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Why Dont You Stay Close to Me

Chapter Text

It was a cold morning, one of those early spring days that think they’re still in winter. Frost crystals scattered the light and glittered like diamonds on every leaf and branch alike. Newly growing plants found themselves quickly culled with the onslaught of the ice, and all of it shone incandescent, blazing red and gold with the light of the rising sun. It dazzled the eye, made one think that all the world was aflame.

The old and superstitious see this and they lock their doors against the chill, stoking their fires higher. They clutch their prayer shawls and murmur blessings and wards and talk in hushed voices about omens. They sharpen their knives and whisper stories as old as the sun itself. This is a dangerous day, they say. A day of burning. A dragon day.

Nadiya Senarell was neither old nor superstitious. She hadn’t even noted the chill, nor the ice, as she sat through another sleepless night typing away at her computer. Nadiya had aspirations of greatness. One, she reasoned, did not become a world-famous playwright by wasting time doing frivolous things, like sleeping. No, no. She would write until she passed out.

She had been deemed ‘considerably talented.’ That was not good enough.

Of course, the Players’ Guild had informed her that she needed a finished script before she could be considered a true playwright, but that was no real obstacle. This would be the play. Her big break. A huge hit.

Currently it was around three pages long and sat atop a pile of unfinished manuscripts, all in various stages of not being finished. If pressed, Nadiya would inform you that they were ‘in process.’ The actual term would be ‘forgotten.’ Nadiya conveniently ignored this fact, much like most other authors.

Of course, she’d run into a stumbling block.

It should be so easy! Nadiya fumed, slamming the heel of her hand down on the keys of her laptop. Dragons are the natural enemy of mankind. They should be so easy to make the enemy! But I…don’t know how to write them.

The main issue, she reasoned, was a lack of information. Nadiya didn’t want to be writing some sort of childish fairy story; this was meant to be deep and meaningful and a commentary on reality as it stands. Not something ridiculous. She had tried searching the interstate Internet; information on dragons’ abilities varied widely and didn’t tend to be very useful, or if they were they were behind the city-state’s military censors. She couldn’t even get a picture for planning the costumes.

Which was frustrating. Dragons were under a standing kill order, of course, and were dangerous as all hell and more, but that didn’t mean that they should be denied any information that didn’t come right out of a bedtime story.

She followed one last dead link that led to a government-sanctioned firewall, glanced at the clock, and groaned. It was nearly five AM. Fuck.

Well, time to get ready for her day job.

She stood up gracelessly, tripping over her chair and sprawling onto the floor for all of a half-second before bouncing back up and bounding over to her dresser to grab her uniform and quickly throw it on over yesterday’s underthings. Red shirt, brown pants, light mail tunic, greaves…she cast about for her helmet and found it under a blanket in the corner. There. Done. Now she looked like a proper sentry from the Agiriel Keep.

Because yes, that was her job. It was so interesting. Watching trees every day, all day, from six in the morning to eight at night, occasionally making patrols, and most importantly keeping out of the real soldiers’ way. She’d joined the army at eleven, just like everyone else in Agiriel, but she’d barely learned how to fight or anything. It had been her cousin Riklar who taught her that, and Rik was almost twice her age and still hadn’t seen a promotion from the position field scout he’d attained at twenty-four.

Maybe she wanted to die every time she went back, but hey. It paid well enough, and it wasn’t like she had much of a choice in the matter. Besides, every penny counted when you had four people working to support ten people in a house that was really only built for three.

She considered another thought. See, the keep could be a gold mine of information. The soldiers there were probably the only people who had seen a dragon—a real dragon—in decades. Of course, she was not supposed to talk to the soldiers, but that could be worked around.


Nadiya was an idiot.

She’d been discreet, she thought. She asked Rik first, and Rik hadn’t given her anything other than to tell her that dragons were maybe a bit rarer than she thought; then she went and quietly asked Areen, a lancer who she knew had seen dragons before, who told her that she could find all she needed in the fairy stories and no, she shouldn’t want to be a soldier, stop asking; then she started asking around the other lancers she thought she could trust. Obviously one of them had sold her out.

Lieutenant Barit had gotten wind of her scheme somehow.

One did not disobey Lieutenant Barit if one had even a modicum more self-preservation than a goddamn lemming. Lieutenant Barit was one of the powers that be in the Keep, and if Lieutenant Barit told you not to do something, you’d have to be a damned idiot to go do it.

Nadiya knew that. Yet she’d went and spoken to soldiers. And Barit knew.

And now…it had come to this.

The dog kennels.

The worst of all menial jobs assigned as punishment was shoveling dog crap, but she had been spared that by the efforts of some three or four drunken hooligans from the night shift’. Instead, she was to lug the animal waste out into the forest and leave it in the local garbage dump to rot.

And then return. And repeat the process.

Because, of course, there was not one but three individual sacks of leaking, stinking, disgusting dog shit waiting for her. She would be reeking of crap and utterly filthy by the time this task was done. And to top it all off, she was already tired enough that she was seeing things out of the corners of her eyes, and there was no one to ask about dragons.

Because Nadiya may have been frustrated, but she wasn’t a shirk, she bent down and picked up the first bag of animal feces. The stench was incredible, and it was heavy. The plastic of the garbage bag itself was slick under her fingers, and she dreaded to think what she could possibly have just stuck her fingers in.

The rubber felt like it was stretching under her hands, and she dropped it and stared back in mild horror, but it wasn’t ripping, so she swung it over her shoulder and began the long trek into the forest.

The path was dark and the forest was cold, and the trees and bushes and tangled underbrush and all that were enough to make it feel almost claustrophobic. It didn’t help that she was going to take a shortcut soon to cut some distance off her trip at the expense of walking right into the plants, but then again, she was going a long way with a heavy bag of absolute horror over her shoulder, and so any speed is better than the inconvenience of scraped ankles. It was decided.

She finally got up to the break point and split off into the undergrowth, pushing past the dense brush onto the Causeway—a strangely rippling, jagged expanse of gritty, hard material that rose out of the dirt in massive chunks in certain areas, like some enormous line drawn onto the ground that had subsequently been broken. It was black, fractured stone, divided in to fragments that showed the dirt and roots underneath. AS though someone had plucked it off of the ground and stuck it back at random, or maybe hit a glass plate with a hammer.

In other places, it was smooth and unnaturally flat, immensely easy to walk on despite its tendency to puddle, and it led through the Dead City to the dump.

And, of course, it was one of those places that the wise older sorts of people always advised her to stay away from. In Nadiya’s opinion, that just made it far more appealing.

Grabbing the bag tightly with one hand and scrabbling at the peculiar rocks with the other, Nadiya clambered up the side of one of the tilted chunks of dark rock and skipped from plateau to plateau until she got to the less-broken expanse of stone on the other side.

And then it was an easy hike through the Dead City, though she couldn’t set the bag down and drag it. The ground was unnaturally flat and smooth where it wasn’t cracked and patchy, and it would cut almost a half hour off of her trip at the expense of going a little bit out of her way into the forest.

She figured it was worth it.


At first, she thought she was hallucinating when she saw the stranger.

In her defense, she hadn’t slept in a day and a half and she was on her third cup of energy drink, but she really did think that the shadowy figure she half-saw was just an illusion until she blinked and it didn;t seem to go away.

She looked a little bit closer.

He had black armor, and it was just dull enough to not reflect the light. He had a dark green cloak. And black hair. And he was facing away from her, so she could be forgiven her difficulty recognizing him. His garb looked nothing like anyone from Agiriel, so she was hesitant to call out.

She took another step, and caught sight of something that stopped her heart in her chest.

Dragonblade.

The man held a long, elegantly curved sword with a blade as dark and black as night. It was crusted on one end in something brownish and non-reflective.

Fuck, she was so screwed.

She tried to lighten her footsteps, to sneak past this fucking dragon, but it evidently didn’t work. The man jolted, whirling, and his golden, reptilian eyes fixed on her.

Oh, fuck.

Chapter Text

This day was shit from the very beginning, Tazryx thought, and tried not to complain aloud.

“Silas—”

“I’m not kidding, Taz,” Tazryx’s older sister glared. “Get the fuck out of my house.”

“Silas, I live here too,” Tazryx protested.

“Right, right, and I suppose you should have meals for free just because you’ve always eaten before this, huh?” Silas said sharply. “Get. Out.”

Tazryx gathered his stuff up and got out before she started getting angrier. The last thing he needed was for her to throw his armor in the dirt. The Ath would be angry enough with him as it is.

For one thing, he was late. He didn’t intend to be, but Sylath Aerden didn’t seem very interested in hearing that it was all Silas’s fault, and so he took a strict lecture on top of the fact that he may or may not have ever been allowed back onto his own home.

Still, it was the difference of five minutes, and they weren’t going out looking for anyone alive. What difference did it make?

“Taz, uh. I’m sorry. It’s a damn shame about Dendaya,” Jarik said softly.

Tazryx nodded curtly.

“We’ll bring her back,” Jarik continued, still in that same consoling voice. “Promise.”

“Death is a part of our lives,” Tazryx muttered back. “The sooner I can come to terms with that, the better.”

“Look, everyone’s upset about it, okay? You don’t need to—”

“I don’t need to what?”

“Hide it,” Jarik said.

“Of course I do!” Tazryx said, momentarily forgetting to whisper and then bringing his voice back to an acceptable hush. He leaned forwards, so that his forehead was almost touching Jarik. “I can’t stop, or I won’t ever get moving again. We’re always going to die. I need to move on.”

“It was sudden—”

“Is it ever not?”

“You were close—”

“Are we ever not?”

“I mean—”

“Jarik, stop, please,” Tazryx said, taking a deep breath. “We’re going to recover her body and her armor. That’s it. Nothing more.”

Jarik nodded, looking concerned. “If you’re not okay, though, just know you can talk to any of us.”

“Of course,” Tazryx said, and privately decided he was never going to confide anything in Jarik.

“So, I heard you were on thin ice with the Ath,” another dragon in their search party—Nraza—butted in.

Tazryx shrugged. He was always on thin ice with the Ath.

“Heard she was going to strip your rank entirely and set you as a hunter if you screwed anything up again,” Nraza continued.

“What is this about?” Tazryx asked. God, he was too tired for this. He’d barely slept; images of his dead friend kept slipping in and out of his mind. Not that he would ever admit that, of course.

“Is it true?” Nraza asked.

“It’s true,” Tazryx said.

“Seems a little extreme, don’t you think?” Nraza asked. “There are only so many of us willing to go toe-to-toe with the humans, and if you’re anything like your siblings then—”

“My sibllings. Yeah, I’m just like them. Definitely a carbon copy of Silas or Rex, never possibly my own person. Nraza, please.”

“Look, I didn’t mean to offend you, kiddo. I was just wondering.”

Tazryx nodded despite himself. “I know,” he said. “I’m just on edge, a little.”

“Nothing to be worried about,” Nraza said. “We should stay well on our side of the forest, and there won’t be any fighting to be had.”

Tazryx knew it wouldn’t go that smoothly. Nothing ever went smoothly.


Fact: it didn’t go smoothly.

Fact: he was an idiot.

Fact: he was fucking lost.

Tazryx glanced around again, trying to get his bearings, but this damn forest was allt he same and the only landmark he could see…nothing. Just trees, trees, and more fucking trees.

He revised his mental facts list a little bit, because fact: the Ath would have his head for this.

He picked a random distance and started walking, praying to whichever gods were listening that please just let me get back to the rest of the search party, please, please let me just get out of this one.

He nearly twisted his ankle where the ground suddenly dropped away and he stepped out into thin air, but he managed to fall onto his shoulder and roll up to standing. The heavy metal plate armor on his upper body dug into his skin; he would have a few bruises if he was lucky, and a damaged set of leather under-armor on top of those if he was not. He stood up slowly, looking around.

It looked to be some sort of artificial clearing, like the ones that people used to walk on in the World Before. A sort of road, albiet damaged and made out of an odd gray-black material. There were puddles running all along the center, and a fractured in the middle from what looked like an earthquake in times long past. Tazryx had no question that this was one of the holdovers of the World Before. There were a lot of things like that up here, although usually a bit less obvious outside of the Gray City.

He caught a whiff of something that could only be described as downright nasty, and he slowly turned around. No one wanted to be caught off-guard by a corpse, but—

There was a small human standing not ten feet away from him, carrying a large sack of…something.

Fact: she was wearing red and brown leather and light armor.

Fact: Agiriel had an army in the colors red and brown.

Fact: she was probably a soldier, and therefore probably armed.

Conclusion: he was absolutely, completely screwed.

Chapter Text

In an unusual subversion of tropes, Nadya thought with a strange sense of detachment, it was the bloodthirsty monster who started to run away from the girl.

Nadiya was frozen, staring at the creature that she just knew was going to be her doom, when it turned tail and started to run away.

Then it hit her. I have got to be dreaming. There is no possible way that this actually just happened.

And in that case…

Wait!” she yelled, dropping the bag. “Wait, hey, stop!”

The dragon looked back at her with an astonished expression, and then ran a bit faster.

“I just want to talk to you!” Nadiya yelled.

The dragon stopped for a second, stared at her, and then began sprinting towards the trees.

“Stop!” she yelled again, and then paused, cursing. “I…goddamnit. I seriously just want to talk. Don’t you things understand English?”

The dragon stopped, glaring at her sullenly. “I’m not a thing,” he yelled back, sword held loosely in one hand. He’d stopped a fair distance away from her.

“So you can speak,” Nadiya muttered, and then called out. “Look, I want to talk. Please.”

The dragon blinked, and then scoffed. “I suppose you’re going to ask me what color my blood would look on my damn armor, then?” he asked, tapping his black plate mail with one armored hand. “Or maybe you want me to narrate how I best want you to kill me? Ask you to stab me in the neck instead of the stomach? Or-”

“No,” Nadiya said, cutting him off. “For fuck’s sake. I’m trying to write a play.”

The dragon snapped his mouth shut with an audible click, and then opened it and stared at her. She got the impression he was completely flabbergasted. Maybe even stunned, if dragons could feel stunned.

“I just don’t know anything about you,” Nadiya continued. “Like, no one will tell me anything. You can’t seriously turn into a giant lizard, right? That’s definitely bullshit…I think…”

The dragon had seemed to go from shocked to struggling to hold a straight face.

“Um?” he said delicately. “No. We’re…dragons. We can,” he waved his arms in a wild gesture that didn’t convey much of anything. “We can, uh, we can dragon ourselves. Honestly…what.”

He seemed to notice that he’d just swung his sword in a circle and hastily shoved it into the sheath hanging at his side, as though he were worried he would cut himself with his own blade.

“I think you’re the first dragon I’ve ever spoken to,” Nadiya blurted out, feeling significantly more comfortable now that the threat of violence wasn’t actively threatening violence. “Or dreamed, I guess. As it were. What’s your name?”

For a long moment the dragon was dead silent. And oh shit. What if she’d just made a terrible faux pas? What if dragons don’t have names? What if dragons only tell their names to the people they want to kill? Or something like that? What if he was offended?

“My name is Taz,” the dragon said eventually.

“Nadiya,” Nadiya offered. “Please, I only have a few questions…?”

Taz waffled. “Uh,” he said eloquently. “I…wait. Uh. I’ll be happy to answer your questions if you’ll answer mine,” he settled on lamely. “But my Ath—er, my general, I guess—is going to be furious if I don’t report in in the next two…ish? Two? I think like two minutes. So how about you meet me back here after sundown?”

“You want me to meet you in the middle of the forest after sundown on the Causeway to the Dead City. Hardly auspicious.”

“I’m sorry, but this is the best I can offer,” Taz said, shrugging exaggeratedly. “Come alone and unarmed, please, and in civvie clothes. I swear I won’t hurt you.”

“You just made this whole thing up on the fly, didn’t you?” Nadiya accused.

“Yes? I did? I didn’t come here specifically expecting to run into a small playwright with too many questions,” the dragon said, looking honestly taken aback. “But really, I need to go. As in now. Which way is away?”

“Are you lost?”

“Yes. Vaguely. A direction, please?”

Nadiya pointed directly away from the keep, and then considered, weighed the benefits of instead pointing the dragon to the keep itself, and then decided against it. She was dreaming, after all. Definitely dreaming.

The dragon fled into the darkness of the tree line, and then that was it.


Nadiya finished the abominable task of playing courier to multiple rubber bags of animal excrement and found herself back at the Keep for another eight and a half or so hours. Despite her best efforts—and far more cups of coffee than would be strictly wise—she found herself falling asleep.

Okay, so perhaps it wasn’t a dream.

But Nadiya was nothing if not impulsive and curious, and she was about as starved for information as she could get, and she was bored on top of that, and so when the sun hit the horizon and started to sink below it, and she knew she had another half hour left in her shift, she couldn’t not go track down the dragon of the Causeway and ask him about dragons.

So she ran away while she was working.

In her defense, it’s not like anyone was paying attention, and she was not doing anything important, and she was about as hyper as it gets and exhausted at the same time and that’s never a good combination on anyone. So she excused herself a bit too early, and slipped back to her empty house, and quickly changed into her other clothes and grabbed her laptop.

