DD2 Chapter 028 – Captive
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Now where were we? Oh right, the epicly long captivity arc. I sure hope Typh gets out of this soon as I find it incredibly boring when protagonists lose their agency...

As usual a big thank you to my patrons for supporting this story, and oddly enough another big thank you to those of you who've put the book on pre-order. I don't entirely understand it, but I am grateful.

Enjoy your chapter.

Tap, tap, tap.

Tap, tap, tap.

Tap, tap, tap.

The dragon groaned as she awoke. She lay there perfectly still and took a moment to adjust to the harsh glare of the morning sun that streamed in through her narrow window where the bird relentlessly tapped away. Slowly, she uncurled herself from the nest of thick furs and blankets that she made each night anew atop the mattress of her bed. 

Every morning Typh’s comfortable slumber was rudely interrupted by the incessant tapping of the same damned pigeon that pecked away ineffectually at the metal bars of her cell. Whatever it was that attracted the winged pest to the four iron rods that separated her from freedom, she didn’t know, but she had long suspected that it was all part of her elaborate torture. 

She finally sat up from her nest and stifled a loud yawn against the back of her hand, ignoring how the heavy collar around her neck weighed her down ever so slightly as she rose to her feet. Typh took her time to get dressed, all too aware that her unpalatable day would start once she was finished. Her jailers somehow always knew when she was decent. She liked to pretend that there was some class specific skill involved, and that she still maintained a modicum of privacy, but it was far more likely that they just watched her while she slept.

Shivering with revulsion at the thought, Typh tried to distract herself with the comforting knowledge that her cell was by no means as unpleasant as she had feared it would be. The tortures that she had first imagined since her discussions about dragon captivity with the Shining Swords had yet to materialise, but the presence of the bulky runic collar against her throat made it impossible for her to forget that she was a captive, no matter how nice her gilded cage was. 

And avian annoyances aside, it truly was a very nice cage.

She padded across the fine carpet in the flat shoes she had chosen for herself and sat down in the cushioned chair in front of her writing desk. As usual the messy collection of papers that she had been working on over the past week had been stacked neatly to one side by the people who crept into her room while she slept. No doubt everything had been thoroughly studied and copied during that time, but as she was writing in old Draconic she wasn’t particularly worried that they would have divined any great insights from her bored scribblings.

Even if by some chance the inquisition’s scribes could interpret her scrawled handwriting then she doubted that, amongst all the bad poetry and half-assed love notes that she had written to while away the time, the sparingly few important documents she had created to help her better order her thoughts stood out all that much. If the humans surprised her yet again and found some scholar who truly could understand it, then it was unlikely to do them much good; her information was months out of date, and more pressingly, Rhelea was fast running out of time.

From her small, barred window that looked out over central Rhelea she had watched helplessly as the city had burned. Each day Traylan troops scurried about in the streets below her like ants, their formations so small when viewed from her prison up above. Valiantly they held the centre of the city from rioters and looters while the air filled with smoke and the mana of the recently slain. It was a prolonged bloodbath, one she had little part in creating, and even now it had yet to come to an end. The very air remained thick and heady with vibrant energy that practically begged to be used, and before the day was out she knew it would be thicker still. Despite Lord Traylan’s best efforts, the blazing fires that lit the city throughout the night had not been brought under control as his peoples’ anger bubbled violently to the surface, often to the tune of a song which had fast become the anthem of Rhelea’s rebellion.

“Bards…” Typh muttered with distaste.

The concentration of mana that hung in the air was obscene, dangerously so. Ringed by warded walls, the tiny stretch of land that was Rhelea held the chaotic energies tight over the city, steadily concentrating it even more towards the built-up centre where the rich and the powerful dwelled. It was ghastly to see so much stagnant mana just sitting there rather than flowing along the leylines of Creation as it was supposed to. To her eyes it was a bright, multihued miasma that blanketed the entire city, slowly swirling over the town square where the energies were the densest.

It was unmissable, dangerous, and the worst of all, to the few humans who possessed some form of mana sight, welcome. Intermittently she would catch a classer in the streets below her cell, taking a break from trudging through the snow to look up to the sky, and beam their silent approval at the storm of mana that was steadily brewing. Seeing this she had to ask herself if it was intentional, if the continued failure to quell the rioting was in fact just a poorly disguised cull of an overpopulated city designed to provide a noticeable level bump to those who lived in the centre.

She ripped her attention away from that line of thought. She had decided that it was best not to think about the motivations behind such a slaughter, for that's what it was. With every breath that she took, she inhaled the essential energies of someone who had died within the past week. It was horrendously inefficient of course, but over time—assuming no great calamities ensued, like a subterranean ritual circle being activated—all that mana that was prevented from escaping would be absorbed by the city’s elite classers.

