Monday, March 4, 2019

The Shalafae Archives - Loung

The market was noisy and huge, and intensely claustrophobic. Voices shouted in a variety of languages, scents clouded the still air, and shoppers jostled each other as they moved from stall to stall. Pickpockets tried to blend in by shouting too, or being too small to see.

Morrigana stood beside her husband-father, wondering in passing what it would be like to light the market on fire. Not that she would; she simply wondered. Such narrow aisles, and so many people packed together, and no protection against dragonfire. It would be glorious.

Shalafae took her hand. He was going as Ulrich, a new name while they waited between raising empires. Different names, but always the Shalafae. As if people would forget him because he's no longer Alzair, or Ulrin, or Ahlik.

Despite their height, refined features, and expensive clothes, they were not out of place. No one looked at them twice as they headed for the jewelry aisle. It was a hodge podge of races and populations that Morrigana had rarely seen. "Impressive. So why did it take you so long to bring me here?"

He chuckled, lifting her hand to kiss it. "Because we had better things to deal with."

The hybrid scoffed, eyes passing over gold and diamonds and other trinkets. None of them caught her interest, all made of materials that didn't suit them. The sooner they got to the silver section, the sooner she might find something she wanted.

The very idea of shopping was unique. Dragon clans took what they wanted, as had the Shalafaes. Gifts were given, and if they wanted something, it was claimed as tribute. Exchanging money for goods intrigued her.

There were so many goods to choose from. There were small stalls, big booths, and even some enclosed shops, just on this aisle alone. Uncut gems and raw metal were sold next to finished pieces of exquisite design. Some vendors barked their wares at the top of their lungs, others used refreshments to entice customers.

In the aisle, people hawked related wares from a pack or a pole. Dresses, vests, belts, or anything jewels might look good with. Someone had fresh sugary pastries, and Ulrich bought her one.

"This whole place is amazing," she said with a smile, stuffing her face. "How does anyone get anything with all this noise though?"

"That's half the strategy," he replied, pulling her toward a tray of armor rings. "People are irritated by the noise, and don't want to spend the time haggling." He lifted a moonsilver raven's skull set with onyx eyes, and tried it on. "Plus it covers the sound of the thieves."

Morrigana caught his warning, and grabbed the grimy little hand that reached for the pouch on her hip. Her money was safe, but the cutpurses and ragamuffins needed to know that. She gave the hand a squeeze and tossed it away, all without looking. The princess didn't even know if the thief was boy or girl, adult or child.

Ulrich put the ring back, and they moved into the next stall. "This is something one doesn't always have time for when warring or running on empire." He rested a hand on her hip as she bent to stare at minuscule gemmed earrings. "I'm glad I have you to share it with."

She stood up, holding a tiny pair of obsidian earrings. "I'm glad too." Morrigana gave him a peck of a kiss, holding her find close. "They're Takishidar symbols."

"Then you must have them." Shalafae paid, and Morrigana put her new studs in, gleeful as any nestling learning to fly. Who'd have thought she would find the mark of her clan at a bazaar? Her father had things crafted for her all the time, but this was different.

Life seemed different when one was no longer an empress or an active assassin.

They stepped back into the aisles, Ulrich's arm around her waist. "Even after this long together, you still surprise me with your joy." He kissed her neck.

Morri blushed, turning to kiss his mouth. "I love you." She had enough memories from Revkah to know just how rare this love of his was.

They continued to peruse, hand in hand, giddy like any young lovers. Gawking and browsing, they appeared as a happily married couple, not two of the most dangerous beings in the universe.

Something squeaked, jumping to Morrigana's arm. Sharp claws clung to her shirt, and she cried out in surprise. Looking down, the hybrid met the glittering eyes of a strange little creature.

play?

Empathic powers reacted to the creature, interpreting its actions and questions. A furry face with long feelers, and two little antlers running back from its skull were made all the cuter by large tawny eyes. Whatever it - no, she - was, she was adorable.

play play play

She wound around Morrigana's arm to her neck, sinuous and loose like a ferret made of snake. Little talons clung, assisting the creature in climbing. The woman couldn't help but laugh and giggle, tickled by a wuffly nose.