She put her boots back on.

And now…

She grabbed a short knife and slid it into the waistband of her jeans, hoping that if the stories were right and dragons could smell gunpowder that this wouldn’t tip him off.

And then she thought about it a second more, and scrawled a note to Cousin Rickar. Out tonight. Be back soon. Hopefully he wouldn’t worry.

And then she shrugged on her jacket and slipped out along the path to get to the Causeway.

Chapter Text

Tazryx sighed a breath of relief as soon as the human soldier left his sight. Nadiya, huh? I sincerely doubt that she’s a playwright of any kind.

The whole encounter was surreal. She showed up like a goblin of some kind, chased a fully armored dragon down, and then proceeded to try to interrogate him. By the Third, he realized. She’s either brave to the point of suicidal or she’s insanely stupid, and I honestly don’t know which one is which.

Maybe she would even show up alone and screw him over even more surely.

Because the only way he was able to get out of an instant demotion for this was to tell the Ath that he was setting up an ambush for what looked like an attack party. The Ath was not pleased, per se; but she had reluctantly approved his plan, provided that he was the bait. He’d spun it, of course; made the Nadiya girl sound less utterly weird, and left out the parts about her writing a play, for god’s sake—but he had no doubt she would be bringing a team of lancers with her. No human would suffer a dragon live on their watch.

Of course, he wasn’t a miracle worker, and so he was under the direct supervision of one of the Sylaths. That would have been fine, if the Sylath in question hadn’t been his brother Rezkierel.

“So, Taz, my lovable fuckup brother Taz,” Rezkierel smirked, dancing around him in his light scout’s armor. “How’d you manage this one?”

“Fuck off, Rex,” Tazryx muttered.

“I’m wounded!” Rex said dramatically. “My brother dear, telling me to fuck off after a long day, and after I haven’t seen him in a week! No, really, man. The Ath looked ready to stab one of us, and we both know it wasn’t me.”

“Rex, fuck off,” Tazryx said again, pushing the older man off of him.

“Hey, what the fuck?” Rex asked, dropping the act. “Are you that worked up over the fuckin Ath’s opinion? You know she doesn’t actually give a fuck.”

“It’s just—Dendaya turned up,” he said in an undertone.

“What, while I was out dealing with the Sethien?”

“Yeah.”

“Well…” Rex shrugged. “She was as good as dead the day she was captured, and we all knew it. Still, it’s…that’s not good.”

Tazryx nodded, turning to fidget with his too-bright white coat—

“Well, Taz Taz Taz, I hear we’re baiting some fine young lady?”

Tazryx only restrained the urge to bonk him over the head with his scabbard by an immense amount of willpower. “She’s a human soldier, Rex.”

“Yes, but was she hot?” He could tell that Rex was wiggling his eyebrows even in the dark.

“She wasn’t anything special,” Tazryx said. “Why is this what you’re fixated on?”

“My baby brother finds his first real soldier all by his lonesome and I’m not allowed to know what he thinks of them?”

“No,” Tazryx said. “Seriously, what the fuck.”


Rex was well out of their way and into his hiding spot for the ambush by the time Nadiya showed up.

At first, she seemed to have come alone.

She had a laptop held tightly in one hand and a lantern swinging loosely in the other. She must have been night-blinded by its light; it certainly served to white out his vision for a time, and it would definitely hide anyone behind her. But she was also jumpier than he would expect someone to be should they come in a group, and she was in plainclothes.

“Over here,” Tazryx said pleasantly.

She jumped, stifling a squeak, and whirled until she saw him. Very jumpy for someone who wasn’t alone. Tazryx was almost certain that she had been stupid enough that it would botch this for him. The Ath would be mad if they didn’t have anything to show for this.

“So, uh, Tam, right?” she said, once she’d regained her wits.

Tazryx fought the urge to grimace. “It’s Taz, actually. You could at least be bothered to remember my name, considering I’ve remembered yours, Nadiya.”

“Uh, sorry?” she said. “Chill out. Anyway, so, it’s fucking terrifying here—you excluded, of course—and I’m like half convinced something’s going to jump out of the trees and try to fuckin eat me alive, so is there any way we could move this back to my town?”

Her town, where he would be murdered on sight. He listened with increasing incredulity as she offered him food and coffee. Coffee at eight o’clock at night.

“Excuse me,” he interrupted. “Are you actually that fucking stupid, or do you think that I am? Honestly, I’m confused. What were you even trying to get out of that?”

“Um—”

“See, as far as I can figure, either you’re trying to lure me into a trap so that your little army can kill me, or you just invited me into your home unrestrained. Either way, do you…you do see that that’s a bad idea, right? It’s horrifically transparent. And stupid.”

“Or…I was…counting on you looking at it like that, and actually keeping you away from my home,” Nadiya postulated. Tazryx fought the urge to laugh. Honestly, he was starting to like her. Even if she was an obvious idiot. “Well, it may not have been the best plan, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. At least that way, if I got brutally murdered, it wouldn’t be out here in the middle of a damn forest.”

Tazryx’s sarcastic nature was going to get him into trouble one of these days. “Oh, my honor is impugned!” he cried dramatically. “I told you I wouldn’t hurt you, right? I’m not going to break an oath.”

“Not you,” Nadiya said quickly. “I mean. Um. Sure, you’re scary, but…I don’t know, it’s just a creepy forest. I totally feel like I’m being watched by something that doesn’t like me, you know what I mean?”

I’m something that doesn’t like you,” Tazryx pointed out.

“I mean…” she said, gesturing wildly. “Um. Like it wants to kill me.”

“I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea, myself.”

“But you showed up?”

“So did you,” Tazryx said. “What was this play bullshit, again?”

“Oh! Damn,” Nadiya said, plopping down on the wet, rough surface of the broken road and opening her laptop. “I almost forgot. I have a shit battery, but I need to do some research, okay? For the plot. I have a list of questions, so—”

“Wait,” said Tazryx.

“What?”

“You couldn’t just…guess?”

“I could, but I would rather be accurate,” she said, pulling what looked like a glass bottle out of her cloak pocket and snapping it open, then drinking it. Bottles like that are really only manufactured far to the southeast, and that smells like coffee. Is Agiriel on a human train line a;l of a sudden?

“What are you drinking?” he asked pointedly.

“Um,” she said. “Some energy drink. We got it during the trade stopover in August—they had them. I don’t want to fall asleep,” she continued. She seemed to have a tendency to ramble. “I’ve been awake for like three days straight at this point, and I really need this information. But yeah, it’s an energy drink. Espresso?”

“Espresso,” Tazryx repeated. “Why do humans have espresso?”

“I dunno,” Nadiya shrugged. “Tastes good? Anyway. Dragons. Come on.”

“You couldn’t just use human soldiers?” Tazryx asked. “Or maybe the Shaidn? You guys still have magicians and Shaid, right? And there are humans out west a few hundred miles who won’t stop killing one another.”

“I can’t use human soldiers,” Nadiya said dismissively. “I refuse. Thanks for the advice, I guess, but…no. Definitely not.”

“Why does it have to be dragons, though?”

“It’s a political commentary,” Nadiya said, leaning over her computer. “It’s all about exploring the way the military uses dragons as a tool to keep us in line. And—”

“Wouldn’t it be more meaningful if you used other humans as a parable for dragons, then?” Tazryx butted in. “Show that the fears you have are unfounded and ridiculous, and maybe dismantle some of the—”

“What are you talking about?” Nadiya said. “I never said that. I just said you’re weaponized by the government.”

“So are you,” Tazryx said, faces of too many dead dancing before his eyes. “Every one of you is a loaded gun. You think I have nothing to fear from a contingent of humans? You’re worse than animals. You kill and you kill and you kill just for the hell of it.”

“Back the fuck off,” Nadiya said.

“What are you going to do to me?” Tazryx asked. “You insult me, you claim we’re the tools of your government, you stick us as your boogieman in your maybe-real or maybe-not play, you try to have me killed, for the Third’s sake, and what? You want me to sit pretty and keep calm? I’m scarier than you, little girl. Unless you have a group of soldiers hiding in the wings, this conversation may have just taken a sharp turn for the worse.”

Nadiya scrambled backwards and stood up, but she didn’t call for help. Why—shit, Tazryx put some pieces together with a growing sense of panic.

Oh, shit. She really did come alone.

“Um,” said Tazryx. “Look. I’m actually not going to do anything to you. But—”

“I wasn’t wrong,” Nadiya said defensively, curled around her laptop.

Tazryx took a deep breath. “Look,” he said. “Everyone I’ve ever lost, I’ve lost them to humans. It’s the same story for every single dragon living in Emharikia. And none of you seem to have the fucking self-awareness.”

“By War’s ass,” Nadiya said. “I just want some fucking answers. None of you are ever going to see any of my goddamn plays, anyway.”

Tazryx raised an eyebrow, and then stopped. Someone was moving. Fuck, they weren’t supposed to do that—but she was alone. It didn’t matter.

Rex stepped out of the ditch in between the cracked segments of road.

“Gah!” Nadiya yelped, jolting backwards and slipping to land on her back on the World Before’s road. Before she could even get up, Rex had his boot on her neck.

That was the cue that the other thirteen dragons needed to melt out of the shadows and almost appear to materialize on the road, ringed in a rough circle around the three of them.

So, Taz. My fuckup brother Taz,” Rex said, in an artificially light-hearted tone. It was…he knew this tone. Fuck. Was he really doing this now? “Really, I didn’t think any human could be any more fucking dumb than you are, but this one puts me right over the edge of fucking disbelief.”

“Rex, can you not do this for one second, please?” Tazryx asked halfheartedly, hoping against hope—and all prior knowledge—that his brother wouldn’t do this. Of course, because it was Rex, and he’s never not like this, his prayers to the Second went unanswered, and Rex just scoffed at him.

“No, no,” Rex continued dramatically, staring off into the distance like he was delivering a monologue straight to the gods themselves, “this human meets a strange man alone in the woods, not even bothering to announce her location to her family members. The town is in uproar; of course, I checked. Seems she shirked her job, too. Now, why could she possibly be so…so…so suicidally dumb?”

“Rex, seriously,” Tazryx said, feeling his face get hot despite himself. “The joke’s old by now.”

“This joke’s never old,” Rex said. “And it keeps being more true. You make everyone else stupider, man. I don’t know how you do it, but it’s like the universe itself bends to make everything around you happen in the most ridiculously inconvenient way possible.”

Tazryx grimaced. “Rex, please, you’re embarrassing me,” he gritted out.

“I’m embarrassing you? Please, brother dear, do you know how embarrassed I’m going to be when we tell the Ath that your genius plan killed exactly one juvenile fucking human?”

Killed?” Nadiya squeaked, and Tazryx could see him grind his heel down into her throat. He winced despite himself. That would bruise. If she lived past this. Which she probably wouldn’t do.

“So, Taz—” Rex started again.

“Rex, stop it,” Tazryx growled, cutting his brother off. “You’re turning into Silas. Fuck off. We can do this when we get home.”

Rex sighed, dropping the drama from his tone. “I—”

“I really don’t want to do this in front of everyone,” Tazryx said. “Unlike you, apparently. Let’s just get this shit over with.”

Rex shrugged, and then unsheathed his well-polished blue saber. In the moonlight, it caught the dark and light in fascinating ways and rippled like it was the deep blue-black of the midnight ocean. “You want me to handle this?”

“Um—” Tazryx said. Dendaya’s face danced through his mind, her mouth open in a silent scream. A sudden sick feeling settled into his stomach. There had been too much death lately, and he had started to like her, despite everything…

“No,” he said. “We should take her hostage.”

“Hostage,” Rex repeated dubiously.

“Yes, hostage. The Ath will decide what to do with her. Who knows, maybe she’s worth more to us than we think?”

Sure,” drawled Rex.

“She had a coffee,” Tazryx stressed. “That bears looking into, wouldn’t you think? Dragon-controlled goods making it here, of all places? Zaden,” he said, pointing to the dragon in question. “Grab me a rope?”

Zaden nodded. “The Ath is going to skin you alive when we get back, Taz,” she said, handing over a coil of twine, “but I can’t wait to see what you tell her this time.”

Tazryx glared daggers at her. She grinned sharply, elongated canines pressing together just a bit, and then shrugged. “What can I say? You’re an entertaining sort of guy.”

“Well fuck you too, my beloved cousin,” Tazryx said. “Rex, since I can’t possibly imagine you getting off from a girl, can you tie her up?”

Rex raised an eyebrow. “Did you mean…?”

“I meant everything I said, man.”

Rex snorted. “Come down from your high horse—or should I say ‘get off’ from it? You tie the damn girl up.” He removed his boot from Nadiya’s throat, and she gasped in a breath.

“Don’t kill me—”

“We’re not killing you,” Tazryx muttered, crouching down next to the prone girl and wrapping the rope around her hands. Then, for safety’s sake, he looped it over her neck and then tied it in a careful knot so that she could be led easily. “Just taking you along with us.”

“Don’t kill me then, either,” she said, but sounded a bit calmer.

“I make no promises,” Tazryx said, and scanned her for weapons. Nothing but a knife that looked like a slightly unusual Secondblade tucked into the back of her pants. He wouldn’t touch that; it would be too rude. There were lines they had to cross, but a Secondblade was deeply personal. It would be like taking her wedding ring, and that wouldn’t be right. Besides, Secondblades were usually pretty dull.

Then he tried to help her up, and was startled to find that she wasn’t immensely responsive, and seemed to not…want to get up…

Fuck. Just what I needed.

He bent down, got her arm over his shoulder, and picked her up. She was heavier than he had expected, and she didn’t struggle.

First and Third preserve me, he thought with a start. She’s asleep. Am I really that non-threatening?

But it wasn’t important, so when Rex shifted into his better form and offered to fly them all home, he sort of just threw her on his brother’s back and sat down.

Holly and hells, the Ath is going to be so mad. How can I possibly spin this?

Chapter Text

Nadiya had the most unbelievable crick in her neck. I must have fallen asleep on my computer, she decided groggily, and reached up to rub her eyes.

Something stopped her hand.

Nadiya blinked open her eyes, and there was a terrifying moment where she didn’t know where she was.

Then she woke up a little more. She still didn’t know where she was. She looked down; in the dim light, she could see that she was tied to a chair.

What the fuck…

Yesterday was a hell of a blur. Had she drank Sonnig’s damn coffee? Probably. And, with a cold rush of fear, she remembered…dragons. One—no, more than one, definitely more than one. And. And. Oh god, and her laptop. Where the fuck was her laptop?

She wasn’t gagged, so that was good, and her hands were within reach of her short knife, which was good, and she was alone, which…was probably good. In a sort of long, very square room, like the kinds from the Dead City. It was damp, but not particularly hot, which was appealing considering the early autumn was still pretty damn oppressively warm. And it wasn’t dirty, and it didn’t have anything scurrying around the dark edges as far as she could see or hear.

And so it was, so she started to saw at the thick ropes binding her wrists together.


An interminable time had passed before she heard footsteps. Her sense of time was totally off, because she was still semi-disoriented, but she would peg it somewhere between two and four hours. Long enough that she was hungry.

“The Ath wants you to kill her,” a voice said, echoing and distorted from the damp underground nature of whatever this place was.

“I know,” said a similar, if slightly lower, voice said. Nadiya was fairly sure that one was female and one was male. Dragons?

“She’s a useless hostage,” the higher-voiced one said. “Not worth anything.”

They were getting closer, weren’t they?

“I know,” the second one repeated. “I heard her, Silas.”

“So you think you can handle this yourself?” Silas asked.

“Yes,” said the other one.

“Don’t fuck it up,” said Silas. The footsteps seemed to break rhythm for a moment; Nadiya assumed the two dragons had split up. She slipped her short knife into her pants again.

The other footsteps came closer, closer…Nadiya considered feigning sleep, but then decided against it. The footsteps drew closer, and closer…

There was a tall man with long black hair standing in front of her. He looked vaguely familiar. Probably the dragon from yesterday. He unlocked the door to her cell and stepped inside, and then closed and locked it behind him.

“Uh…” what’s a name she’d heard yesterday, “Rex?” she tried, and then realized that was probably the wrong name, considering it was her main dragon character from her book.

The dragon shook his head. “Rex is my brother, actually. I’ve heard we look alike. This is the second time you’ve forgotten my name, though. Should I be offended?”

“Where’s my laptop?” Nadiya said, ignoring him for now.

The dragon blinked. “My name’s Taz, thanks for asking.”

Nadiya tried to sit up straighter. “I want my laptop,” she said.

“Sorry?” said Taz. “It was a liability, so Rex insisted we burn it.”

Nadiya stared at him.

“I’m, uh, here to kill you,” Taz said. Nadiya barely even heard him.

“You burned my laptop?”

“Yes? There’s—”

“Fuck you. War damn you all! You burned my fucking laptop?”

“I’m here to kill you,” Taz repeated.

“Fuck you! I don’t care! You burned my damn laptop! Damn you, damn you, damn you! May ravens eat your eyes!”

“I’m going to kill you,” Taz said loudly.

“I don’t care!” Nadiya shrieked.

“Oh,” said Taz. He sounded disappointed.

