He will be here again next month. How were your tasks?”
“Good, everything’s going fine. I’ve been hunting this intruder but I think I’ve almost tracked him down.” Michael—Skmidn’kylntz-hlklwv’thczzng’qntgg, not that he ever let anyone call him that—resembled his clutchmate, a strong jaw and high cheekbones, dark eyes. His hair was shorter than Malachi’s mess, and his colouring was mostly purple, though he had a plume of gold on his face when not in bipedal form. His wings, horns and tail were absent at the moment.
“What will you do with him once you’ve found him?” Mathilda asked, curious.
He set down the metal device he always had in his hands and kicked off his shoes before pulling his purple shirt over his head and opening the metallic button on the front of his black pants, sliding them down. His skin shimmered as they fell, his tail and wings seeming to unfold from his body. He had the same straight horns as Malachi. Ever mindful of his clothing, he draped them over the back of his chair. “Arrest him, I guess. Don’t touch,” he warned Malachi, who was edging closer to his device, drawn by the light of its surface like he always was. Michael would never let Malachi touch his treasure, and Malachi was a healthy boy, so of course that was all he wanted to do. Malachi’s wings drooped a little at being caught, and then he tried to take it anyway, as he always did. Mathilda rolled her eyes.
Michael had started moving before Malachi, and he punched Malachi on the cheek. Malachi growled and pulled him to the ground. They began wrestling, and Mathilda smiled, pleased to see them getting along. They’d always been close, closer than clutchmates usually were. And Mathilda was fonder of them in turn than dragons normally were of their offspring. The boys even shared a cave on the southern side of this cliff, maintaining separate hoards without unnecessary conflict.
With all her territory, treasure and accomplishments came many important responsibilities. They were never too many, not for her, but she had many things to think about and more to do, so for just a few moments, right now, Mathilda sat there, watching her two favourite offspring play. There was a gentle breeze coming into the cave. It felt very nice.
6 thoughts on “Others, 25”
Interesting. It seems that Mathilda is far more deeply connected to this whole tangled mess than simply having had part of the Sea King’s Regalia in her hoard.
So she was working with Solomon on his father’s request…I assume this request came before Solomon genocided his clan. That or rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated. But in either case, that raises the question of why he wanted Mathilda to go along with the plans of a proven psychopath and megalomaniac.
Her association with Jesse is also interesting—I wonder how far back they go? Really far, I’m guessing, given that she trusts him enough to let him borrow things from her horde without demanding collateral. And how much of her certainty that the coming challenge to her authority will fail comes from self-confidence, and how much from Jesse’s foresight?
Malachi sounds somehow familiar—have we met him or Michael before? And did we know they were dragons at the time?
Yep, it would have been easy to have Mathilda just be aloof and disinterested in human affairs, but that’s not her style.
I do think that Mathilda wanting to work with Solomon, regardless of whether Solomon’s father asked her to, raises some interesting questions about her and the father, for sure. 🙂 Maybe we’ll even get answers to those questions someday.
Mathida and Jesse go back pretty far; immortals gotta stick together after all. They’ve worked up a significant rapport of trust between them, pretty clearly. I’ll leave it vague for now how much of Mathilda’s confidence comes from foreknowledge, though. 😀
We have not seen Malachi or Michael before (I did originally have a plan to introduce Michael in a capacity where it would have been unclear that he was a dragon, but that didn’t end up happening). But we will see one or both of them in future, so bear in mind who they really are! 😀
A hammer that can reshape souls…is that going to be used to deal with the Sea King, to save Nicholas, or for something else?
(Also, ROFLMAO at Mathilda valuing it not for its powerful and quite possibly unique magical abilities, but because it make a good sex you.)
It’s going to be used for something, that’s for sure. 🙂
And Mathilda can’t use it for its magical properties, but it’s hard to find a good sex toy!
What little we see of Michael in this chapter is quite interesting. He seems to be a lot more comfortable with human clothing and culture than most dragons we’ve seen, and that “device” that he apparently “always [has] in his hands”…the phrasing suggests something technological rather than magical. Is he in contact with the Temporal Bureau? Or, wait. He mentioned possibly “arresting” someone he’s been tracking. Is he PART OF the Temporal Bureau?
😀 I am, of course, not at liberty to discuss the potentially classified nature of Michael’s activities, but I will say that your conclusions are certainly perfectly reasonable given the evidence at hand. Next time we see Michael there might be some answers forthcoming, who knows. 🙂