OT: Local Gossip (Western Frontier)

on November 22, 2011 in Other Tales


Arguably, one of the highest ranking dragons in the government of the Imperial Republic of Magisteria was the head of the Office of Draconic Relations in the Estate Department. He was a great iron dragon who preferred to wear the skin of a steely-eyed and swarthy dwarf outside of his lair, and answered… for reasons that were chiefly amusing to him alone… only to the name of Mr. Sanders.

Although some dragons were drawn to the diplomatic service, greater-than-common ones were rarely employed outside of Draconic Relations as sending one to meet with a foreign ambassador or head of state was tantamount to greeting such a personage with an army.

Sanders was the second dragon to head up that office. The previous incumbent had held the post for seventy years, which exceeded the term of office of most of her predecessors by almost seventy years. Many dragons did not take kindly to the expectation that they treat with a mortal as equal, even if that mortal was theoretically a representative of a vast and powerful political entity that could make a credible account for itself in a war against a dragon. Employing dragons as diplomats towards other dragons had its own problems, but having mortal envoys who answered to a suitably powerful dragon made for a tidy compromise.

Mr. Sanders had revitalized the Office of Draconic Relations by moving to recruit more dwarves. He felt that dwarves had a better understanding of dragons than most people from the mortal order of creation. They shared similar viewpoints on the importance of privacy and personal security, for one thing, and had compatible ideas about strength and respect.

A human faced with a display of power from a dragon might think that the obvious choices were to answer in kind or to tremble and back down, either of which might be seen as a provocation to an actual attack. The dwarven sensibility was simple acknowledgment… to nod and accept it as what it was. It was this shared sympathy that had led Mr. Sanders to adopt a dwarven body as his favorite form, where most of his kind preferred humans or elves.

Mr. Sanders’s chief deputy of the moment was a human, as was the majority of his staff. He didn’t necessarily see this as a problem, as he had no intention of creating a homogeneous agency from near-top to bottom. He did want to see a more typically dwarven mindset permeating throughout the corps, but dwarves were not seen as nature’s diplomats, and it took time… human generations… to reform an institution of any size worthy of the name.

In any case, if his right-hand mortal did not have much understanding of dragons, he did have a keener understanding of humans than Mr. Sanders himself did, and that was useful. Sanders could have managed the relations between Magisteria’s other dragons and himself just fine without any government post or support, but navigating the perils of co-existence between the same dragons and the various provinces of an empire dominated by a particular breed of humans called for a broader perspective.

“There’s a bit of a situation brewing in Blackwater,” his chief aide, Luke Mathis, informed him.

“I’ve received no reports,” Sanders said. He liked to have everything in writing, although he rarely issued written edicts himself.

“It’s… well, perhaps situation was a strong word,” Mathis said. “It’s more something that could become a situation.”

“Brevity and clarity, Mathis,” Sanders said, making a hurry up gesture with his hand.

“The new provincial governor, Ruthers, has made some remarks about MB,” Mathis said. “About the time coming for her to show proper respect. There’s no indication that she’s heard about it yet…”

“She isn’t exactly the political type.”

“Exactly, sir,” Mathis said. “So when she does find out about it, her response may not be nuanced.”

Sanders closed his eyes and sat very still behind his desk for the space of a few minutes, leaning back in the gold chair that was the only touch of ostentation in another wise austerely functional office. Mathis had quickly learned to stand as still as he could and say nothing when his superior was thinking. Dragons placed a high value on patience as a virtue in others.

“Let’s send a friendly memo to the consular office,” Sanders said at length, his eyelids fluttering a few times before coming to rest in the open position. “He may need to be redistributed before he provokes an actual confrontation. While the dragon in question is not rated as a significant threat, the strategic value of her presence in the region at this time cannot be overstated.”

“Certainly, sr,” Mathis said. “Um, if I may ask…”

“No, we don’t have the power to reassign a governor,” Mr. Sanders said. “But we have the power to suggest. The lowliest citizen of the Imperial Republic has that power to petition the consuls, after all. Should we be any different?”