Nadiya spat at the ground. “I swear, my ghost is going to crawl out of whatever afterlife War has devised and fucking kill you in your goddamn sleep,” she said.

Taz shrugged. “Don’t go throwing blood on the dirt over air. It’s just a laptop.”

“It was my life’s work, you fucking scaly bastard son of a dog!”

“You’re only, what, fifteen? Plenty of time.”

“I’m nineteen, motherfucker.”

“Don’t humans usually live past fifty?”

“Fuck you,” she growled. “Die.”

“I…think I’m supposed to be the one saying that to you,” Taz said, reaching for his sword. Nadiya didn’t care.

“You’re just fucking with me, right?” she said. “You didn’t actually burn my laptop, right?”

“Why would I lie about that?” Taz said, drawing his curved black sword. Dragonblades were cool. But not as cool as having her damn laptop would be. Honestly, it hadn’t really hit her yet that all if it was just…gone.

“Are you crying?” Taz asked. “I promise it shouldn’t hurt—”

“My fucking laptop,” she said. “You…my entire life was on that laptop. I can’t even afford another one if I don’t want to fucking starve.”

“Um,” said Taz.

“You may as well kill me,” she said. “Get it over with. I can’t believe you burned my computer.”

Taz did not get it over with. “It was just a computer,” he said weakly.

“It would be like…like…” she took a stab in the dark, “like someone your enemies destroyed your sword,” she said. “That bad.”

Taz stared at her. “It’s not that bad. You probably don’t even know what you’re talking about,” he added dismissively.

“Uh…Probably that bad,” Nadiya said.

“You’re…not that badly off?” Taz said. “I’m only going to kill you. It’s not like that.”

Wait, fuck, I’m confused now. “What are you talking about?”

“No one’s torturing and enslaving you because we broke your computer,” Taz said. “Very unlike the ritual of melting a Thirdblade.”

“Not a ritual,” Nadiya said. “I mean if someone broke your sword.”

“Yes. The destruction of a Thirdblade. There’s really only one reason that would ever happen. And…well, Seconds, I’m so sorry. That wasn’t the goal. I’m just going to kill you.”

“I…um,” said Nadiya. “I find myself a little confused. I’m not talking about anything fancy. Just your sword.”

Taz nodded, running a finger down the middle of his black sword. “My Thirdblade, right.”

“Did you have a first and second blade before this, too?”

“Of course!” Taz said. “Wait, did you not…know what the three Blades are?”

“I…maybe,” Nadiya hedged.

“You have no idea what I mean when I talk about destroying a Thirdblade, do you?” he said, narrowing his eyes.

“…no.”

“Three gods guide me,” he muttered. “Of course not.”

“It’s just meaningful to me,” Nadiya said. “Probably like I thought your sword would be to you. Is it true that you drink human blood?”

“No.” The dragon physically recoiled, putting his sword in between the two of them like he was trying to keep her at arm’s length. Huh. “No. Definitely not. I would rather die.”

“O-kay, then,” Nadiya said.

“So,” said Taz.

“So?” said Nadiya.

“I have to kill you now,” Taz said.

“Go for it,” Nadiya said. I bet he’s not even going to do it.

True to form, Taz the dragon hesitated. “Um. No.”

“No?”

“I…will kill you…tomorrow.”

“You’re going to kill me…tomorrow?”

“Yes. Tomorrow. Tomorrow is good. Yes.”

Nadiya shrugged. “Okay.”

“Okay? Just like that?”

“Yeah, sure,” said Nadiya. I’ll be out of here by then.

“Right,” said Taz. “Okay. Well. Do you want me to take your First back to your family?”

“What? No. Don’t go near them,” Nadiya said. “First you break my laptop, then you threaten my cousins? Fuck you.”

“I—” Taz stopped, suddenly looking outraged. “What the fuck is wrong with you? I was offering you a courtesy, something you fucking animals never would have even considered.”

“The courtesy of walking into my town and killing my family? You’re a monster.”

“You’re a human,” Taz shot back.

“Says the shape-shifting beast,” Nadiya spat.

Taz pulled a short knife out of its sheath, stopped, and put it back. “I’m leaving, now,” he said. “You have made me very, very offended. I recommend you not do that.”

“Fuck you,” Nadiya spat, as he retreated out the door. “Coward! Dragon bastard! Fuck you!”

He locked the door.

Nadiya pulled out her knife and went back to work on the ropes.

Chapter Text

It couldn’t have been very much longer before Nadiya had cut through the ropes on her hands.

Now she was trapped in a locked room.

That may not have been much better, but it was definitely better, she figured. Definitely a step up. God, she had a cramp in her neck and it hurt.

How was she getting out of this one? She was hungry.

Um. Can I break the door?

She tried to cut at the handle, or maybe knock it off the doorframe itself. It didn’t do anything.

Guess not.

She considered going at the light fixture to try and get one of the shaidwires out, but then decided against it. The light was more important to her than having something that may or may not even work to pick the lock. Besides, enshaiden items were often kind of finnicky, and magic in general was not the sort of thing that she was qualified to handle, so she didn’t bother.

By War’s left tit, if she’d rembered how to properly enshaid things, and if she still rembered how to summon shaid, she could probably enshaid the door and make it open for her. But the last time she’d bothered practicing any shaidcraft she’d been younger than eleven. After that, the army had been the only thing she had time for, and she knew she would just fuck it up if she tried anything like that.

She paced the room.

And then she had what may have been the absolute stupidest idea she had ever had.

She dragged the heavy metal chair across the floor and picked it up. It had to weigh nearly as much as she did, but she could lift it. She was, after all, in pretty decent shape; she was a soldier, despite the fact that it didn’t feel like she ever did anything particularly soldierly. She lifted the chair to bash at the hinges—

The exposed hinges, which were on the inside of the door.

The door…swung inwards.

I’m a fucking idiot, Nadiya thought, and yanked on the door. It didn’t give, but she did get it to move a little. Something creaked.

She took out her knife and started to bash at the latch with it.

Something cracked, and then the rusty metal of the lock mechanism suddenly slid back. The door opened, and Nadiya fell back as all of her weight suddenly stoppped being held up.

She stood up, peered out of the room, and then ran for it.

She was free.


She emerged into the sunlight surreptitiously. She was not surreptitious enough.

This place was evidently the dragons’ stronghold; a part of the Dead City, she thought. It had that sort of same strange kind of…half-buried ultra-square, decaying buildings with their perfectly smooth walls. Each building that she could see was only about twice her height, but she knew there would be far more of it buried under the dirt. She thought about that fact for about twelve seconds before she realized that it meant that she used to play almost in the dragons’ home fucking base as a fucking child.

That’s not disturbing at all, she thought, and then tried to sneak the fuck out as quickly and quietly as possible, padding over the patchy grass lightly.

“She’s not dead,” someone said accusingly, and she whirled around, only to be grabbed by the shoulders and neck in a loose chokehold.

She could only see them out of the very edges of her vision, but they looked and sounded like… “Taz?”

“Wrong sibling, honey,” the dragon said. “The name is Rex.”

“Oh. Shit.”

“Shit indeed, my good bitch. You see, I am quite accustomed to cleaning up my little brother’s messes. Today, that includes you.”

Shiiit,” Nadiya hissed, and tried to duck out of this new dragon’s grasp.

Rex grimaced. “Can you not?”

Nadiya dropped all of her weight and slid to the ground in a crumpled heap, and then pushed off and sprinted for the hills. Rex planted his foot directly on the small of her back and kicked her, though, and she skidded to her knees rather than make it very far. The dragon caught her ponytail and yanked, and she stopped short.

“Stop moving, redhead,” Rex said, and turned away from her. “Taz! Fuckup! Get the fuck over here!”

She had her knife in her hand in less than a second, and then she was plunging it into Rex’s thigh.

“Ow,” he said tonelessly. Then he laughed. “What was that supposed to accomplish? You realize I’m wearing armor, right?”

His leg was bleeding, and so Nadiya ignored him. “Let me go.”

He glanced at her. “N—oh, shit, what the fuck,” he blurted. “You actually stabbed me!”

“Let me go,” Nadiya demanded, and twisted the knife.

“Fucking…ugh, hells, Ninths, goddamnit,” Rex hissed. “Taz, where the fuck are you?”

“…Shit,” said another dragon.

“Taz,” said Rex amicably, “why isn’t the human currently filleting my leg dead?”

“Shit,” said Taz. “Um.”

“Taz,” Rex said, more pointedly cheerful this time, “you told us all that this human was dead. What did you fuck up?”

“Um,” said Taz.

Nadiya twisted the knife again and tried to yank her hair away from Rex at the same time, but kind of fumbled both and sort of just flopped limply.

“Taz goddamnit there’s a fucking knife in my leg. Where did you fuck up that the fucking human had a knife. How did you fuck that up.”

“I assumed it was a heart-knife?” Taz said dubiously.

“A heart-knife,” Rex repeated. Nadiya moved to touch her knife again, and Rex yanked it out of his leg. Blood began gushing from the wound. “Fucking gods, Tazryx. Humans do not have heart-knives.”

“I—”

“Besides, that wouldn’t be important,” said Rex, “if she was dead. Which she isn’t. So what the fuck went wrong?”

“I…” said Taz.

“You?”

“I…” Taz said again, and once more trailed off into nothingness.

“You what? I swear by Sixes, Taz—”

“I felt bad for her,” Taz muttered.

Rex dropped Nadiya’s ponytail in shock. Nadiya went to take off, but the dragon promptly stepped on her.

“You did what?”

“I’m going to kill her tomorrow?” Taz said desperately.

“Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow.”

Nadiya stretched out a hand and grabbed her knife from where Rex had flicked it. He didn’t even notice.

“I…ugh,” Rex said. “This is the first time I think I’ve ever seen something come out to Twenty-sevens, Taz, you know that?”

“I don’t know the meaning of that one,” Taz said. “That’s—”

“Tripled Nines,” Rex sighed.

“It’s definitely not that bad,” Taz said. “Or good. But definitely not that bad.”

Rex made a noise that sounded like a scream, only quieter. “Taz. Holy gods, Taz, gods fucking damn this shit. I, I mean…gods, Taz, the fuck is wrong with you? I’ll kill the damn human myself, if you can’t.”

“Uh,” said Taz, and didn’t elaborate.

“Don’t kill me!” Nadiya said. “I’m your enemy! I can be useful!”

“I doubt it,” Rex sneered.

“I—I know everyone’s schedules for the Agiriel Keep,” she offered. Which wasn’t true, but whatever works.

“We don’t need it,” said Rex.

“I can…get you into the Keep,” she continued. “I can, uh, I can…draw you a map. Outline the whole forest. I know all of the sentries…”

“Not necessary,” Rex said.

“I can get you into the internet,” she said, desperately hoping he took the damn bait.

He didn’t. “We have access to both internets already,” Rex scoffed.

“Both?”

“Taz, keep the human from running away, please,” said Rex, thoroughly ignoring her. He took his foot off of her back, and she sat up, only to see the dragon ripple in the air and then suddenly bend and contort into a…a…a fucking huge, reptilian figure, probably as long as Nadiya’s entire house. Red spikes curled off of the edge of his head and his leathery wings, and the rest of him was a pure, metallic blue-black. His eyes were the same hungry yellow. So this is what a dragon truly looks like.

Rex opened his five-foot maw, and something red started to flicker inside of his throat past the rows of hand-length fangs. She noted with a sense of detachment that he seemed to have very similar teeth to a dog’s; then she ignored that. She still couldn’t escape, but she had her knife…which would be worse than useless against a monster like that…

She did notice, with some satisfaction, that the stab she’d dealt him had grown in proportion with his leg, and now was a gaping puncture wound almost a full six inches across. Red blood spurted out at a steady pulse. She’d hit an artery, then. Maybe he’d bleed to death.

Rex breathed a stream of fire at her, and the world dissolved into heat and a stream of white and yellow and a dark, dark shadow right in front of her. Nadiya closed her eyes.


Nadiya opened her eyes onto the afterlife. It was surprisingly dark. And smelled of ash and burned fabric. And it felt like there was a great weight leaning on her shoulders and neck.

She stretched out a hand and came in contact with…a…piece of black fabric. Singed black fabric. The bottom edge flaked away where she touched it.

Taz—

The dark thing fell off of her. That’s a person.

She wasn’t dead. She was still in the middle of the goddamn dragon’s hideout. What the fuck—

“Ow,” said the probably-dead person who had fallen on top of her. “Goddamnit, Rex, I can’t believe you just lit me on fire.”

Chapter Text

A dragon had just saved her life.

This is insane, Nadiya thought. A dragon just saved my life.

What now? Who knows? A dragon just saved my life.

For some reason, she couldn’t seem to think past that.

The dragon in question hadn’t seemed to have gotten up since he’d literally jumped in front of a blast of fire for her. He was kinda just…lying on the ground, wrapped in the remains of his black cloak.

Taz holy shit,” said Rex, who Nadiya was pleased to note was no longer a fucking giant lizard.

“What?” croaked the bundle of burnt cloth.

“I—what the fuck is wrong with you?”

“Ugh,” said Taz, and rolled over. “Lecture me when I’m not a giant blister. Thanks for that, by the way.”

“That was as much your fault as it was mine!”

“You could have seen me—”

“Tazyx. Gods. You literally jumped in front of the human at the last fucking second. How the fuck…”

Taz didn’t say anything.

Rex waited. Nadiya picked up her short knife.

Taz continued to not say anything.

“…Taz?”

Taz didn’t respond.

“No no no, Taz,” Rex said, “say something, it shouldn’t be—”

“I’m not dying,” Taz said. “Hells and hollysprig, I’m still a dragon. That would be—”

Nadiya slipped around and got her knife right at the curve of his throat. Both Rex and Taz went perfectly still.

“Don’t you dare,” Rex all but growled. “Don’t do it. He saved your life.”

Taz swallowed, and the knife pressed up against his throat for a second.

“Get up,” Nadiya told him.

“Are you kidding me? I’m injured.”

“Get up,” Nadiya said, louder, and pressed the knife a little bit harder for good measure.

Taz slowly stood up, leaving her enough time to not slit his throat with the movement. God, he was a lot taller than her, but she knew how to handle a knife, so this could definitely have been worse.

“Now walk,” she said, and pointed him towards the building she’d just come out of. Better safe than sorry, after all. Rex made a movement towards her. She pressed the knife harder against his brother’s throat, making a bead of blood roll up against the edge and then slide down the length of it. Rex stopped short. “Don’t you dare,” he repeated. “I’ll fucking kill you. I swear it. Blood on the dirt, if you hurt him, I’ll kill you. Don’t you dare.”

It bothered her that she couldn’t ignore the desperate note in his voice. He sounded all too human.


“So,” said Taz, sitting obediently in the metal chair as Nadiya went to tie him up in it, “I think what can be gleaned from this is that you’re a bitch.”

Nadiya hummed noncommittally.

“And you have no self-preservation instincts, either,” the dragon continued when it became clear that she wasn’t going to respond any further.”

Nadiya hummed again and finished the knots on his first wrist, then moved to the second.

“Seriously,” Taz said. “I’m the only friend you have here, and you were threatening to kill me. My brother was ready to throw blood in the dirt.”

“What the hell does that even mean?” Nadiya asked, taking the knife out from in between her teeth. “You said it, Rex said it, now you said it again.”

“It’s a blood oath,” the dragon said. “He was threatening you and your entire family.”

“Oh. Pleasant.”

“Don’t look at me,” Taz said, indignant. “It’s not my fucking idea, and it’s a last resort. I’m not responsible for his…Rex-ness!”

Nadiya finished tying his last wrist.

She took the black sword out of his sheath and laid it in the corner of the room, where he couldn’t reach it. Then she saw the two short knives hanging at his side, the first one the same shape as her own and the second wholly unfamiliar, and took those and put them with his sword one at a time. The blue short one that resembled her own sword Taz didn’t protest, but the second she moved to disarm him of the alien black and gold one, he tried to shake her off so hard that the chair physically flipped over. He landed on his back, and his hands were stuck underneath him and the heavy chair’s combined weight. His head slammed back against the cement floor, and when he picked it up again there were flecks of red on the gray material. Nadiya winced.

“Don’t touch that knife, please,” he said.

“Why not?”

“For one thing,” Taz said, grimacing and shifting his weight, “because I’ll stop you.”

Nadiya raised an eyebrow. “I’ll kill you.”

“Don’t kill me,” the dragon said quickly. “Just don’t take my blood-knife. It’s…important to me.”

“Doesn’t look very bloody,” Nadiya remarked. It was cured yellow and black steel.

“It’s—not the best translation, I admit,” Taz said. “It looks like me.”

Nadiya shrugged. She put the knife back at the dragon’s throat, and then took his yellow and black knife anyway. It didn’t even have an edge, though, so so she put it back.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Taz bit out. “I save your fucking life, not once, no, but six times over the course of this fucking day alone, and once yesterday, too, and you pay me back by threatening to kill me and violating the one thing I asked you not to do?”

“I didn’t want to be stabbed,” Nadiya said.

“What, like you did to my brother? I’m not dirtying my blood-knife with violence.”