"I apologize for my loung," a wizened old man said, standing near them. Ulrich bristled, hand clenching around a hilt that wasn't there. Morrigana was too busy with the young creature to care. "She is terribly curious."

"I've never encountered one," Shalafae said, meeting his daughter's eyes. She grinned, tickling the loung, eliciting helpless squeaks and chitters.

love comfort sibling

"They're a rare creature. A new life, Dread Lord." The old man bobbed his head, wringing his hands, recognizing the couple. Most chose to forget them as soon as possible. "Loung live in a few isolated realms."

"How did you get one then?" Morri asked, the loung snuzzling into her arms.

"They are from my realm. I always keep one of my Snowdream's babies with me to remind me of home." He reached out to touch the creature, watching Ulrich's movements from the corner of his eye.

~I want one,~ Morri said telepathically.

~Isn't your coterie enough of a pet?~ he retorted, offering his hand to the curious creature.  

play smell nice yummy

She snorted mentally, running fingers through the ruff of fur down the loung's back. ~No. I want one of these.~ Morrigana laughed as the creature spun and wriggled, exposing her scaly belly. ~I want dozens of them.~ Morri thought of lots of long bodies poinging and springing, their lacy leg hairs flowing, nipping each other's feelers, sparring with their little antlers.

"Where do I get one for her?" Ulrich sounded resigned, though she knew he loved spoiling her. Morri gave him a mental kiss, sniffing the loung.

The old man's eyes widened for a brief instant, then he lowered his gaze. "I could not give any of my lovely's children away."

"You don't have to give me this one," Shalafae said lowly, "but you do have to tell me where to find them so she may pick her own." His voice was dangerous, the way he'd threatened enemies of his empire. Morri blushed, remembering the thrill of those days.

"Is that wise, Dread Lord?" He kept his eyes down.

Morrigana stiffened, surprised by the insolence of the old man. "Tell us now." The loung yelped at her growl, leaping away from the hybrid. scary no eat

"As you wish," he said, bowing. "May you have happy hunting."

Giggling, Morri threw herself into her husband-father's arms. "I'm gonna have a loung!" Shalafae smiled endearingly back at her, his eyes sparkling. She knew he lived for her smile and happiness.

They obtained the location, suited up for mountain terrain, and left within the hour. Shalafae controlled the travel, taking them quickly through dimensions to the home of the loung.

"It's beautiful," Morri whispered, taking in the vista. Craggy mountains rose in long chains, from horizon to horizon, covered in snow and evergreens. The sky was a crisp blue, patches of thin clouds crossing it. "Too cold, though," the hybrid said with a shiver.

Shalafae drew a deep breath of the brisk air. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Morri glared in mock anger. "You're not the scaly one."

He teased back. "We could leave without a loung."

"Not hardly." Morrigana sprouted wings, and threw herself into the thin air. The sun was warm on exposed skin, but any place shaded was instantly cold. The half-dragon shuddered from head to toe. The sooner she got some new pets, the better.

He said they like caves. Especially the little ones. Sharp eyes searched the mountainsides for likely homes. The thick evergreens provided cover, and the snow blanketed open stone. No cave in sight. Morri broadened her search, letting her father know through their bond.

Passing over the crest of a mountain, she studied the shadows, reaching out for loung. There was plenty of life, but nothing like the little creatures.

Senses alerted her to danger, and Morrigana tucked into a dive to her left. A roar came from below, and an enormous loung burst from a snowfield. She was faster than it, easily avoiding snarling jaws.
murder protect

Morri completed a roll, turning her dive into a rise, slamming into the big male. They both grunted from the force. He twisted in the air, flying without wings, hot breath wrapping around her.
protect save kill

She most certainly didn't want to kill him. He was a father protecting his brood, and she was the thieving interloper. Morrigana just needed to get him down, and out of the way until they were done.

