“Your Gloriousness! I finally found you!”
Vur turned his head. He was holding onto a massive raw drumstick with a dead roc beside him. Red juices dripped from the corners of his mouth, dropping onto his chest and the forest ground. A dwarf was running towards him, beads of sweat pouring from her red face. She got closer and screamed upon seeing Vur’s bloody countenance before stumbling and falling headfirst. Vur blinked at the dwarf before resuming his meal, tearing off half the drumstick’s meat with a single bite.
“Your Gloriousness!” the dwarf said after recollecting herself. She straightened her back and saluted. “A report! Since the night after you left to find that dastardly Zilphy, more of our soldiers disappeared and four of our cities were completely stripped bare, leaving no one behind. Not only that, but a few cities in the south were destroyed as well by the Fangs of Capitis while they were on the way to our dungeons. Your aunt is at the dungeons, and E has forsaken all responsibilities. The four generals who remained in the capital are squabbling with each other, and we currently have no proper chain of command. Please, tell us what to do!”
Vur continued chewing as if he hadn’t heard her.
“Y-your Gloriousness?” the dwarf asked, meeting Vur’s eyes.
“He doesn’t speak while chewing,” Stella said as she popped out of his chest and flew onto his head.
“And who are you calling dastardly?” Zilphy asked, a green rock appearing on the ground beside Vur. “I’m freaking adorable! What part of this”—she gestured towards herself—“is dastardly?”
“Gust elemental Zilphy?” the dwarf asked, her eyes widening. She snapped her gaze onto Vur. “You succeeded in contracting with her? Congratulations, Your Gloriousness.”
“I didn’t hear an apology,” Zilphy said, puffing her rocky cheeks out.
“What do we do, Your Gloriousness?” the dwarf asked, ignoring the wind elemental. “At this rate, the humans will win. None of the cities that were stripped bare used any of their ammunition. They lost before firing a single shot! Our technological advantage means nothing if the humans have a method to avoid it.”
Vur swallowed his food and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “If I beat up the king of the humans, does the war end?”
“The humans have an emperor, but yes,” the dwarf said with a nod. “If you subdue the emperor and force him to surrender, then the war ends and we win.”
Vur nodded. “And if we win, I get their territory?”
“Some of it,” the dwarf said and furrowed her brow. “It depends on the treaty that’s signed. Usually, we take one or two cities in our wars. Do you have a plan to defeat the emperor?”
Vur grunted. “I’ll go there myself,” he said. “You guys take too long. And I need to give Tafel a birthday gift the next time I see her. So I’ll just give her the whole continent.” He tilted his head up and squinted at the sky. The dwarf followed his gaze, but she only saw some clouds.
“You’re not going to try flying up there again, are you?” Stella asked, narrowing her eyes at Vur.
Vur grunted again. “For now, a whole continent will have to do.” He lowered his head and asked the dwarf, “Which way’s the emperor?”
“Well, you’re not too far from one of our settlements,” the dwarf said and scratched her head. “If you go southeast and get there, you can pick up a ride to our borders. Then you can rendezvous with our—”
“Just point,” Vur said, cutting the dwarf off.
The dwarf froze. She swallowed. “Pardon, Your Gloriousness?”
“Which way’s the emperor?” Vur asked again. “Just point in the direction.”
The dwarf furrowed her brow. “Um.” She bit her lower lip and tapped her fingers against her thigh. “That way,” she said after a moment and pointed off into the distance. “It’s west by south.”
“Okay,” Vur said and nodded.
The dwarf waited for Vur to say something else, but he just picked up the roc and continued eating. She bit her lower lip. “Um…”
“Was there something else?” Stella asked as she flew off of Vur’s head and tore a strip of meat off the roc. She stuffed one end into her mouth and chewed while staring at the dwarf.
“I, I have nothing else to report,” the dwarf said. “But, Your Gloriousness, what do I tell the generals when I report back to them?”
“Tell them to bake a huge cake that says, ‘Happy Birthday, Tafel,’” Vur said after swallowing. “She likes the fluffy kind that isn’t ice cream.” He paused. “Purple frosting. Lots of fruit on top. Decorate the sides too; don’t let it look plain.”
“You mean a sponge cake?” the dwarf asked. “Wait, Your Gloriousness, I was asking about important military matters.”
“It’s a very important matter,” Vur said with a nod. “The cake should be as big as a dragon. Tell Auntie about it too, but keep it a surprise from Tafel if she winds up in the palace. Make sure you preserve it properly, so it can be taken out at any time.”
“I understand,” the dwarf said and saluted. “I think…? I’ll also tell the generals that you will take care of the war by yourself. Is that fine, Your Gloriousness?”
Vur grunted again as he bit into the dead bird.
“Okay,” the dwarf said. “I think that was an affirmative grunt, correct?”
“It was,” Stella said. “Stop asking so many questions and let the poor dragon eat. He’s exhausted from trying to fly to a star.”
Kondra yawned and arched her back while extended her neck, stretching her neck towards the ceiling of the cavern with her eyes closed. “It’s been a while since I’ve slept properly,” she said and smacked her lips a few times. Her mate was sleeping beside her with his wing draped over her body. Leila and Grimmy were sleeping next to each other with their necks and tails entwined. Leo and Luke were playing golem chess with each other. And Lulu’s explosive corner was empty.
Kondra blinked and looked around. “Lulu’s not back?”
“She dropped by twice to say everything was alright,” Luke said, pushing a golem forward. “I think she wanted to see the penguins.”
Kondra nodded. “And how are the penguins doing?”
Leo noticed his mother’s gaze on his body and shrugged as well.
Kondra sighed and shook her head before standing up. “Then I’ll check on them myself.”
“Okay,” Leo said as he knocked over one of Luke’s golems and replaced it with one of his own.
Kondra stepped over them and left the cavern through a tunnel.
“Checkmate,” Luke said, moving a golem diagonally.
“What?” Leo asked, his head rearing back. “No way. How did that…? I demand a rematch.”
“You’ll lose again, but okay,” Luke said and nodded as he rearranged the golems. He was about to put his last golem into place when the cavern trembled, rocks falling from the ceiling. Grimmy’s, Leila’s, and Kondra’s mate’s eyes shot open as the earth shook.
A booming voice echoed through the cavern, reverberating off the walls, causing all the golem’s to fall over. “WHO STRIPPED THE PENGUINS!?”
The five dragons in the cavern exchanged glances. Grimmy cleared his throat. “Well, I got a righteous quest to do, you know, busy busy,” he said, spreading his wings and leaping into the air, leaving the cavern from one of the entrances in the ceiling.
Leila coughed. “Ah, I wonder what Lulu’s up to. I’ll go find her for a sisterly chat,” she said, following after Grimmy.
“Should we stay here or run away?” Leo asked Luke.
“You know what they say,” Luke said. “The wicked live forever while the good die young. If we follow Leila and her mate, we’ll definitely live forever too.”
Kondra’s mate watched as his sons fled, leaving him behind. He scratched his snout and shook his head before curling up on the ground. “Selfless sacrifice,” he said to the growing sprout on the ground. “I’m an excellent holy dragon, aren’t I?”
The green sprout wiggled in response.