I’m not even going to try to figure out what the hell that means, Nadiya decided. “Still. It was just a precaution.”

She could see where the dragon finally lost his temper. “Just a precaution? A precaution? You tie me hand and foot, threaten my life, stab my fucking brother, take my Secondblade, touch my fucking First, and then it’s just all a precaution? You’re a goddamn idiot.”

Well, that wasn’t exactly what she was expecting. “Really.”

The dragon rippled. Just like Rex had, before he had shape-shifted into an enormous reptile. And just like that, Taz stretched, growing spikes and scales and just generally larger. The chair died with the screech of twisted metal. The ropes snapped.

She was an idiot.

“Are you actually this goddamn dumb?” the dragon sneered, and interestingly enough he almost seemed to have the same voice despite being roughly seven times his own size and a giant lizard.

“Apparently,” she said, and hoped her voice wasn’t shaking as badly as her hands were.

“Do you have a death wish or something? Are you fucking suicidal?”

“What would you even do if I was?” Nadiya said. She balled her hands into fists.

“Get you a therapist,” the dragon blurted, and then winced. Nadiya gaped at him.

“Get me…a therapist,” she repeated.

“I meant kill you,” he said.

You know, Nadiya thought, I don’t think there’s even the slightest chance in hell that this dragon will kill me.

Chapter Text

Ath Oserisades didn’t take any shit. Tazryx knew this. She could see through any bullshit, and she just always knew when you were hiding something.

“She’s my hostage,” Tazryx repeated.

That didn’t mean he couldn’t try, after all.

“Definitely,” repeated the Ath. “So, if I were to ask you when you plan to kill her, you would say…?”

Of course, it did mean he couldn’t succeed.

“tomorrow,” he lied. “Definitely tomorrow.”

“I know you still haven’t killed her despite what I told you to do,” the Ath said. “I don’t honestly care. She’s going to die, right? Go back tomorrow and do it right.”

“I will,” Tazryx said, a hollow feeling in his stomach.

“Do you not want to?” the Ath asked.

Fuck, shit, fuck. “Of course I want to kill the human!” Tazryx lied.

“Uh-huh,” the Ath said. “Well. I expect she should be dead before noon tomorrow, then.”

Oh, shit, shit, shit shit shit.


“Hey, Rex,” said Tazryx, throwing his cloak over the back of a chair and plopping down, “anyone spoken to Adder in a while?”

“Nah,” said Rex.

“Anyone seen Silas?”

“Nah,” said Rex. “Anyone seen your balls? I heard they’re imaginary.”

Gods. “I’m going to kill her tomorrow, I swear.”

“There’s that famous procrastinatory streak,” Rex said snidely. “You’ll polish your armor tomorrow. You’ll take the trash out tomorrow. You’ll kill the murderous human in our midst fucking tomorrow. Grow a pair, goddamnit.”

“Well, you’re feeling pissy today,” Tazryx muttered.

“Pissy?” said Rex, throwing an ice-pack at him. “I was stabbed in the fucking leg!”

“And now you’re whining about it. I’m not complaining about my fucking face.”

“You’re not even red any more, man. We’re dragons.”

“Funny, you seemed to forget that when I was—”

Someone threw the back door open.

“Who’s there?” Tazryx yelled.

“Your supervisor,” said the unmistakable voice of Sylath Aerden. Tazryx groaned.

“So,” said Aerden, stepping in cautiously, “is your sister around?”

“No,” said Tazryx.

“Good,” said Aerden. “She told me she might stab me if I talk to her today, and after last time, I’m not interested in taking that chance.”

“Damn,” said Rex. “What did you do?”

“I…” said Aerden.

“You wrote her bad poetry, didn’t you,” Rex snarked.

“No!” Aerden yelped. “I just…told her that we need another Shaidbinder as soon as possible, and that she should go to the Sethien and train there.”

“That would do it,” Tazryx remarked. “She doesn’t like being told to leave, and she hates Lord Deiya.”

“It’s not my fault that the Sethien are the nearest Shaidbinders,” Aerden said. “And the nearest safe train line is nearly a week’s travel west. Besides, I’m not here to talk about that. Tazryx, you need to do something.”

“I’ll kill her tomorrow,” Tazryx said adamantly.

“Preferably, you could learn to cooperate,” said Aerden. “In the interest of time, I already told Sylath Kai to execute your human—”

Tazryx jumped to his feet. “She’s my hostage!”

“She stabbed your brother—”

“I don’t want anyone to lay a hand on my fucking hostage,” Tazryx said.

“Oh, hell,” Aerden said, “Tazryx, this isn’t the time—”

Tazryx was already running out the front door.


“Hey!” Tazryx yelled.

“Taz, my man,” said Kai, Thirdblade already unsheathed and the door to the new cell half-open. “Good to see you. I’m about to get—”

“Don’t kill the human!” Tazryx gasped out and tried to catch his breath.

“Damn, did you run all the way here?”

“Yeah,” Tazryx breathed, and then leaned against the wall. “I did. Please don’t kill the human.”

“Sylath asked me to, and Sylath has seniority to you,” said Kai.

“You’re also a Sylath,” said Tazryx. “And I’m telling you. It’s my hostage.”

“It’s all of our home,” said Kai.

“Not for very much longer,” said Tazryx. “Ath told me that she wants us to pick up and move further east in the next couple of weeks.”

“I still maintain that you shouldn’t keep the human,” said Kai, but they did sheath their Thirdblade.

“Is she asleep?” Tazryx asked. “I notice that there is a profound lack of screaming and obscenities.”

“Oh, uh,” said Kai. “She’s awake. I’m pretty sure Rex gagged her, though. Looks like his work.”

“Huh,” said Tazryx. “I thought he’d just been lying on his ass for the past few hours.”

“Honestly, I couldn’t tell you anything that man does,” said Kai. “Half the time you see him doing something that looks important, and he’s just looking for a snack or some bullshit, and then half the time you think he’s napping but no, he’s doing something immensely important.”

“It’s probably deeply screwed up that I feel the same way,” Tazryx said with a laugh. “Seriously, though. It’s my mess; I have to handle it.”

Kai shrugged and made to leave. “Whatever. Don’t screw us on this, though.”

Tazryx nodded. “I won’t let you down,” he said.

Why does that feel like a lie?

“Oh—” said Kai, and tapped their lips once with two fingers. Gods, everyone was yanking him around today. “Honest, I almost forgot. We can’t keep her here. You need to figure out what to do with her if you’re going to keep her. Ath’s orders.”

“Of course,” Tazryx said, and tried not to look visibly irritated. “Please inform the Ath that I appreciate the advice.”

“Without a doubt, my dude,” said Kai, and then they left. Tazryx took a deep breath and stepped into the small room that was functioning as a cell.

The human blinked at him in a way that somehow managed to convey utter disdain.

“Don’t glare at me like that,” Tazryx huffed. “You literally stabbed my brother. The only reason you’re not dead right now is because I’m a better person than you.”

Nadiya snorted. “Mmph.”

He’d lived long enough with Rex to translate that. “I’m not a pussy, I’m—nice!”

She made another noise, but this time Tazryx elected to ignore it; instead he unlocked the metal cuffs that were now restraining her. She yanked the gag away before he could grab her wrists. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Ignoring you. I have a problem,” he said. “And that is that I’m immensely confused and also have no idea what to do with a prisoner.”

“Why did you even kidnap me, anyway?”

“Imprison, you mean?” He paused. “I honestly have no idea. Spur of the moment, if I’m honest.”

“I bet you’ve never killed anyone before,” Nadiya said.

“I’ve been killing humans since before you were born, probably,” said Tazryx. “What are you, twelve?”

Nadiya glared at him. “Nineteen, assface.”

He shrugged. “Still younger than me. March. We’re leaving this place.”

“I must say, I prefer it,” Nadiya said, and he tugged at her wrists. She tugged back.

“This didn’t have to be difficult,” Tazryx said, and physically slung her over his shoulders.

“Put me down!”

“This isn’t even the first time I had to carry you like this,” Tazryx said, and ignored her pounding at his back until she decided to start pulling his hair. “Quit that!”

“Put me down!”

“No!”

He physically carried her entirely out of the building before he decided she wouldn’t run away the second her feet touched land. He was wrong, and she did, but he did manage to catch her after a second or two.

And then he picked her up and carried her again.

“Fucking…dragons!” she grumbled, trying adamantly to kick him between the legs and managing to hit his upper thigh with varying degrees of success.

“I sure hope you’re not,” Tazryx said, and then remembered that Rex wasn’t in their general vicinity.

Nadiya froze. “Disgusting.”

“Trust me, I agree,” said Tazryx. “My brother is a bad influence.”

“The one I stabbed, right?”

Tazryx nodded.

“He sounds like he deserved it.”

Tazryx fought the urge to drop her, lost, and dumped the human roughly on the ground. “I don’t care how friendly I may seem. You do not badmouth my family. You do not get to get away with hurting my fucking family. You don’t do that.”

Nadiya shrugged. “Is this like a blood in the dirt thing—”

“No!” Tazryx said quickly. “Definitely not.”

“Then I’ll say what I want.”

Tazryx considered it for a brief second, and then kicked her squarely in the jaw.

“Ow!”

“I’m going to kill you tomorrow,” Tazryx said. “I’m being nice, but that doesn’t change the facts. And you do not get to talk about my family. Are we fucking clear?”

Nadiya put a hand to her jaw and nodded. When she stood up, he could see tears in her eyes, and he suddenly felt bad all over again. Even so. Gods, who the fuck says something like that?

He grabbed both of her wrists in one armored hand, careful to make sure the sharp tips of his gauntlets didn’t cut her even after that disaster, and tugged her along with him. He suddenly had what may have been the worst idea in the world.

Chapter Text

Rex looked like someone had hit him in the face with a frying pan.

“Can you repeat that?” he finally said. “I think I must have misheard you.”

“Um,” said Tazryx. “I want to lock the human in the basement.”

Rex didn’t even respond. He stared at Tazryx for a long moment. He opened his mouth to say something, closed it, and opened it again. He then glared at the wall. “Twenty-sevens, Tazryx. This is what Twenty-sevens look like.”

“I…” said Tazryx. “Rex. Rezkierel. It’s not that bad, seriously. The Ath was in on it, I think.”

“Twenty. Sevens.”

The human slung over his shoulder opened her mouth to do something, and Tazryx preemptively slapped a hand over it. “What else am I supposed to do with her?” he asked his brother instead.

Kill her!”

Tazryx sighed. “Other than that.”

“Let me kill her?”

“I’m being serious, here.”

“So am I,” Rex said. “Tazryx, in case you didn’t forget, I can barely stand because she stabbed me in the fucking thigh. I think it would be justified.”

Nadiya made a muffled noise behind his hand.

Well,” Tazryx said, and then forgot what he was going to say. “Uh. Well you can’t kill her, so.”

“So kiss my ass,” said Rex. “I want her dead.”

“Whoa,” Tazryx said. “It’s—”

“She threatened your life!” Rex all but snarled, leaning forwards in his seat. “You saved her life, at cost to your own health and relationship with the people who actually matter to you, and while she should have bowed and kissed your fucking feet, no. She put a knife to your throat. She’s clearly untrustworthy and dangerous and, and, and she’ll kill us all in our fucking beds if she could, probably. And you. You want to keep her in our basement?”

“Just for now,” Tazryx said. “We can block the door, so that she can’t break out again.”

“With what?”

“Um,” said Tazryx. “Maybe the table?”

“Right, right, and that’ll definitely stop a determined human. Just because they don’t have a better form doesn’t mean they’re easy to keep track of when we can barely even remember where our fucking relatives are, Tazryx.”

“You’re still mad I didn’t realize you were in Hudson with the Sethien?”

“You thought I went to the fucking Ever-burning City! Of course I’m still mad!”

“And no one’s gotten in touch with Adder yet, either?” Tazryx asked. “I’m honestly worried about this coffee thing.”

“I sent a message through Courier, sure, but we all know he only gets internet access once or twice a week.”

“Do you know how long it’s been since he last sent anything, though?” Tazryx asked. “The humans have had coffee since at least the end of the month of August. That’s pretty damn recent.”

“Adder’s a big strong dragon,” said Rex. “And he can still sort of see. I’m sure he’s fine.”

“I’m just worried,” Tazryx said, taking his hands off the human to make a triangle with his hands in front of his chest. “Hopefully it’s nothing, but—”

“We have something from the West they call everfire,” Nadiya blurted. “That would kill a dragon, I daresay.”

Rex blinked, paled, and then made his own warding triangle. “You have everfire?

“Yeah.”

“Ah, fuck,” said Rex. “Fuck, fuck, we—fuck.”

Tazryx privately agreed with the sentiment. “I’m sure they’re not going to use it. They’d burn their own fort down.”

“These are Agiriel humans we’re talking about,” Rex said dismissively. “They would cut their own throats themselves if they thought it would make us feel bad. Of fucking course. We…dammit, we really need a shaidbinder. Fuck.”

“It’s probably just shaidfire,” Tazryx said. He was aware that he didn’t sound immensely convincing. “The Lazanjalas don’t really share that stuff.”

“Is there even a difference?” Nadiya asked.

“Yes!” Rex said. “One will seep in through your veins and burn all of your flesh from your bones and keep burning until you’re nothing but dust and scorch the ground itself and never go out in a hundred thousand years, and the other is shaidfire!”

“Oh,” said Nadiya. “It’s probably shaidfire, then.”

Tazryx discovered that he had been holding his breath and tried not to look like a panicked idiot as he finally let it out and took in another one. “We know you have shaidfire. Seconds and Thirds, I thought we were all going to die.”

“I’m…pretty sure shaidfire can hurt you, too,” said Nadiya.

“Not if we get a shaidbinder,” said Tazryx. “Which we’re working on. Holy fuck.

“Maybe don’t tell the human all of our plans?” Rex said bitingly.

“It’s not going to matter,” said Tazryx. “Since she’ll be dead tomorrow anyway.”

“You, brother dear, are the worst procrastinator in the history of the world, and she, the bitch, is clearly dangerous. I would put good money on her at least making it into next week. If only because you are lazy.”

“Fucking kiss my ass, Rex,” said Tazryx. “No, seriously, this thing with Adder has got me really worried.”

“Give it a week before you start freaking out,” Rex shrugged. “And if you look on the bright side, this genius plan of yours is probably going to get us killed before him, anyway.”

“Seriously,” said Tazryx, who was starting to reach the limits of his almost boundless patience for bullshit. “Kiss my ass.”

Rex lurched out of his chair and dropped a kiss on his forehead, and then plopped back down and put the ice pack back on his stab wound. “Happy to oblige.”

“Um?” said Nadiya.

“He’s saying that I’ve been talking out of my ass,” said Tazryx.

“Well,” said Rex. “I genuinely hope that you won’t put the human here, but if you do…well…I mean…it’s not like I can realistically stop you, considering how effectively I have been hobbled. But Silas will.”

“I haven’t seen Silas all day,” said Tazryx. “She won’t stop me. I fuckin know it. She’s probably going to stay over at Ilia’s place anyway.”

“Those two are so fucking sweet,” Rex agreed. “I can’t be around them. I’ll spontaneously develop cavities.”

“They’re not nearly as bad as you were with your Ferrian shaidbinder. If you’re just bitter because you broke up with her—”

“Fucking fight me,” Rex started to get up and then thought better of it. “When my leg is functional again, I mean. It’s not because of Ennie. Go deal with your bullshit human.”

“Fight me,” said Nadiya.

“Believe me, human, I’d love to—”

“Don’t fight my hostage,” Tazryx interjected.

“—but I’ll never get the chance because my brother here is going to kill you. Right, Taz?”

“Of course,” Tazryx said.

It was disturbing how much that felt like a lie. Of course, though, it wasn’t. He definitely was going to kill her tomorrow.

Definitely.

“Now, then,” said Rex, “considering it’s getting later than I would really appreciate, can you handle this shit and be done with it?”

“I would love to,” said Tazryx, and he turned to open the door to the lower level.”

“Wait— are you fucking kidding me?”

“What?”

“You. You’re actually keeping the bloodthirsty human in our basement?”

“Slurp,” said Nadiya.

“If I could walk right now, I would slap her,” said Rex.

“Don’t slap my human, please,” said Tazryx.

Rex didn’t respond to that for a long second.

“What?”

“Your human?

“My hostage,” Tazryx corrected hastily.

“Don’t get attached to it,” Rex said. “Fuck, Taz. Twenty-sevens.”

I’m not attached to Nadiya, Tazryx told himself.

It felt like a lie.


“Well,” Tazryx said eventually, depositing the human on the basement stairs, “here’s where you’ll be staying for the next…twelve or so many hours. You can’t get into any of the lower-lower levels; there was a cave-in in the staircase and so it’s full of rocks and dirt, just a head’s-up. Please don’t come upstairs, either. I mean. I would prefer you not. Because. Um.”

“You want me to leave!” Nadiya said accusingly.

“I would really rather you not—”

You want me to run away so someone else will kill me!” she insisted, glaring.

Tazryx stared at her, and then shrugged. “Of course I do,” he said, deadpan. “Oh, how you have seen through my dastardly plan.”