Ulrich appeared beneath her in a blaze of power. Dodging a swipe from the loung, she couldn't suppress a smile. Two fathers, defending their children, both willing to kill.

~Find the babies. I'll distract him,~ Morri sent. She kicked the loung in the snout, dodging another bite. He was big, four times longer than she in dragon form, though not as large as her clanmates. In spite of his ferocious thoughts, the hybrid had no real sense of danger from him. Almost as if killing weren't in his nature.

Two more loung roars echoed on the mountainside. ~Someone else is here,~ Shalafae said, raising shields.

Before she could ask why they weren't leaving, she felt the stranger's murderous intent. They were close, controlling the loung, wishing death upon the Shalafaes.

Morrigana laughed. No one could kill the Shalafaes, even with adorably vicious creatures. The assassin added her shields to her father's, extending her senses. All the while she dodged and wove around the big male, heart racing with exhilaration.

Shalafae reached out with power, summoning their antagonist. Morri glanced down, saw the old man from the market. She glared, hovering, angered. Then she had to avoid an attack, keeping her mind on business.

kill kill kill Two more loung joined, swimming through the air. But now she could tell they weren't doing it, that the antlered creatures weren't really out for her blood. While her father dealt with the old man, she worked on breaking the loung free.

The former emperor was laughing to himself. "Very good plan, using my affection for my daughter against me. I should have listened to my instincts."

"You wouldn't have known," the old man hissed. "I planned for years and years."

Morrigana wove intricate loops around the three loung, trying to use them against each other. They were agile, more than dexterous enough to avoid mid-air collisions. The link between them and their master was well-hidden, obscured to her seeking senses.

The drama below continued to play out, echoing through her father's link.

"Years are not enough, little man. Centuries are barely long enough to out-plan me." Shalafae's voice was low, icier than the air. Someone had dared hurt his child, and they would suffer.

The old man laughed, the sound rolling across the clearing. "How little you realize. Snowdream shall end you both."

Snow creaked, trees shook, and the three loung paused in mid-flight. Unbridled rage filled the area, drying Morrigana's mouth. Such was the strength of emotion that the hybrid's own bloodlust rose in response.

The entire clearing surged, revealing what had to be Snowdream. The queen loung was twice the size of the others, with features none other had; she had wings.

Morri hissed, staring at Snowdream. She has drake blood. Anger rose in the hybrid, focused on the little man who'd tried to kill them.

He laughed, clapping his hands together, barely keeping his feet as Snowdream shook the last of the snow from her fur and scales. "My little baby was just a hatchling when I found her. She'd slipped through realms during some stupid war." He glared at each of the Shalafaes. "Orphaned, dying, she wouldn't have made it without me."

Her father crossed his arms. "So you bred a mutation to kill us?" The old man nodded, Snowdream looming over him. "Brilliant."

Morrigana had been distracted by the progenitor loung. The offspring swarmed the hybrid, biting and clawing. Her shields were strong, and she wasn"t wounded, but she was caught in a prison of teeth. kill kill kill

Snowdream echoed their thoughts, roaring with a tortured voice. kill them kill them kill them all She was closer to sentience than the younger generations, thus had a vague understanding that something was wrong.

Her reaction allowed Morrigana to find the connection to the rest of the loung. The old man wasn't controlling them, just their queen. If she could be freed, they would be as well.

As soon as Morri knew it, Ulrich knew it. While she struggled to escape, he acted.

Snowdream was slow, sluggish from sleep. She loomed over Ulrich, snarling and threatening, but not attacking. That delay cost her master his life.

He might be a former emperor, but Shalafae was not impotent or weak. He hadn't survived to his age by hesitating. While Snowdream called for murder, Shalafae lunged, drawing his cursed sword from the aether. Black steel howled as it plunged into the old man's heart.

Time paused as Stormbringer devoured a soul. The loung were silent, and the sword sang in the silence.

play?

Three loung released Morrigana, nuzzling her, sniffling her closely. play play play

"Looks like you have your project," Ulrich told his daughter. Morri whole heartedly agreed.

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