“Will it have any effect?”

“Well, it might make the governor nervous,” Sanders said. “And that might be enough. If it isn’t, we’ll take the next step, which will have to be damage mitigation so that ‘MB’ vents her corrosive spleen in a fashion that doesn’t damage imperial interests or undermine faith in imperial leadership.”

“Yes, sir,” Mathis said. “There is one other matter… I was signing off on the mandatory annual inspections, and I noticed that we don’t have anyone assigned to FTR.”

“Brevity and clarity,” Sanders said.

“That’s… that’s it, sir,” Mathis said. “I thought it was an oversight.”

“No.”

“I was under the impression that the mandatory annual inspections were mandatory, even for unrecognized dragons.”

“We don’t send inspectors to Fysaskerath,” he said, “because he has made it perfectly clear that we will not get them back.”

“It is not imperial policy to ignore threats from foreign powers.”

“How long have you been under me, Mathis?”

“Seven months.”

“And before that you were overseas.”

“In Thassalia, sir.”

“Your predecessor here retired after only three years, at the age of fifty something. She was awarded the Imperial Purple Arms,” Sanders said. “The man she replaced was sent to a watchtower on the northern frontier, where I believe he is still stationed. This is, I believe, known as a make-or-break sort of position. People have made their careers in it. People have been broken by it. Are you perhaps a gambler?”

“No,” Mathis said.

“Good. Then I will tell you that there are three things that you need to be aware of if you intend to keep your present position,” he said. “The first is the difference between ‘it is not imperial policy to’ do a thing and ‘it is imperial policy not to’ do it. The second is the difference between a threat and… no, I’m not about to say ‘promise’. A demonstration. When I say that he has made it perfectly clear, I don’t mean through words.”

“So we ignore the loss of our agents?”

“No, Mathis, we learn from it,” Sanders said. “This is the third thing you need to learn. There are some things that doubtlessly could be viewed as insults to the Imperium, but which it is more prudent to regard as otherwise. A being of the magnitude of Fysaskerath the Red is not insulting anyone through the death of a few humans or elves. Have you ever heard it said that mortals are like insects to dragons?”

“Yes, sir,” Mathis said.

“Well, it isn’t true,” Sanders said. “Insects are like insects to dragons. Mortals are like mortals. We do know the difference. But it can be said that there is something of a tiered relationship, with insects, and then mortals, and then dragons. Your current ordering of creation has animals being made at an inferior stage or order to dwarves and humans and so on. You treat them accordingly. The same system of organization places us above you. You cannot be insulted that we accept your logic regarding your own organizational schema. You should be proud.”

“It’s not my pride you should be worried about.”

“How very lucky for me,” Sanders said. “Have you ever wondered about why Fysaskerath the Red styles himself ‘the Red’? It seems like a question with an obvious answer, but the obvious answer is obviously wrong. If either of the other greater red dragons active in the world today thought that he was claiming himself to be the sole or definitive red dragon complete with definite article, they would tear this world apart to redress the insult. That they both know this is not what he means gives them a convenient cover for not engaging him, to their considerable advantage.”

“It’s about the wound, isn’t it?”

“The wound that won’t heal,” Sanders said. “The wound inflicted as the last act of a dying god, the wound cursed by same nameless god to never close. It should have killed him, you know. By all accounts, it is a fatal wound and it will doubtless be the thing that kills him. A hole right over… and very likely partially through… his heart. You know the old wives’ tale about dragons having a vulnerable spot in their chests? It comes from Fysaskerath. That’s how old he is, and how old his death-wound is. Understand, it is not just that Fysaskerath killed a god. It is that he has survived a dying god’s curse, from the dawning days of the world on.”

“He has been beaten, sir.”

“Fought to a draw,” Sanders said. “Three times since you people started keeping track. Once by Ambrosius, once by that Merovian archmage with a penchant for pyromancy…”

“Girault,” Mathis supplied.