He expected her to laugh, or something, but she instead glared at him and shrank back into the dark recesses of the basement. “Fuck you,” she said.

Tazryx shrugged. “Hey, uh. Nadiya? Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”

Chapter Text

The dragons’ basement was dark, damp, and cold. The only light to see by came from a half-buried wall of narrow, high windows; the place itself was a strange, decaying labyrinth of corners and cubes of cement. The stairs actually were blocked, but Nadiya couldn’t tell if it was a real blockage or just a pile of rocks in front of a perfectly functional doorway, and in the low light she didn’t want to bother poking around. She was almost certain she could hear something skittering around in the distance, but she didn’t know for certain, and so she kind of just glared at what she couldn’t see ineffectually.

By War’s left foot, she was fucking hungry.

She walked back into the stairwell that led upstairs and considered trying to make a break for it, but no. I would have to be really dumb to do that, Nadiya thought. The dragon Taz might not be willing to kill me, but I’d bet anything that Rex is waiting just outside the door with a knife.

She didn’t try to open the door to look, though.

She sat down on the steps, folded herself into a ball, and leaned against the wall. She closed her eyes and hoped she could sleep.

She didn’t sleep. She never slept.

At some point she got bored, and so she got up and left the pitch-black enclosure of the stairwell to look at the window. Something definitely scrambled to flee as she opened the door, and Nadiya fought back a shudder of revulsion. To her light-starved eyes, the dim light seemed almost bright, though she still couldn’t make out much detail of the place itself. From what little she could see of the sky from the half-buried window, it was past midnight.

She tried to reach the glass, to maybe shatter it and climb to freedom, but she was not immensely tall and it was probably nine or ten feet above her. And it might have been laced with metal wire. Nadiya didn’t really know.

She saw something flicker faintly out of the corner of her eye, and she whirled.

A something was sitting on a rusted chunk of metal that looked like it had once been a desk or a table. Round, black, and yet bright in an almost completely unfathomable way, if only for a second. A patch of some strange unreality, of something she couldn’t comprehend, that spilled photons into the rest of the world.

A shaidlamp.

She walked over and picked it up. It was strangely heavy, unlike the ones at her home. She flicked the switch.

Nothing happened.

She pressed the switch again, and then tried to feel around for buttons or another switch or something to no avail. It was broken. The damn thing was broken.

Of course it was.

Nadiya tapped it twice, and then brought it into the pool of brightest light she could find and opened the casing. The enshaiden filaments inside the lamp weren’t misaligned, but there were only two buzzing wires; the third was still. And that? It would doubtless be the problem. Three wires were needed to make light, after all. And this wouldn’t even make a fire, though they would vibrate a lot if she tried to turn the lamp on. Still. That didn’t help her.

If I knew how to fix this, I probably would be able to escape, Nadiya thought. I have no idea how, but I could, if I had this, and it was fixed.

The trouble was that she was no shaidbinder, and she didn’t know how to summon them. And so she was lightless and hopeless.

With disgust, she dropped the broken lamp and sat back on her heels with a sigh. She prodded at the wires with a glare.

She felt the urge to laugh, suddenly, bubbling up in her throat. She wanted to cry. She was nineteen years old. And she was really going to die, wasn’t she?

What the fuck. She got up, tossing the light aside in frustration, and paced back and forth in the dim light spilling out of the window. Then, she had another idea.

She tried to grab one of the tables and drag it over to the window.

It was bolted to the floor. Never mind, then.

She flopped down onto the dusty ground and leaned against the metal table instead. What the fuck are my family thinking right now? she thought miserably. Is cousin Rick upset? Did Aunt Susanna say I ran away? Fuck—what about the other sentries?

A spider ran past her leg, and Nadiya yelped and yanked her foot back. “Oh, fuck, ew!” Her elbow hit the table leg, her fingers scraped the rough metal, and not long after she was able to feel the hot, sticky sensation of blood trickling out of a wound. Great. That would be a nasty wound if she’d gotten metal in it.

That is, if she lived that long.

Which she wasn’t going to.

Fuck.

She stood up again, and walked back to the pitch-black stairwell leading down. The angular chunks of broken cement and dirt blocking the rest of the way down are cool to the touch and uncomfortably moist. Something in the next level down must be wet.

Something long and leggy—Nadiya suspected a centipede—ran across the back of Nadiya’s hand, and she bashed her hand against a wall reflexively. Great. Ow.

She considered leaving that particular stairwell and decided against it. Here, the fucking dragons had no idea where she was. It was safer. Besides, it was dark, so she could sleep.

Another insect or arachnid or scuttling leggy thing with too many legs fell on her from above, and she had to stifle a screech as she felt it crawl into her hair. Ew ew ew ew ew get it off. She found it and crushed it between her fingers. Hopefully there weren’t parts of dead centipede in her hair.

Not that that mattered much, the situation being what it was. But Nadiya didn’t really like the idea of being covered in centipede guts.

She pushed the door open and went back into the room. She could literally hear things moving around around her. Disgusting. She shuddered again, and made her way through to the other stairwell. She didn’t think there was anything nasty in here from what she’d seen earlier. Just more crumbling cement. It wasn’t even a little bit wet, and she was grateful for that as she curled up in a ball in the corner.

Hopefully she’d wake up early enough to escape.


Nadiya had only barely started to wake up when the door opened. The sound startled her into alertness, but by then she was too late.

“You’re still here,” muttered a surprisingly schluffy-looking dragon with a poof of curly hair that stuck out from every direction and haloed his face in a soft-looking black cloud. “Um.”

“Morning,” Nadiya grimaced, fighting back a yawn.

He blinked. He rubbed his hands over his eyes. “What?”

“…good morning,” Nadiya repeated.

“Morning to you too,” he said. He looked baffled.

“Are you…forgetting something?” Nadiya asked.

He blinked.

“I’m supposed to kill you,” he said.

“Yeah. That.”

He shrugged. “Rex isn’t up yet, and Silas isn’t home. I’m not doing it.”

What. “Can you feed me, then? I’d rather not starve to death.”

“Starve…oh, hell,” said Taz, leaning on a wall. “Didn’t you last eat like, three days ago?”

Yes,” Nadiya said. “And I’m hungry enough to eat a fucking horse, or maybe even you.”

“Uhhh,” said Taz. “Come upstairs, I guess?”

Nadiya stood up, ignoring the crippling pain in her stomach, made it two steps up, and then stopped and looked at the dragon hunched at the top of the stairs. “Swear you’re not going to kill me?”

“Uh…sure.”

Good enough. She walked the rest of the way up and brushed past Taz. The other dragon, Rex, was sleeping shirtless on the couch in the room adjacent to the top of the stairs. He was unpleasantly skinny without his armor, and his ribs showed under where his arm was lying on his torso. The dragon was curled up around his sheathed sword like a child would curl around a stuffed animal or a beloved toy. It was simultaneously profoundly disturbing and amusing. Nadiya looked away. “You said you had food?”

“Mmhmm,” Taz hummed, pointing at the makeshift kitchen with its wood stove and oddly shaped boxes. “The black cabinet is our fridge. Help yourself. I need a godsdamned coffee.”

Nadiya barely contained herself from sprinting towards the blocky thing and immediately started to rifle through whatever she could find. Leftovers, vegetables, leftovers, leftovers, some sort of chopped raw meat, leftovers, what looked like a hard-boiled egg sitting loose on the shelf, and something that looked like a slab of raw meat in a bag of liquid. She ate the egg cold. It was not good, but it wasn’t rotten, so she just scarfed it down.

“We have cereal,” Taz said suddenly from in front of his coffeemaker.

“Where?”

He pointed at a different cabinet. She took out a box of what looked like oat something, found a bowl, poured it in and then turned to the dragon. “You want?”

“Yeah,” he muttered.

She made up another bowl of dry cereal in silence. Then she began shoveling cereal into her mouth, plopping down on a chair at the counter.

The coffeemaker beeped, and Taz jolted. Nadiya suspected that he may have been falling asleep in front of the coffeemaker. “Do you?” he asked, motioning towards the pot of fresh coffee.

“Nah,” said Nadiya.

The dragon sat down across the counter from her, and promptly stared into the depths of his bowl of dry cereal like it held the mysteries of the universe. Or like he was tired and zoning out. Both were good enough.

“So,” said Nadiya. “You’re Taz?”

“Mm,” said Taz. “Tazryx, really. You’re Nadiya.”

“Yeah.”

The conversation stagnated. Nadiya poured herself another bowl of cereal, and then a cup of coffee. She was thirsty as hell.

She was almost done with her mug when a freshly awakened Rex walked into the room.

Chapter Text

The terrifying dragon took one step into the kitchen, stopped, and blinked. He raised one bony hand to his face and rubbed at his eyes. He squinted at the two of them again.

“Good morning,” Nadiya said, uncomfortable. He looked positively skeletal. It was unnerving.

“You’re fucking kidding me,” Rex said. “Tazryx, goddamnit—”

“Lecture me later,” Tazryx mumbled into his bowl of cereal. “’M not awake yet.”

“Seconds,” Rex grumbled inexplicably.

“What?” Nadiya asked.

“Fuck you,” said Rex. “I’m pretending you’re not fucking here.”

“’S rude,” said Tazryx.

“Go the fuck to sleep,” said Rex.

Rude,” said Tazryx again. “Just imagine what Ozzy would say. ‘Rezkierel Ket’Aothea, that’s rude—’”

“Fuck you,” Rex said. “Who unlocked the human? Not me. Go back to sleep, man.”

Tazryx shoved a spoonful of cereal into his mouth and chewed it sullenly. Rex, for his part, walked across the room to a different cabinet. He pulled out a tall, half-filled green glass bottle and uncorked it. The pungent smell of what could have been rubbing alcohol and could have been moonshine filled the room.

“Little early for that,” Nadiya said.

“Tell your human that she’s not Silas,” Rex said with a glare, and took a swig straight from the bottle.

“Human, you’re not Silas,” Tazryx repeated.

“That’s not healthy,” said Nadiya. “Aren’t you going to eat something?”

“Rex doesn’t eat much,” said Tazryx.

“Rex doesn’t appreciate this conversation,” said Rex.

“Have a cup of coffee and wake up,” Tazryx said. “Pot’s on the stove.”

“Fuck off,” said Rex. “I have a day off. ‘Sides, you need that shit more than I do. Drink Adder’s bitter bean juice, and I’ll drink my rotten potato juice, and we can all just be fucking happy, you fucking got it?”

The room went still and silent for a second, and then a minute. Then Rex turned around and opened a window and threw his bottle of alcohol out of it into the morning rain.

“…are you okay?” said Nadiya.

“I’m ignoring you!” the dragon snarled at her. “Silas is almost here, Taz—”

“Silas is already here,” said a bored voice. The same voice that Tazryx had been talking to when she’d first woken up in the dragons’ dungeon. Nadiya looked towards the entrance to the kitchen and saw someone she assumed to be a dragoness standing there, a drop-dead gorgeous muscular woman with gleaming golden eyes who looked exactly like Tazryx and Rex. Her hair was short and fluffier than Tazryx’s. The impression Nadiya got was that she was the kind of person who you could reasonably expect to be able to break you like a twig.

I’m so bi, Nadiya thought.

“Oh. Silas. You’re here,” said Rex.

Silas threw a pillow at his face. “No day drinking, brother dearest.”

“Bite me,” said Rex.

“Go back to sleep,” said Silas, and in the space of Nadiya blinking, it seemed, she’d pointed at the other room.

Rex left the room without further comment.

“Aren’t you going to make him eat something?” Nadiya asked incredulously.

“Rex doesn’t eat much,” said Silas. She walked across the room to the coffeepot. Nadiya could barely track her movements—she seemed totally casual, but she moved so fast that she was a blur. What the hell…

“I told her that,” said Tazryx.

Silas whirled, spilling lukewarm coffee on her arm. “Why the fuck are you here?”

“Me?” said Nadiya. “Um—”

“Well, yes,” said Silas, her voice speeding up as she seemed to get agitated, “but I meant him.”

“Wait…” said Tazryx. “Wait. What?”

“Get out of my house,” said Silas.

“What?”

“You heard me,” said Silas.

“Are you ever going to tell me what this is about—”

“Are you getting out?” Silas glared. “Take your fucking human, too.”

“Um,” said Nadiya.

In a flash, the dragoness had a hand twisted in her hair. How the fuck did she move so fucking fast? Her other hand was curled around Tazryx’s own black hair.

“Ow!” said Tazryx, who finally, it appeared, was actually waking up.

“You weren’t getting up,” Silas said. She yanked them both away from the table and all but dragged them through the room Rex had been sleeping in to the door to outside. It was raining harder than Nadiya had realized.

Silas threw them both off of the steps. Nadiya, for her part, landed on her arms and knees in the mud and skidded a good six inches before she stoppped and looked back. Tazryx had apprently face-planted into the mud. He wasn’t moving.

“Here’s your armor,” said Silas, dropping a bundle of stuff on the steps. When the hell had she gotten that?

“Mmmph,” said Tazryx. He was still face-down in the mud.

“Are…you okay?” Nadiya asked the dragon.

“Aren’t you going to run away?” Tazryx asked, finally sitting up and folding to sit on his knees in the puddle. “Ugh. There’s mud in my hair, isn’t there.”

“Yeah,” said Nadiya. His wavy black hair was nearly pulled straight by the weight of the mud and the pouring rain, and it hung around his neck instead of curling at his cheekbones. “Mine too?”

“Bottom of your ponytail,” said the dragon.

“Lovely,” said Nadiya, sitting down on her knees as well and pulling the hair in front of her.

“Might as well cut it off,” said Tazryx. “That’s got to be inconvenient.”

What the hell. “Might as well,” she agreed. “I mean, if I am going to die to day, might as well.”

“Want me to do it?”

“Why not.”

“Can I borrow your knife?”

She glanced back at the dragon. He was unarmed. “Sure,” she said, and pulled out the little hunting knife. He laughed, and touched the blade of it to her throat. She froze.

“Yesterday, I was you,” said Tazryx, and then he took the blade from her neck. Nadiya tried not to look as startled as she felt. “And now I’m cutting your hair with the same knife that had tasted my blood yesterday. How things change.”

He grabbed her ponytail and pulled it for a second, and then she felt the knife cut through the strands of wet hair. He handed her knife back. “We’d need scissors to make this look nice,” he said apologetically, and then shrugged.

It felt lighter. Her hair was suddenly at her ears, and springy, even with the rain.

“Thanks,” she said.

“It’s nothing,” said Tazryx.

That same feeling as she’d had yesterday, that helpless urge to laugh at the whole world, it bubbled up again inside her. And this time she didn’t feel like fighting it off, so there she was, kneeling in the dirt next to what might have been her only ally in the world and also her worst enemy, and she laughed. The wind around her howled. The sky poured buckets of water around her. A dead, half-buried city stood like a silent crowd. And Nadiya, kneeling in the mud, she laughed in the face of the world. I may die today, but I’ve just had my hair cut by a dragon, Nadiya thought, and laughed some more.

Tazryx stared at her blankly, and then started—slowly—to grin. And then they were both lauging in the middle of a thunderstorm in a city long dead and longer uninhabited. One high voice, and a rich baritone to accompany it. It felt like the world had stopped for a long, strange moment. Nadiya’s chest hurt. Absently, she registered that she may have been crying; she wasn’t sure why. This was the best she’d felt in weeks, somehow.

She took a breath, and then she glanced over at the dragon next to her and started laughing again. This was too much.

“I—” choked out Tazryx, through his own laugher. “Why…I don’t even know why I’m laughing.”

“Me either,” Nadiya grinned back.

Tazryx handed her her knife back.

Nadiya dropped it in the dirt. She picked it back up and slid it into the sheath. Her hands were shaking.

“Huh,” said Tazryx, and he stopped laughing. “I’m bleeding.”

“You’re what?”

He snorted. “I landed on Rex’s fucking bottle, probably.”

“Oof.”

He lifted one arm, and she could see on his undershirt a bloom of scarlet along his side. His shirt was ripped just a little.

“That’s nasty,” said Nadiya, as he picked out a long piece of glass.

“Not that bad,” he scoffed. “I almost didn’t even notice it.”

“Looks like it’s bleeding a lot,” Nadiya pointed out.

“Ehhh,” said Tazryx. “Shirt’s wet.”

“It’s a cut,” said Nadiya. “How did you not—”

He waved a hand. “Barely a scrape,” he said, rolling up his shirt to rub away the mud. A thin line of blood—the cut—stretched up his side and ended on one bulky pectoral, but she could see it wasn’t as bad as it had first appeared. It was bleeding fast, though.

“What’s that?” she asked, reaching forward to tap a dark red, wavy line that wrapped from the very edge of his hip up onto his back. Tazryx jolted backwards.

“Uh,” he said. “Just a scar.”

Nadiya shrugged. Tazryx finished cleaning off the scrape and set his shirt back down.

“So,” said Tazryx. “You’ve met both my siblings. You have anyone?”

“Siblings, no,” said Nadiya. “I have cousins, though. Rick, Sam, Elise, and Randell all live in the same house as me and my dad, and they’re like siblings to me, I guess.”

“Right,” said Tazryx.

“The Senarell household,” Nadiya said grandly. “Eight people in a house with two bedrooms and one bathroom. Isn’t it glamorous?”

“You’re Nadiya Senarell, then,” said Tazryx. “We’re Ket’Aothea.”

“Katowathia?”

“Ket’Aothea,” Tazryx corrected.

“Ket’Aothea?”

“Yeah.”

And then they both burst out laughing again, for no goddamn reason.

Two enemies, sitting side by side laughing in the rain and talking about nothing. What the hell is this?

Chapter Text

Ath Oserisades was the one who found Tazryx and his human covered in mud and laughing in the rain like a pair of fools.

Tazryx saw her heavy black boots in front of him before he even registered what was going on, and then he glanced up and stopped breathing entirely.

She was pissed.

“What the hell—” said the Ath. “What. What are you doing.”

Nadiya also stopped laughing. “Good morning—”

The Ath shot her a look of pure disdain, and the human fell silent. “Tazyrx,” she said sharply. “Stand.”

He did as he was told. It was unwise to not do so. The Ath could be scary at times.

“I have told you,” said the Ath, “that you are on thin fucking ice, is that not so?”

Tazryx nodded.

“So what in the hell do you expect me to respond to this with?”

Tazryx shrugged. “This is a clever plan to learn about the humans’ society here and hopefully know a better way to fight and defend ourselves from them—”

“Am I supposed to buy that?”

“It would be nice of you.”

The Ath gritted her teeth and grumbled. “I swear, Tazryx—”

“Oh, yeah. You’re going to demote me any time now, if I don’t shape up, next time I step foot out of line you—”

Did you just back-sass your general?” Nadiya gasped. The Ath shot her another look, and Nadiya shrank back.

Now,” the Ath said. “You are hereby stripped of rank effective now. That was your last chance, Tazryx.”

“You mean—”

“Yeah, I mean the ambush. You. Botched. It.”

Tazryx tried to concede the point gracefully. He really did. Of course, he wasn’t in the habit of losing without a fight. “She was the one who entirely failed to bring an army!”

I was being courteous and inquisitive!” Nadiya bristled. The Ath glared at her again. Nadiya did not un-bristle. “It’s true.”

The Ath wordlessly kicked her in the chest. “And this!” she said to Tazryx. “Your fucking hostage, unchained, out in the middle of the camp, armed, and you’re not even slightly concerned?”

“Oh yeah,” said Tazryx.

“She stabbed your brother,” said the Ath. “I find it disturbing that you’ve forgotten that.”

“Eh,” said Tazryx. “He’s been worse.”

Ath Oserisade’s eye twitched. “It’s not a matter of better or worse. It’s the fact that she’s running around with a knife still in her hand!”

“To be fair,” said Nadiya, “I’m not running. I’m just around.”

The Ath very, very pointedly ignored her.

“Yeah,” said Tazryx weakly. “She’s just. Around.”

“You told me you were going to kill her today,” said the Ath, and she drew her Thirdblade, a rippling violet and blue straight blade that shone iridescent in the weak light filtering through the clouds. She shoved the sword at him. “So. Do it.’

Holy sixths. “You just handed me your Third,” said Tazryx.

“I did,” said the Ath. “You know what that means. Are you willing to make me weak?”

Hooooly sixths. “You just demoted me. And then handed me your Third,” Tazryx said.

The Ath nodded tersely. “I did? Get on with it, kid.”

You just handed me your Third,” Tazryx stressed again. Please leave please leave please leave.

The Ath snatched her Thirdblade back out of Tazryx’s hands. “I see how this is,” she muttered, and then went back to being all commanding and imposing. “You and your hostage will follow me."

Since there really wasn’t any other option, Tazryx grabbed hold of his human’s—his hostage’s—arm and set off after the Ath.


“And you thought you could lie to me because…?”

“I wasn’t lying about anything,” Tazryx said.

“Rex said you let her out of your basement and into the kitchen without even tying her wrists.”

“She hadn’t eaten anything in days,” he protested.

The Ath gave him a stern look.

“…and everyone deserves a last meal?”

“They didn’t give Rex one,” she said sharply.

“That’s different.”

The Ath got up from her side of the birch table and stalked to the end of the room, and then turned, raising a single black eyebrow. “Care to elaborate, then?”

“The humans are cruel,” said Tazryx. “They destroy things. They kill us without reason. You know they do.”

The Ath nodded. “Go on.”

“We don’t have to be like that.”

“Stop. Wait. You’re going to have to be a bit more clear on that.”

“We…don’t need to be cruel and destroy and kill without reason?”

“Oh, no, I understand that,” said the Ath. “This is a clear case of self-defense, though. She stabbed your brother, and she threatened your life, and she’s a soldier. She’s a danger to all of us.”

“Not much of one,” Tazryx said, drumming his fingertips on the weathered white wood. “She’s not even an adult—”

“The humans enlist in their army at eleven, here,” said the Ath. She walked around the room, and rested a cool hand on his shoulder just like she used to do when he was a kid and got into a fight with one of his siblings. “Tazryx. I know you’re not enjoying this, but it’s perfectly clear what has to be done.”

He glanced down. “I know that.”

“But you haven’t done it.”

He sighed. “I haven’t done it.”


Tazryx bent down in front of his hostage and informed her once again that he was going to kill her.

“You can’t,” she said, bemused, and held her bound hands out.

Tazryx stood up in confusion, hit his head on the door frame, and blinked the spots away from his vision. “What the hell do you mean?”

“Oh,” said Nadiya. “She said I’m under her jurisdiction now. And then she…poked her lower lip and told me not to let you die?”

Figures. “I,” Tazryx said, “am getting very irritated with people.”

“Sorry?” said Nadiya.

“Not you,” said Tazryx. “Well. Sort of you. Mostly not you.”

“Can you untie me now?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, pulling his sword out of his sheath and carefully shearing through the ropes between her wrists. “I’m just annoyed,” he elaborated offhandedly, “with being manipulated. Everyone around me always wants something.”

I don’t want anything,” said Nadiya. “Except answers. And food. And a computer. And to not die. And—”

Tazryx laughed halfheartedly.

“I get it, though,” she said, sobering. “My family was too big for them to not want me to be everything they needed.”

“Um,” said Tazryx. “It’s not exactly that.”

“It’s not?”

“It’s not.”

“What is it, then?”

Let’s make this sound good, he thought to himself. You only get one day of this before Rex is going to ruin it.

“What is it?” she asked again, as he was trying to get his story straight. Here goes nothing…

“You are aware I’m royalty, right?”

Chapter Text

Nadiya and Tazryx had been led into another Dead building by the Ath—the dragons’ general, if Nadiya remembered correctly. Their general. She was so screwed.

The tall white-haired dragon lady all but dragged Tazryx into a room and locked the door, and then grabbed Nadiya’s wrist and bodily towed her down a flight of stairs and into what looked like it was small enough to be a closet. The shaidlight in the room was bright and cheery, but the room very much was not.

Then again, it was another Dead building. They weren’t really the nicest.

The Ath forced her into a chair and bound her wrists behind her back with something that felt like metal wire. Even if she had still had her knife, she didn’t think that she could use it to cut through such a thing.

“Why are you here?” snarled the Ath.

“I—” said Nadiya. “I don’t know?”

The Ath turned around for a half-second. “You don’t know.”

“No?”

“Who sent you here?”

“Um—”

“Why are you here?” the dragoness asked again, baring her teeth.

“Uh…I really don’t know, you’re going to have to ask Tazryx.”

The Ath brought one hand up to the bridge of her nose. “You might as well just tell me now if you’re a spy.”

“I’m not a spy—”

“Spies, much unlike junior sentries, are useful.”

“I’m not a spy,” Nadiya said again.

The general of the dragons leaned against the wall casually. “I think we need to start over. Tell me your name.”

“Nadiya,” said Nadiya.

“My name is Veylin,” said the Ath. “And I don’t want you here.”

“I don’t want to be here,” said Nadiya.

“So,” said Ath Veylin. “I want you to tell me what happened when Tazryx made the monumentally stupid call to take you prisoner.”

Nadiya would have defended him, because she didn’t think it was monumentally stupid to not kill her, but the Ath was terrifying, and she still had two knives and a sword on full display.

Instead, she recounted what she could remember, as honestly as she remembered it. The Ath listened with a critical ear.

“Were you high or something?” she asked eventually. “Were you hallucinating?”

“Yeah,” said Nadiya, trying to not shake in her chair. “I hadn’t slept in days and had had too much energy drink, otherwise I wouldn’t have shown up. I—”

“Your story has too many holes,” said the Ath coldy. “You are a spy.”

“I’m not—”

“But, see, the thing about spies is that you’re all so willing to hide that fact until you realize there’s something in it for you.”

Nadiya didn’t respond. What the hell?

“I’ll let you free if you agree to spy for us,” the Ath said.

“I’m definitely a spy,” said Nadiya, who had no idea what the hell a spy even did or how to do it. Still, it was worth a try. “I was sent here to, uh, gather…logistics information…uh…”

She trailed off as the Ath smiled the most terrifying grin Nadiya had ever seen on anyone, ever, in her entire life. Her teeth looked pointed, like a predator’s. “You admit you are a spy?”

“Uh—”

“You’re so naive,” the dragon general said. “You were under Taz’s protection, and I allowed it. Mostly because he was upset. And because, despite the lengths you went to, because you didn’t pose any genuine threat. Because you were harmless, as these things go. So I never had anyone else kill you while his back was turned. But now?”

Oh, shit. “…now I’m not?”

“Now you’re not.”

“I’m not actually a spy,” Nadiya said desperately.

That is blatantly obvious.”

“Please don’t kill me.”

“I’m not the one who’s going to kill you,” the Ath said, still with that too-sharp smile on her face. Something about this sure seemed awfully funny to her. Unfortunately, Nadiya was having a hard time finding the humor in this situation.

“So…is Rex going to kiil me?”

“What? No. Definitely not. Tell him you’re under my jurisdiction now.”

“…okay,” said Nadiya. “So who is going to kill me, then? I at least deserve to know their name.”

“I don’t know,” said the Ath. Her smile stretched even wider.

“I don’t understand,” said Nadiya.

The Ath burst out laughing. “None of us are going to kill you. Tazryx can’t even do anything. You’re under my jurisdiction. Understand?”

“No!” said Nadiya. “I don’t!”

“You,” said the Ath, “are now possibly the safest person in our entire group here.”

Safest? “I…what.

The dragon general sighed. “It’s my job to look after everyone here. Including Taz.” She put her index and middle fingers together and then tapped them on her lips once, with a mischievous look in her eyes. “Try not to let him die.”


“So,” said Nadiya, sitting on the dragons’ couch with a half-eaten apple in one hand, “your general is terrifying.”

“The Ath?”

“Yeah,” she agreed.

“She’s not that bad,” said Tazryx. Nadiya gaped at him. “She’s…she’s the Ath,” he continued blithely, completely blind to her astonishment. “It’s not like a general, really. She’s just intimidating.”

“What do you mean, she’s not your general?”

“She’s like…um…” Tazryx stared at the ceiling for a minute. “So, the Sylaths are just some of the older cousins that are good at management and things. And they’re like…Aths-in-training. The Ath is the one in charge, but they’re…your parent’s siblings, or cousins, sometimes?”

What. “Are you all related?”

“Yeah?” He said it like she should have known that already.

“How many of you even are there, then?” she asked suddenly. Back home, they always claimed there were nearly sixty or seventy dragons here—

“Thirty-eight if you count the outsiders,” he said tacitly.

What.

“Thirty-eight?”

If you count the outsiders,” he repeated. “That number includes you.”

“Thirty-seven dragons, then—”

“Thirty-one dragons and six shaidbloods,” he corrected.

Shaidbloods?”

“Did I fucking stutter? Yes, shaidbloods.”

“Why would you—”

Before you say anything very prejudiced and human-like of you,” he said pointedly, “maybe consider not doing it. The shaidbloods are just as…as…as entitled to life as you or I.”

Nadiya privately thought that she was more entitled to life than the dragon was, but she was smart enough not to voice that. “But—they’re shaidbloods,” she repeated. “They aren’t like either of us; they’re enshaiden corpses—”

“—of course they aren’t—”

“—of stillborn children that kill people—”

“—they seriously aren’t—”

“—and are totally inhuman—”

“—I’m telling you that you’re wrong—”

“—and they have no morals!”

“You,” said Tazryx, “are so woefully misinformed that it is physically painful to listen to.”

“What?”

“You. Are. So. Misinformed. That. It’s. Painful,” Tazryx repeated slowly. “Every single thing you just said is wrong, thanks.”

“Um—”

“We have shaidbloods here. If that’s going to be a problem, I’m just going to lock you in the basement again. I suggest you not make it into a problem.”

He might even do it, too. “Understood.”

He squinted at her. “Repeat after me: shaidbloods are people too.”

“Uh…shaidbloods are people too.”

“I will not be an asshole to the local shaidbloods,” Tazryx continued, and then looked expectantly to her.

“I…will not be an asshole to the local shaidbloods.”

“If I am an asshole, by anyone else’s discretion than my own, I will regret the consequences.”

“Uh—”

Repeat it.”

“If I am an asshole, by someone else’s discretion, I will regret the consequences,” she parroted.

“And don’t forget it, either.”

“And—”

“You don’t have to repeat that part,” Tazryx said irritably. “Just don’t be too Agiriel.”

“You’re here too—”

“We weren’t always.”

“Why are you here, then? We don’t want you.”

Tazryx sighed. “It’s a long story. Don’t ask.”

“But—”

“I said don’t ask.”

There was a lull in the conversation.

“I’m sorry about taking your knife,” Nadiya said.

“You damn well should be.”

“I don’t understand why that’s such a big deal, though.”

Tazryx stared at her.

“What?”

“I didn’t realize you were playing some fucked-up game of twenty questions,” the dragon said.

“I—”

“It’s no big deal,” he said, waving a hand, “but I would have been answering you differently, I guess. So, Blades, right?”

“What’s the deal with them?”

“Uh,” said Tazryx. “They’re…culturally significant, I guess. They have meanings attached to them. Following me?”

“Yeah.”

“So there are three Blades. And they all have different meanings, right?”

“Right.”

“The…the most important one is the Firstblade,” said the dragon, pointing to the small curved knife that hung like a semi-circle of colored steel from his belt. “It’s you. And your life, and the people who made you that way and the people you know and your family and its you. So when you are away from the people you love and trapped and alone, you have yourself—you still have your First. And you can’t get it back if something happens.” He shot her a glare. “Don’t fucking touch mine again.”

“I won’t.”

“You better not. I’ll break your fingers.”

There was a pause.

“Anyway,” he continued, unsheathing the straight black-bladed knife that resembled her own, “the second one is similar. Aspect of Twos is friendship,” he said inexplicably. “The Secondblade has aspects of that. It’s sometimes called a heart-knife, and its a whole ritual thing. If you’re going to travel for a long time, you might exchange Seconds with a mentor or a partner or something. If you throw blood on the dirt, you do it with your Second.”

“That’s fascinating,” Nadiya said.

“That’s my life,” said Tazryx. “I don’t much appreciate feeling like a bug under a magnifying glass. You’re still my prisoner.”

“Okay,” said Nadiya. “But what about the sword?”

“A Thirdblade? Its just a sort of…adulthood thing, I guess. Aspect of Threes is action. I’ve had three Thirds in my life so far.”

“You—”

“I can’t explain this properly,” the dragon said. “Thirdblades are because you can do things, and when you get your Third it’s a big deal, and if your motivations change enough or you focus on a different goal or get a promotion, sometimes, you get a new Third, and it all just makes sense to me, but you don’t know anything.”

“I thought you can’t replace them?”

“You can’t replace a First,” said Tazryx. “You can replace the others.”

“And you guys just walk around with all of your Blades on your person at all times?”

“Usually, yeah.”

Nadiya thought about something. “Why doesn’t Rex have three?”

Tazryx stopped short. “Don’t bring that up. We don’t talk about that.”

“Why—”

Don’t bring that up,” Tazryx said again. “I don’t even know. Like I said, we don’t talk about that.”

“I—”

“So,” said Tazryx, changing the subject with all of the subtlety of a dragon in a teashop. “What do you want for lunch?”

Chapter Text

“Hey, Taz!” Rex said, tossing him a leek. Tazryx blinked at it and set it on the counter. He got his hands up in time to catch the next fling vegetable—a carrot. His brother was searching for candy, as far as Tazryx could figure out, and he…must have decided Tazryx didn’t eat enough healthy food in the meanwhile. “Adder should be online later today; the courier told us.”

“Which courier?”

“They came from…I think it was Veiren.”

“You mean Daen ket’Veiren was here?”

“You just missed her.”

“Did someone tell Ilia?”

“I didn’t.”

“Silas is going to be mad that you’re avoiding her,” Tazryx pointed out. “Seriously, what the hell is up with that? Is it really just because you broke up with your girlfriend?”

Rex stopped rummaging through the cabinet. “What? No,” he said unconvincingly. “Where’s your human?”