“Yes,” Sanders said. “He wanted some of the blood from the wound… the heart’s blood. He wanted the words it contained. Have you ever heard that if you taste a dragon’s blood, you get the gift of tongues?”

“It’s not true.”

“Oh, it is, more or less,” Sanders said. “But it would kill you before you had a chance to say much. An ordinary man would have been burned to cinders by a red dragon’s blood. Girault was, too… but not fatally. Three have fought him to a draw, and none of them were able to destroy him, even with the open wound exposing his beating heart. If three opponents to get the better of him seems like a high number, consider the number of opponents he destroyed along the way. It is rumored that his most recent opponent had to sacrifice her squire in order to issue a binding challenge to a blood duel.”

“The version I heard was it was her mount.”

“Either way, both went into the mountains under her charge and neither came back,” Sanders said. “Here is the final analysis, Mathis: Fysaskerath the Red is older than the mountain he lives on. He is personally the reason that greater red dragons are the rarest kind of dragon in the world, and though none of them will admit it he is the reason why divine manifestations in Magisteria are rarer than any other continent.”

“There are a lot of stories about him being outsmarted, sir.”

“That’s what people do when they know they can’t beat someone.”

“Outsmart him?”

“Tell stories where they do,” Sanders said. “The policies of the Imperium do not apply, not because anybody has penned a specific exception but because they were not written with a being of his caliber in mind.”

“Sir… I mean no disrespect…”

“Clarity and brevity, Mathis!”

“I’m not sure you have the authority to decide that,” Mathis said.

“Let me put your mind at rest,” Sanders said. “I most certainly do not. No one does. The political atmosphere of the Imperium would not allow anyone to do so, save the imperator himself… and he could not hope to declare a neighboring dragon greater than his empire and hope to keep it. This is why it is necessary that I am willing to make these decisions without any conferral or confirmation, Mathis, and why it is important that you do not question them. There can be no ‘running up the flagpole’ on this. No one saluting would be the least of the problems.”

“To be brief and clear, I’m not fully comfortable with this.”

“You shouldn’t be,” Sanders said. “This isn’t a comfortable thing we do, Mathis. It isn’t a comfortable world we inhabit. Dragons… we are not creatures of this world, not truly, so we can never be truly comfortable here, and you should not be comfortable about sharing it with us. And we in the sense of this august office, Mathis, we have the unenviable job of making dragons and mortals coexist. We take as much of that discomfort onto ourselves so that everyone else can just sort of live. Fysaskerath the Red lives on with a bleeding hole in his chest. The Imperial Republic lives on. The question is, Mathis… can you live with this?”

“Yes, sir,” Mathis said.

“Clear and brief, Mathis, that’s what we like.”


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43 Responses to “OT: Local Gossip (Western Frontier)”

  1. Tomorrow (the 23rd) is the last day to bid in the December site auction The highest bid at midnight central time will be the winner, and recognized as the chief sponsor for a month of stories.

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  2. Zathras IX says:

    Employing Dragons
    As diplomats towards other
    Dragons has problems

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  3. Alyxe Barron says:

    Heyla

    Quick typo first… “Sanders was the second dragon to head up that office office.” Only one office needed perhaps?

    Other than that… I want to see FTR show up now, that dragon is bad a**! -g-

    -r

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  4. Burnsidhe says:

    … Didn’t Grandma Blaise fight a greater red?

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    • JiBB says:

      Sanders also only lists two of the three people who have fought FTR to a draw…

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    • Matarael says:

      I thought Grandma Blaise fought a silver, but I could be wrong.

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      • Zergonapal says:

        No I do believe it was FTR, they just don’t bother mentioning her by name.

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      • Jennifer says:

        Grandma Blaise fought the FTR to a draw. Upon hearing this, Embries (a greater silver) went to check her out. We don’t know anything of that first meeting between the two.