“She fell asleep on your couch,” Tazryx said.

Rex stood up, pulling a jar of what looked like pickles out of the cabinet. Apparently he hadn’t been looking for sugary foods. “I told Aniidi that I would bring her these.”

Tazryx shrugged. “You are going to eat something today, right?”

Rex nodded. “I’ll do my best.”

“That’s not really an answer.”

“You,” said Rex, pointing the jar of pickles at him lazily, “are not Silas.”

“It’s not like Silas is here right now,” Tazryx said. “You hear what the Ath said to Nadiya?”

“Who?”

“The human,” Tazryx clarified. “Did you hear?”

Rex grimaced. “I don’t think there’s anyone who hasn’t.”

“I know you don’t like her, but—”

“The Ath is a fool,” Rex said flatly. “The human is a danger to everyone here. Even if she herself doesn’t do anything, her absence might merit an attack fromt the Agiriel humans. Even if we move camp and let her go, she could still threaten us based on the fact that she knows what the Ath looks like. She is the enemy.”

“The Ath knows what she’s doing.”

“Does she?” Rex said, tossing the pickles idly into the air from hand to hand. “Or does she just feel bad for you?”

What the hell is he talking about? “She does know what she’s talking about, or otherwise she wouldn’t be the Ath,” Tazryx said resolutely.

Rex shrugged. “I don’t care what Velan says,” he muttered. “She’s a threat, and if she hurts you, I’ll destroy her.”

“The Ath—” Taz said, and stopped. “You can’t do that.”

Rex gave him a look; it was the milder version of Silas’s glare. Tazryx wrote his argument off as doomed.

“I’m going to help Aniidi with the forges,” Rex said. “I don’t want to see your human when I get back.”


Tazryx woke Nadiya up a little later.

“I need to go out,” he said. “You’re coming with me.”

“Can’t I stay here—”

“I’m supposed to keep you under watch,” he said. And if I leave you here alone, Rex might just actually kill you.

She sighed. “Where are we going?”

“To talk to my brother,” said Tazryx.

“Rex? That’s not the greatest idea,” Nadiya said. “He doesn’t like me.”

“I had noticed,” Tazryx responded glibly. “It was kind of hard to miss. No, I have another brother.”

“How many siblings do you have?”

“Look, I’m not in the mood,” Tazryx said, grabbing her by both shoulders and pulling her up. She immediately curled back up on the couch. “I don’t know if Adder is alive or dead, and I need to be there as soon as possible, because he’s supposed to be with Internet range soon. Get up.”

“It’s not that big a deal—”

“You ask too many questions,” he said, throwing on his armor coat. Black cloth with leather panels studded into the inside. The comforting weight settled about his shoulders and made him feel more grounded.

Or, well. As grounded as he could feel with the carpet about to be pulled out from under his feet, as it were.

“Oh, fuck,” said Nadiya. “My family. They must think I’m—”

“Doesn’t matter right now,” Tazryx said. “Do you want a coat?”

“I don’t want to get up,” Nadiya muttered.

Tazryx suppressed a noise of frustration that, if uttered, may have shaken the entire world with its sheer number of decibels. “You don’t have a choice.”

“If I just stay here—”

Tazryx threw one of Silas’s coats over his shoulder and walked over to the couch. “Get up.”

“No,” Nadiya said, and stuck her face in between the couch cushions.

“Fine,” said Tazryx. He grabbed her by the waist and tried to hoist her over his shoulders. She pulled a couch cushion up with her. “Put that down.”

“Put me down!”

“No!”

“Then—”

Tazryx turned around and walked towards the front door. “Then I guess you can explain to Rex why you broke our couch—”

She dropped the cushion.

“Thank you.”

He walked out the door and headed for Ath ket’Oserisade’s building for the second time in second time that day.


“You can put me down now,” said Nadiya.

“You’re not going to run off?”

“No,” she said unconvincingly.

Tazryx did not put her down.

Ath ket’Oserisades raised an eyebrow.

“Captain Nazari’s transmitter should be coming online sometime in the next ten minutes,” Ath ket’Oserisades said. “You should put the human down, Tazryx.”

“You should put me down,” Nadiya agreed.

“If Rex were here, he’d agree,” Tazryx said. “But he’d mean it totally differently. Where is he, anyway?”

“Last I heard, he was forging a new Third,” Ath ket’Oserisades said.

“Why’s he changing his motivations now? He’s had that same Third since as long as I can remember.”

“Why don’t you ask him yourself?” Ath ket’Oserisades said dryly. “Considering he lives in your house and all.”

“Silas has, perhaps, kicked me out,” Tazryx said.

“There are plenty of World Before buildings around if she has. Did you ask why?”

“She hasn’t told me yet.”

“What the hell are you two talking about?” Nadiya asked.

Tazryx sighed. I don’t want to be bothered answering her questions. She has so many goddamn questions. “Stuff.”

“Your brother is making a new sword?”

Tazryx sighed louder. “Yes.”

Can I have the old one? It was cool—”

“No.” She doesn’t even know what she just asked. “That’s not something you want.”

“Hey, kiddo,” Ath ket’Oserisades said. “Server just flicked on.”

Tazryx spun around on the spot, the human still slung on his shoulders weighing him down. “Are they on yet?”

“This is the Midnight King, reporting,” came Captain Nazari’s unmistakable voice. “Do you hear us?”

“We hear you,” said Ath ket’Oserisades.

“Good,” said Captain Nazari. “We’re planning to make port in a few days down in Ollean, and then make our way up inland.”

“Understood,” said the Ath, writing that down. “So you’re coming up to the west?”

“Yes,” Captain Nazari said. “Is there any way you can get the Oserisades to the Everburning City?”

The Ath pursed her lips. “I don’t know. We haven’t got good access to the trains, and our local couriers say the roads aren’t as safe as they used to be.”

Nazari made a noise of assent. “You’re in Agiriel. They’d do anything to inconvenience you.”

“That they would,” said the Ath.

Nadiya pulled a face, but she stayed silent.

“We have spices this haul,” said Captain Nazari. “Nutmeg, cloves, cardamom. There might be another one. Your son was always in charge of shipping, not me.”

Was? “Well, where is he?”

“We had some supply issues,” Captain Nazari said. “He should be back on the Broken Isle handling some disaster or another.”

“Speaking of supply issues,” the Ath said. “One of my other sons—Tazryx, you remember him—found out recently that the humans got their hands on your particular sort of coffee.”

Nazari sighed. “It’s not my coffee. It comes from a supplier back in Capehope. They might have been selling to more than just me.”

“We were informed that it was exclusively with your shipping group, Captain Nazari.”

“Maybe Adder told you that,” the captain said tersely. “I certainly didn’t. Because it would be a lie. We’re just the only transatlantic ship I know of that bothers to make the distance. This continent is a hell of a lot further than the others.”

Ath ket’Oserisades sighed dramatically, and entirely for Captain Nazari’s benefit. “Zahra, I’m not just talking to you as a business associate, now, but as the Ath of one of the people under your jurisdiction. Is Adder able to get in touch with us?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Captain Nazari. “I’ll tell him to call you, Ath Velan.”

“And just to be certain,” the Ath said. “You want us to meet you in the EBC…when?”

“One month from now,” Captain Nazari said. “If possible.”

“It will be possible,” the Ath agreed. “See you then. Bring Adder with you.”

“Registered and understood,” said Captain Nazari. “Signing off.”

Chapter Text

“Hi, Aniidi,” Tazryx said in their own language, holding a basket behind his back. Nadiya trailed confusedly behind him.

“Hi, kid,” said Aniidi. The aging dragoness was still just as muscular as Tazryx had ever seen anyone in his life. And for good reason, too—she was a traditional bladesmith. The large building she’d chosen to set up in reeked of burnt metal, and the early autumn heat was multiplied threefold by the enormous forge she’d set up on one wall.

Tazryx took the basket from behind his back and flourished it. “I heard you were running low on these?”

Aniidi shook her head. “Licorice tea? You know me well, boy. What did you want?”

Nadiya made a sputtering noise of confusion. Aniidi grabbed the basket and smirked at her. “He’s bribing me for something.”

“That I am,” said Tazryx. “You know me well.”

“Let me guess—you want to know why Rex is forging a new Third?” There was a mischievous light in her eyes.

“Yes,” said Tazryx

“He didn’t tell me,” said Aniidi, and she tapped her lips once with two fingers. Tazryx waited.

“Oh,” said Nadiya. “You don’t know?”

Tazryx elected to ignore her. “Will you tell me why Rex needs a new Third anyway?” he asked.

“I might,” said Aniidi. “Of course, a little help at working the forges might go a long way to making me want to tell you…”

“Of course,” said Tazryx.


Fifteen minutes later he was stripped to the waist, dripping with sweat, standing before the forge keeping the bellows going as Aniidi turned a lump of shapeless steel in the fire and turned to pull out a different, hotter piece. She put it on the long, flat piece of metal serving as a massive anvil and went at it in her better form, flattening the steel with a hammering tool and then shrinking back to her humanoid form to hammer in the details. She gauged the color of the lump—it had faded from red-hot and incandescent to a dull gray—with a critical eye, scraped off some of the scale, and dropped it back in the fire.

“Holy shit,” Nadiya breathed.

“Faster, Taz,” Aniidi said. “Put your back into it.”

He pushed a bit faster on the bellows and was rewarded when the forge flickered from orange to true red for a moment. “That’s the speed you need,” said Aniidi. “You’re a big strong dragon. You can keep this up for another half hour.”

“Thirds, you’re practically a slave-driver,” Tazryx gritted out. “This isn’t easy.”

“I’ve done it myself, kid,” Aniidi said. “It’s not as hard as you’re making it out to be. No, no, keep going, you’re slowing down!”

She pulled out another lump of shapeless metal and started to hammer it out, shifting back into her better form.

“What are we making right now?” Tazryx asked.

“New throwing knives for Yael,” Aniidi said. “And a Second for one of Ilia’s people. Her cousin is getting married, I heard.”

“What about that piece on the end there?” he asked, trying to keep pumping the bellows to Aniidi’s satisfaction while still gesturing at a thin, long strip of metal that was so hot it was hard to look at. It glowed like the sun.

“You have to ask your brother about that one,” said Aniidi.

“Is that his new Third?”

“Nah,” said Aniidi. She picked the lump she was working on up with a pair of tongs and put it back in the fire, pulling out the last lump and going back to flattening it.

“What is it, then?”

“You might want to ask him that,” said Aniidi. “You know, I would half think he was trying to apprentice himself to me if he didn’t make it clear he didn’t have much of an interest in smithing for others. You might want to watch out for the human there.”

Tazryx glanced back. Nadiya was wilting in the heat. Her hair was curling all around her head like a ruddy halo, and her cheeks were flushed. “Do you need something to drink?” he asked in the human language.

“Oh—uh…” said Nadiya. “Yeah.”

“You’re keeping water where?” he asked Aniidi.

“Under the sink,” Aniidi said.

“Look under the sink,” he instructed Nadiya in the human language.

She nodded, looking dazed, and walked away towards the other end of the room.

“Humans don’t do so well in this kind of heat,” said Aniidi.

Tazryx shrugged. “Humans don’t tend to do so well in any kind of weather, do they?”

“They really don’t,” Aniidi said. “What do you think of a nice pale green color for Yael, to match her stripes?”

“Can you do green? I thought that required copper,” he said.

“I’m dying the glaze,” said Aniidi. “It won’t be as bright as a standard blade, but that’s not even important. I just want it to shine green in the light. Since she’s going to be a scout and all.”

“Are we going to blacken them first, then?”

“My, my, you do know something about forging, don’t you, kid?”

Tazryx shrugged. “Only about the dying process.”

“I’m going to temper it dark blue,” said Aniidi. “Black won’t give it a depth to the color. It’ll look like a human made it.”

“Nothing you ever do looks like a human made it,” Tazryx said lightly.

“That,” said Aniidi, slamming down on the blade for the last time and tossing it back into the forge, “is pure bullshit.”

Tazryx shrugged.

Suddenly, he heard a door open and close. He dropped the lever attached to Aniidi’s massive bellows, spinning to see that Nadiya—the human he was supposed to keep track of—was gone.

“What are you doing? Get back to the bellows,” the aging blacksmith ordered, swapping into her humanoid form to grab something from under the table—a different form of tongs—and swapping back.

“The human—” he said.

“Can wait,” Aniidi said. “The heating on this metal is more important for now.”

“The Ath—”

“Knows the value of my work,” Aniidi finished grimly, fishing out a long, slender spike of metal and a clamp, and then pulling all three rough throwing knives out of the forge and clipping them to the anvil before she set the spike down on top and hammered it into the metal in three short blows. She moved onto the next one. “What are you waiting for, kid?”

Tazryx gritted his teeth and pushed the lever down.

The Ath is going to kill me.

Chapter Text

Nadiya’s head swam in the heat and the scent of the burnt metal was killing her.

The view isn’t half bad, though, she thought, watching the old dragon and her half-naked, muscular captor working in the light from the forge. I’ve always wondered what dragons’ wings looked like.

The dragons sounded pretty engaged in their conversation. She might never get this kind of a chance again as long as she was here. Tazryx was distracted, his brother wasn’t around, and she wasn’t even being watched.

She tucked the bottle of water under her arm—she’d need it if she escaped—and slipped as silently as she could out of the massive Dead building and into the Dead City itself.

This time, since she’d seen where she came in, she had a far easier time not immediately walking into the dragons just milling about. She carefully sidled around the building, and froze behind a stack of firewood. The Dead City is enormous. What direction do I go?

Fortunately, the sky itself seemed to have an answer. The sun was going down.

The sun goes to rest so it sleeps in the west, she thought, silently repeating a singsong mnemonic she’d learned as a child. In summer its more north and we get more warmth.

She squinted at the dying light for a few moments, and then blinked away the blue dots in her vision and started to creep out to the southeast. And to do that, she’d need to wrap around the side of the building and head back the other way. She could do—

Someone moved one of the wood logs that she was crouched behind.

She yelped, and then tried very hard to pretend that she didn’t. Don’t notice don’t notice don’t—

“Thirds!” the person with the log yelled, throwing the log at her. “Where the fuck is my brother!”

Fuck.

“Hi, Rex,” Nadiya said, as cheerfully as she could manage. “Funny to see you here—”

Rex full-on tackled her, knocking her into the woodpile. “Where the fuck is my brother?”

Nadiya shrugged.

“Is he okay? Is he hurt? Did you do something to him?”

“I…no,” said Nadiya.

The dragon squinted at her. “You’re a human. Of course you did. I swear to the Third—”

“I didn’t do anything to him,” Nadiya said, trying to push Rex’s hand off her shoulder. “Get off.”

“I swear,” said Rex. “If he’s hurt, I’ll—”

There was a sound of a door opening and closing. Both Nadiya and Rex froze. Nadiya glanced towards the warehouse; Rex kept his eyes trained on her.

“Hey! Nadiya! Nadiya—oh,” called Tazryx. “Hi, Rex. Funny to see you here. You know, it’s kind of a funny story, really, I was just looking for you—”

“What,” said Rex sharply, “was the fucking human doing hiding in the fucking woodpile?”

“You were in the woodpile?” asked Tazryx.

“Behind it,” said Nadiya.

“Can you get off the human?” Tazryx asked his brother.

“No,” said Rex.

“I would appreciate it if you did—”

“Definitely not,” said Rex. “In case you forgot, I hate you.”

“Weren’t you doing something?” Nadiya asked.

Rex jumped to his feet. “Oh. Fuck. Shit fuck shit,” he said, reaching for the log that he had just moments previously thrown at Nadiya’s face.

“What happened?”

“Shit!” Rex said again, clearly elucidating the problem and establishing it in such a way that it was clarified for both Nadiya and Rex. “The fire!”

“What fire?” Tazryx said.

Rex said something utterly unintelligible, much like the conversation that Tazryx had had with the old dragon who made weapons. Nadiya suspected it was a different language. He sounded alarmed. He snatched the log and sprinted behind the building.

“Didn’t you want to ask him something?”

“I might have,” said Tazryx, tapping his lip with a grin. The dragons seemed to do that a lot. “Aniidi might have told me.”

“What does that mean?” she asked, mimicking him. “When you touch your bottom lip with your first two fingers, I mean.”

“It’s like a…its like saying ‘I know something that I’m not telling,’” Tazryx explained brusquely. “Come with me. I need to beg Silas to tell me why she kicked me out and also to let me not be kicked out.”


“Silas!” said Tazryx. “Silas!”

Silas fell off of the ceiling and somehow found the time to do a perfect flip and land in a perfect crouch. It was so elegant. Nadiya tried to catch her breath while Silas stood up. “Taz, what’s up?”

“Why did you kick me out?”

Silas sighed, rubbing at her forehead with one grease-stained hand. She left a patch of black sludge on her golden face. Her eyes sparkled in comparison to it. I need to not have a thing for her, Nadiya thought, and went back to staring longingly at the dragoness.

“You need to be more responsible,” said Silas.

“What does that have to do with me being kicked out?” Tazryx asked.

Silas seemed to flicker across the room, and she poked him in the chest. “You are irresponsible.”