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        • tjhairball says:

          There seems to be a lot of draconic interest in the Blaise line. Might have something to do with that.

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    • ripvw says:

      Yes. She’s the one who sacrificed her squire.

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      • Riotllama says:

        Is she? Is that stated in another chapter I’ve forgotten? This story intimates that the person who sacrificed their squire did not survive the encounter.

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        • Rethic says:

          i think the neither it was referring to was the squire and the horse

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        • Burnsidhe says:

          The story tells you the squire and the mount did not survive the encounter. If Brimstone Blaise hadn’t also survived the encounter, then she wouldn’t have been referred to at all, and this would have been about the two people who fought Fysaskerath to a draw, not about the THREE people who fought Fysaskerath to a draw.

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  5. russell says:

    Brimstone Blase was the third one he referred to,the most recent, the one who lost her horse and squire one of whom was sacrificed.

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  6. Month says:

    So… He IS the definition of Greater Red Dragons, but all say he is not, so that they will not attack him. Which most probably would mean death for the attacker.

    He kind of reminds me Smaug.

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    • Frelance says:

      Sad to say, within the mythology milieu of Middle Earth, Smaug wasn’t nearly that big a deal. The true paragons of his order were slain in the distant past by armies of puissant, quasi divine elf-lords, not shot by a silly human with a silly black arrow.

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    • Stonefoot says:

      It would seem that the other two red dragons active in the world are in much the same position as the Imperium: They “sort of live” in the same world with Fysaskerath by not asking the question they dare not answer: “Who is the more powerful?”

      Another question has just now come to mind: It seems that the combination of bloodlines that led to Callahan may have been deliberately arranged, and she also has killed a god (and more than one greater dragon, as I recall). Could part of the reason for that be the hope that eventually she would have a run in with Fysaskerath? And there would be (consistent with what we have seen) no outside influence in that direction, since if she failed it would be supremely important that she was clearly acting on her own.

      Also, Fysaskerath reminds of of Smaug about the same way that a Bengal Tiger reminds me of, maybe, an Ocelot.

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  7. Jane says:

    “and answered… for reasons that were chiefly amusing to him alone… only to the name of Mr. Sanders.”

    Amusing to me, too.
    http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3030/3066818278_25798447bc.jpg
    Does he “live under it” i.e. have it written over his door?

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    • Just a random background tidbit: I first wrote this with the (completely randomly chosen mundane-sounding) name of “Saunders”, but after the first time I wrote “Mr. Saunders” I imagined Winnie-the-Pooh living in his old house and changed the spelling to suit.

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      • Zukira Phaera says:

        was half afraid it was a kfc joke hiding in there.

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      • Stonefoot says:

        “Dragons… we are not creatures of this world, not truly, so we can never be truly comfortable here….” So dragons came to the MUniverse from some other plane of existence (probably). (Aside: If they “aren’t truly comfortable here” there must be compensating factors leading them to stay, maybe even something like their original plane no longer exists?) Anyway they must have much greater ability to travel to or at least sense other planes… like ours? Maybe “Mr. Sanders” has actually read Winnie-the-Pooh!

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  8. readaholic says:

    You know, I’m not sure who is scarier, Granny Blaise, or Fysaskerath.

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    • Erianaiel says:

      I do…

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    • TheTurnipKing says:

      Fysaskerath is just doing what comes naturally to a dragon.

      Martha is definately the scarier.

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  9. Erm says:

    The previous incumbent had held the post for seventy years, which exceeded the term of office of most of her predecessors by almost seventy years.

    😀

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  10. V says:

    Delusions of importance and power, I’d like you to meet cold, hard reality.

    Typo check:
    “Certainly, sr,” Mathis said
    sir?

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  11. Grimault says:

    I somehow have little trouble believing Ol’ brimstone sacrificed her squire. And told him he was lucky to ‘join her’ in giving his life for ‘good’.

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    • Helge says:

      “I somehow have little trouble believing Ol’ brimstone sacrificed her squire.”

      Indeed. Brimstone Blaise is apparently exactly the sort of person who would counsel, “Kill them all! Khersis will know His own.”
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albigensian_Crusade

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      • Burnsidhe says:

        Brimstone Blaise does not seem to be the type to condone the murder of innocents. She is ruthless, sees things in black and white according to her own strict moral code, but not the type to ruthlessly persecute and murder people just because they believe differently.

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        • Jennifer says:

          You are speaking of the woman who was absolutely willing to kill a small child in order to “rescue” him from demon possession (in Devil Children). She was absolutely certain his soul was saved already, so sending him early to his death was a perfectly natural course of action when possessed.

          I have no trouble believing she would sacrifice her squire to save the lives of the rest of her group (though it wouldn’t be merely to save her OWN life).

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          • Burnsidhe says:

            There is a qualitative, and quantitative, difference between one body possessed by an actual evil entity, and deciding (as in the quote taken from the Albigensian crusade) that everyone in a village, or town, or province, should die over an alternate interpretation of Khersis (to give an example).

            I leave it to you to decide what the differences are.

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          • Anthony says:

            You mean “speaking of a woman who was willing to let the demon believe she would kill the child,” right? There’s a very delicious level of ambiguity in that scene…

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  12. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    leaning back in the gold chair that was the only touch of ostentation in another wise austerely functional office.

    Pretty sure that should be “an otherwise”.

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    • Erianaiel says:

      I am pretty sure you are right.
      But the mistake works surprisingly well 🙂

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  13. Helge says:

    Nice tidbit of a scene. It’s a lot of exposition, but the interchange between Mr. Sanders and Mathis is so well written it’s not at all obnoxious. There are also enough tantalizing hints about Mack’s story that it captured my attention.

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  14. KW says:

    I found the “sort of” in Sanders’ penultimate statement to be a bit out of place. The rest of the language he uses is by-and-large very precise. Almost seems like a Mackism crept in there, or was it an intentional caveat?

    Anyhow, small nitpick/style question on an excellent story!

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  15. anon y mouse says:

    “The wound inflicted as the last act of a dying god, the wound cursed by same nameless god to never close.” – ‘the same’ or ‘said’ nameless god, maybe?

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  16. TNadal says:

    I Loved this one, Thank you!

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  17. Burnsidhe says:

    Incidentally, it came to me that Fysaskerath the Red’s wound is a weakness, but not a physical weakness. While it doubtless appears to make him vulnerable physically, I doubt exploiting the wound directly will be the dragon’s death.

    No, Fysaskerath the Red has survived because of his will. The will of a greater dragon, we’ve seen, is very damn powerful. The fact that even with that will, the wound will never close, has got to rankle.

    And THAT is where the wound creates a vulnerable spot; in Fysaskerath’s will. Exploiting it would be difficult, but easier than trying to exploit the physical wound.

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  18. readaholic says:

    @Burnsidhe – you mean, use psychology to gradually weaken his will to live, or make him start willing himself to die? Silly, I know, but I can’t help laughing at the idea of an ancient order of con artists, dedicated to the downfall of Fysaskerath. Maybe they’d start by offering him a free “personality test”.

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  19. pedestrian says:

    Rather like listening to a great power leader discuss why MADD, Mutual Assured Destruction Doctrine, is the closest to sane policy for nuclear deterrence. Any nation that initiates the use of nuclear weapons is to be immediately attacked by all the other nuclear powers.

    It stopped the Soviet Union from attacking China a couple of times and India versus Pakistan. Remember, where ever the bombs actually drop, the radioactive fallout would continue to circulate in the global atmosphere, at lethal levels, for decades if not centuries.

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  20. Kellan says:

    Does it weird anyone else out that the Office of Draconic Relations is talking about an apolitical, stragically important dragon with the initials MB in the same town as Martha? Is Martha a half dragon? she is in a dragon themed order of paladins.

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