“Right…” said Tazryx. “But—”

“You need to be self-reliant,” Silas said.

“But how does that have to do with kicking me out?”

“Can you tell the hostage to quit ogling me?” Silas snapped. “You’re being kicked out because you keep screwing people over because you’re not self-reliant. You need to learn to watch your own back.”

Nadiya tried to find anywhere to put her eyes except for Silas. Her face was probably bright red.

Tazryx, meanwhile, was still arguing with his sister, so she ended up watching him instead. His eyes were brighter than Silas’s, and he had a small scar next to the one on the left that stretched when he blinked at Silas.

“I’m perfectly self-reliant,” Tazryx said.

“You’re so not,” Silas says. “Taz, Rex hasn’t slept at all for the past day and a half because he was too busy keeping an eye on your hostage. You just slept. That’s neither responsible nor self-reliant.”

“You kicked me out before that.”

“It just highlights my point, though,” Silas says. “I have better things to be doing than proving you inadequate to yourself.”

“Come on,” Tazryx whined.

“It’s gotten late,” Silas said. “You’re going to have to work fast if you don’t want to be the only one here in a tent.”

Chapter Text

Dragons were really strong.

Nadiya hadn’t not known that—for War’s sake, they were giant lizards made of pure muscle, as far as she’d been able to tell—but it was certainly something else entirely to watch Tazryx lift things three times his own human size as a dragon in dragon form and move them up and down flights of stairs with nothing but ease.

Nadiya didn’t bother trying to help. For one thing, she didn’t want to. Instead, she just kept out of the way as Tazryx dragged a table across the floor and against the wall, and then dropped himself to the floor with a sigh that seemed far more dramatic than the situation actually called for.

“Why are you whining?” she asked.

“You’re not even helping,” Tazryx says. “I’m allowed to be a little tired, I think.”

“You’re being ridiculous,” Nadiya said.

Tazryx sat up, and flopped onto the ground a little bit more dramatically. Nadiya had to admit it—she was grudgingly impressed that he managed to make that more dramatic. “You’re not allowed to lecture me until you carry twenty pieces of furniture in yourself,” he groaned. “Ugh, my shoulders.”

“Can you chill out for one minute?” Nadiya said. “You’re a big strong dragon, you can do it.”

Tazyrx sat up and glared at her. When he was being a scaly lizard, she noted absently, his eyes actually did glow instead of just being a bright shade of gold that reflected the night. “You’re a big strong soldier. You do it.”

“I…what?

“Come on, soldier girl,” Tazryx said with a sigh. “You’re telling me not to complain. Go take the next table in from outside, then.”

Nadiya took a step towards the door. The dragon did not follow her.

She took another step. Again, no reaction.

She opened the door and stepped outside. Can I make a break for it—

She took three steps into the pitch-darkness and ran straight into something slightly squishy. She blinked and looked up to a light being shined directly into her face. A light that was a flashlight. Which was being held by a hand.

Which was being held by Tazryx’s sister Silas, and standing next to her was Rex. Because of course it was. Just my fucking luck.

“Told you,” Rex said to his sister. He had a small twitch under one eye.

“You did,” Silas responded nonchalantly. “I’m not going to argue with you. He’s going to die in his sleep.”

“You sound really fucking calm about that,” Rex said.

“I figured you were going to try and help him, and I wouldn’t be able to stop you,” Silas said with a shrug that was just a tad too slow, like she was moving through molasses for a second. She quirked an eyebrow at Nadiya and pointed at her brother in a flash. “Do you think anything could stop him if he gets an idea in his damn fool head?”

Shit, they were both beautiful.

I, Nadiya thought, have the worst taste.


Nadiya was perhaps manhandled back into the empty building by a pair of much more intimidating dragons. She perhaps didn’t struggle much.

She perhaps wanted to see if they were going to lecture Tazryx again, because that would have struck her as very, very funny.

She was, perhaps, right.

“You just let her run off again?” Rex shouted. “This happened once. Velan is going to be pissed—”

“You’re the only one who looks pissed, Rex,” Tazryx muttered.

“I am pissed!” Rex said, but he said it more quietly. “Look. I’m allowed to be protective over my little brother.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Tazryx said resolutely.

“Nadiya?” Silas asked, sprawled across a pile of pillows and blankets that Tazryx had dropped there. “Were you leaving?”

Nadiya tried to put a coherent answer together. “Um. Yes? No.” It was rude how amused Silas looked. “I mean. No,” she tried again. “Definitely not.”

Tazryx sighed. “Silas, does she—”

“Yup,” Silas said. “Does she know I’ve got a girlfriend?”

“Does that mean I have a chance?” she blurted, before her mind caught up to the fact that she even was going to say anything. All three dragons stared at her.

“…no,” Silas said eventually. “No.”

“Sorry,” she said, tapping her fingers on the back of her hand. “I. Didn’t mean to say that.”

“What did you mean to say, then?” Rex asked snidely.

“I think I took her by surprise,” Silas said.

“I,” said Nadiya eloquently. “I mean. Sorry.”

Rex turned back to his brother. “What the fuck.”

Tazryx sighed. “Are you going to help me move furniture, or are you—”

“I’m going to sit here and wait for you to finish what you were doing, because clearly you can’t be trusted to keep an eye on your human,” Rex said. “Seriously, twice in one day? Not a good record, man.”

“The Ath says she’s harmless,” Tazryx protested.

“The Ath says she’s under her jurisdiction,” Rex corrected. “That’s so far from the same thing it’s laughable.”

Tazryx shrugged. “She still thinks she’s harmless.”

“Has Velan ever said that?” Rex asked. “Or is she also trying to get you to shape the fuck up, Taz?”

Tazryx looked around awkwardly. “I don’t know, Rex. Maybe you could go ask her. I’m going to finish scraping this place together.”

Rex sighed. “Go put some clothing on and go to sleep. I’ll handle it.”


By the time Rex got into his own lizard form and moved all of the furniture that Tazryx had wanted into the room, Nadiya was out cold on the floor.

Chapter Text

Nadiya awoke the next day with a dry throat and a sore back. Someone had tied her up. Again. This time she was lying on the floor, though. Both her wrists and ankles had been tied in some sort of knotted rope.

She opened her eyes to discover that her captor was asleep on the floor a few feet away.

“Tazryx, wake up,” she said.

Tazryx did not stir.

“Tazryx, wake up,” she said, louder. “Tazryx, my hands hurt. Wake up.”

Tazryx did not wake up.

Nadiya sighed and rubbed her hands together behind her back. “Fucking dragons.”

Tazryx continued to snore, and so Nadiya wriggled her way up off her back so that she was sitting and then inched over to elbow him in the side. Tazryx continued to rest peacefully. War preserve me, he’s never waking up, Nadiya thought, and tried to get her bound feet under her so she could stand. It didn’t work so well, but she did manage to get up. She squinted at the sleeping dragon and then saw his belt with his three knives. Can’t touch the black and yellow one, she remembered, because he’ll break my fucking hand. But the small one—the one that looks like a hunting knife—I can use that to try and get my hands and legs free again.

She carefully attempted to crouch down next to where Tazryx was sleeping and wrapped her hands around the handle of his colorful Secondblade. Slowly, carefully, she drew it out of his belt, and then took it aside to try and cut through the bonds on her ankles with it.

The knife had no edge.

She scowled and attempted to cut through the ropes anyway, but the weapon was absolutely useless. It was a knife-shaped strip of metal with no edge. What was the use of a knife with no edge?

She tried to snap the ropes just through the force of the metal alone, but it didn’t work well. She gave up with a sigh, and turned around to try and put it back to find Tazryx staring at her almost luminescent yellow eyes.

“Hi,” she said, caught.

“I told you to stop taking my knives,” Tazryx said, snatching the blade out of her hands. “It’s not even made to be used to do something like that.”

Nadiya sighed. “Will you untie me?”

Tazryx raised an eyebrow. “Why would I?”

To be fair, she didn’t have a response to that. “Um…”

The dragon sighed. “It’s not difficult. Don’t touch my knives,” he said.


Nadiya glared at him for the entire time that the dragon spent cooking breakfast. “Would you fucking untie me now?”

“No,” Tazryx said, and flipped the pan.

“I won’t touch your knife again,” she said.

“I’m still not untying you,” Tazryx said; he turned to give her a look of frustration. “I’m starting to think Rex was right about you.”

Her heart dropped into the pit of her stomach. Rex wants me to die. “What?”

“He keeps saying that you can’t be trusted,” Tazryx says, pouring another cup of batter into the frying pan and poking at it with a spatula. “That you’d hurt or kill me or anyone else if you got the chance. You keep touching my knives. What am I supposed to think, then?”

Nadiya shrugged. “I think I would like you to think I shouldn’t die?”

Tazryx gave her an unimpressed look before turning back to his cooking. “Have I killed you yet?”

“No,” Nadiya said. “Still. I think I’m entitled to a little bit of mortal terror.”

Tazryx snorted and flipped what looked like a thin sheet of dough in the pan.

“Will you untie me?” she tried again. “Please?”

“No,” Tazryx said.

Shit.


There was some kind of doughy blob sitting in front of her.

Nadiya glared at the dragon. “What the fuck is this?”

The dragon in question, who happened to have his back turned, didn’t seem like he cared much about Nadiya’s anger. “Breakfast.”

“Not like I can eat it, seeing as my hands are tied,” Nadiya gritted out. “Will you please untie me now?”

Tazryx turned back to fix her with a flat stare. “Huh. You think that yelling at me is going to make me want to do what you say? I’ve never heard that one.”

Nadiya fought the urge to sigh. “I’m frustrated and hungry and my arms hurt,” she said, as peacefully as she thought she could manage. It was not peaceful. She wanted to strangle the dragon. But she was doing her best.

“I’m not untying you.”

Her best clearly wasn’t enough.

“Please, Tazryx,” Nadiya said.

“No,” Tazryx said.

“Why not?”

Tazryx turns to give her a very, very deadpan look. The corners of his mouth were twitching. “Didn’t anyone tell you it’s rude to start eating before everyone else? Wait for breakfast.”

War’s sakes, this is going to be the death of me, Nadiya thought, and wished that she had a knife

Chapter Text

Tazryx snapped the last rope around Nadiya’s wrists and watched as she immediately began rubbing the discolored limbs. Rex had tied her significantly tighter than Tazryx thought was necessary, but it had worked well enough.

Even if he felt just a little bit bad about that.

He bit into his own spiced magdayx bun and scowled. Tazryx knew he was not a very good cook, but this was genuinely easy food, and yet he still somehow managed to make it distastefully greasy.

Still, he was better than Rex, and that was all that mattered.

“What is this?” Nadiya asked, eying the misshapen lump of dough suspiciously.

“Magdayx bun,” Tazryx volunteered, and went back to devouring his oily handiwork.

Nadiya sniffed it delicately, as though she were attempting to gage what it would taste like solely from the smell of oil and spice, and then took a rather indelicate bite. She chewed for a second…and then she violently turned and spat it out onto the table and wiped at her tongue with one hand. Her cheeks were bright red when she turned back to look at him, and her eyes were watering. “War, it’s burning my mouth!” she spat. “What is that?”

Tazryx shrugged. “A magdayx bun.”

Nadiya rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, fuck, that’s burning me,” she said, and guzzled down her glass of water. “What’s it made of?”

Rex glanced at the stove. “Magdayx dough and meat and spices?”

“Does ‘magdayx’ mean ‘painful’ in some mysterious foreign language, then?”

“Magdayx dough is just, uh. I don’t know. Pretty sure it’s just made from magden roots,” Tazryx says, shrugging. He wasn’t a cook. “I’m not the person to ask. My brother Adder knows more about this sort of thing than I do.”

“Adder the pirate?”

“Adder the merchant,” Tazryx corrected. “Captain Nazarel’s business on the Midnight King is entirely legal, thanks.”

“Why would a pirate—

“A merchant—” Tazryx cut in pointedly.

“—need to know about plants?”

Tazryx shrugged. “Adder and Captain Nazarel sell things to people. All over the world. They can’t really do that if they can’t tell you about what they’re selling, right?”

Nadiya nodded slowly, and then tapped her glass with two fingers. “Can I, uh, have a bit more water?”

Tazryx shrugged, stood up, and turned to the cabinet to pull out another bottle of water. Then he weighed it in his hand for a second. Fuck it. “Sure. Just keep the bottle, yeah?” he asked, extending it towards her. She took it quickly and downed a good half of it in one swallow.

“Your mouth still burning?” Tazryx asked, fighting down an amused smile.

Nadiya swallowed her water and glared at him balefully, her hazel eyes reddened ever so slightly with unshed tears. Tazryx felt another stab of guilt, and shoved it down as far as he could. “Yes!

Tazryx shrugs. “Guess you have to learn how to get over that. I don’t know how to cook anything else.”

Nadiya let out a dramatic groan. “I’m going to die.”


Tazryx finished his breakfast well before Nadiya even finished her water, and wrapped another bun in a small cloth napkin and stuck it in his pocket before pulling on his heavy leather armored coat. “I need to speak to the Ath.”

“Um,” Nadiya said, gesturing at herself. “Do you have, like, clothing or something I can borrow? It’s just that I haven’t got the chance to change in, uh. Days. And, uh.”

Damn, I didn’t think about that. “I’ll ask my sister. Do you need me to grab you a washbasin?”

“A what?”

“A washbasin,” Tazryx repeats. “So you can get washed off?”

Nadiya gave him a confused look. “Do you not have showers?”

“Do we not have what?”

Nadiya let out a sigh. “I’ve been kidnapped by savages. Right.”

“Don’t call us that,” Tazryx said, clenching his fists in his pockets. “If our positions had been reversed, you would be dead.”

“Right,” Nadiya drawled. “That’s right. You’re, what, just going to let me go? Great. I’ll see you again never, just take me back to Agiriel.”

“I can’t do that,” Tazryx said, and tried to sound less apologetic than he felt. “I have to think of my own family.”

“So why won’t you kill me, then?” Nadiya asked, and then immediately looked as though she regretted the words. “I mean, I don’t want to die, but—”

Tazryx shrugs. “That’s not up to me. The Ath is in charge of you now. I can’t let you go or kill you without talking to her. And, you know, on top of that, I was going to go talk to her about what to do about this particular situation anyways.’”

“Oh,” Nadiya said. “Um. What are you going to ask her?”

Tazryx sighed. “Is that really so important?”

“Yes,” Nadiya said. “Yes. It’s only my life on the line.”

Tazryx fought the urge to sigh. “Clothing, rooming, and security concerns. I want to talk to her about what the fuck I’m doing with you.”

Nadiya shrugged. “Rooming seems fine? I mean we have an entire building.”

“For now, yeah,” Tazryx said with a shrug. “But the second we move—”

“Why would we move?” Nadiya cut in.

Why would we move, she asks. Tazryx stared at her. “Why would we move?”

“Yeah,” Nadiya said. “I mean the Dead City seems like a neat little home base…”

Tazryx cocked his head. “The World Before city? I mean, it’s not bad, but it’s not safe.”

“What are you talking about?” Nadiya asked. “It’s not full of dr—uh, enemies.”

Tazryx leveled a flat look at her, disbelieving. “So you honestly want me to believe that no humans ever come here, ever? It’s not safe.”

“So, what?” Nadiya said offhandedly. “You pick up and go to a different city—”

“We usually live in tents,” Tazryx said, fighting the urge to sigh. “We’ll probably be moving soon. Which is why I need to talk to the Ath. Get up.”

Nadiya blinked at him. “What?”

“Get up,” Tazryx repeated. “Put on a coat or something, because it’s getting cold, and meet me outside.”


Nadiya was already outside by the time Tazryx finished getting ready for the day.

“What?”

“I didn’t know the pampered prince stereotype held true for dragons,” Nadiya snarked, an arched eyebrow in the direction of Tazryx’s freshly washed hair.

“Fuck you too, grime gremlin.”

Nadiya stared at him.

Tazryx himself paused for a moment. She’s not Rex. She’s not my cousin. She’s not my friend. She’s my hostage. Only my hostage. “Do you need something?”

“Grime gremlin,” Nadiya repeated disbelievingly.

“Would you rather be something else? Nasty Nadiya? Mud monster? Sc—”

“Are you a three year old?” Nadiya asked. “You act like a child and expect me to take you seriously—”

Tazryx whirled on her. “What do you want from me, from this? I can treat you like an asshole. I can pretend to be Rex. I can be intimidating. Or I can joke around. You’re welcome to pick the first option, but I severely doubt you’re going to like it.”

“I doubt you have it in you,” Nadiya grinned sharply.

Tazryx considered that for a second angrily, bristling as his bones shifted under his skin in response to the perceived challenge. He would prove it. He had to. Silas always said that any threat made would have to be carried out. He had to.

He opened his mouth, to start barking orders, to do…something. Nothing. He tried to reach out for her arm, to drag her to the Ath’s building. Nothing. He thought of it, and he saw desecrated, skinned corpses dancing behind his eyes. He tried to yell at her and saw her face, terrified, as his brother nearly killed her.

He sighed, letting the tension drain out of him.

He had lost.

I can’t bring myself to hurt her.