“And Arilla thought I was bad for eating people…” she sighed listlessly.

 

A fresh quill, ink, and stacks of unblemished white paper sat before her and she wondered what to write, what to fill her morning with before company no doubt arrived. Typh knew that she was playing to her captors’ tune, but she was so very bored, and with the way that things were going she was growing increasingly careless. She needed to plan for what was coming next, and if nothing changed it wasn’t like any of the humans would be alive in a week to act on the knowledge she had left behind. She dipped her pen in ink and began to write—

Tap, tap, tap.

Tap, tap, tap.

Tap, tap, tap, crack.

The quill snapped in her hand and Typh bit her lip so hard that she almost drew blood. If it wasn’t for the blasted collar about her neck then she’d eviscerate the frustrating pigeon and laugh whilst dancing over its tiny little corpse, but she knew better than to test its runes again so soon. The arcane symbols etched deep into the metal were more than enough to make drawing on her skills a near impossibility. The last time she had tried to cast a spell, she had very nearly run out of mana, and that would have been very bad.

As it was, she had to abandon her ruse of humanity far earlier than planned when her hands had grown back by themselves overnight, and she was helpless to stop them without resorting to measures that she would much rather avoid.

Typh decided it would be best to forgo her morning writing, not wanting to power through the bird's irritating noise with only half of a quill. Instead she left the broken instrument to the side of her unused papers and waited patiently for a few minutes until the door to her prison swung open.

“Good morning Typh,” Xan said politely as she entered the room, smiling as she always did like she actually enjoyed spending time in Typh’s cell. The pigeon also chose this precise moment to make its swift getaway, the tapping ending as it always did the moment that the dragon had company.

The inquisitor was carrying a large silver tray balanced effortlessly in one almost delicate hand that was laden with the foods and drinks that the Inquisition had learned over Typh’s captivity were the best way to keep her talking. The dragon hated being predictable, almost as much as she hated being trapped, but this was one side-benefit that she could live with.

“Good morning to you too,” Typh grumbled, feeling the conflicting mixture of relief and anxiety that the bookish woman’s arrival consistently managed to bring. The dragon sniffed the air and smiled at the human despite herself. “Is there lemon cake on that tray?”

Inquisitor Xanthia, or Xan as she preferred to be called, only beamed back in silent answer. She was easily the highest levelled human that Typh had ever seen and it was hard for the dragon to reconcile the small human's almost scholarly appearance with the threat she clearly presented. 

Xan was an aberration. 

A freak

Without a species class, humans simply weren’t supposed to be able to level as high as she had. The dissonance between a class, and what a person actually was, was too great to allow for the kind of consistent levelling it required to get that far into the fifth tier when limited by such a short natural lifespan.

Most creatures on Creation enjoyed a much higher levelling efficiency than humans, if only for the fact that it was remarkably easy for them to align with the drives of their species class. Typh simply couldn’t be a mage, a warrior, or a noble in the same way that she could be a dragon. For Xan to have made it so far, it required either a degree of willpower and dissociation that should have made her distinctly less human, or for her to have gained so many levels through violent combat that no matter how good she was, it rapidly became a statistical improbability that the woman still lived.

Then again, there were a lot of humans out there, and if you’re callous enough to throw countless lives at a problem like a levelling bottleneck then someone would doubtlessly make it through.

Xan eventually placed the tray on the table, revealing, amongst other things, the thick slices of cake that immediately made Typh’s mouth water. The inquisitor poured two cups of tea before she sat down in the chair facing the dragon, her pleasant smile never for a moment faltering. The woman’s eyes darted quickly to the plain paper in front of Typh and to the broken quill before rising back to meet her gaze with perhaps only the slightest hint of disappointment.

“Don’t feel like writing today?” the inquisitor asked with feigned concern.

“No,” the dragon answered plainly.

“Well, that’s a shame; the scholars I brought with me from Helion will be very disappointed when I tell them the news.”

“I’m sure they’ll cope.”

“Of course they will. You’ve already given them enough to pour over for years to come.”

“Really?” Typh said with a raised eyebrow.

“Really,” Xan confirmed, leaning forwards in her chair just a little. “That language you write in is old. Very old. Are you sure you won’t tell me what it is? What you are?”

“That depends, have you destroyed the ritual array yet?”

The inquisitor made a sour face, one that Typh was certain had been exaggerated for her benefit. Xan was much harder to read than that, only offering the dragon reactions that had been carefully tailored to lead her down very specific lines of thought. It was immensely frustrating because even though she was aware of it, she still struggled not to be drawn in. The human had a higher charisma score than her, and Xan wasn’t above letting her know it.

“You know that I won't do that, not before I know what those runes mean. You’ve yet to tell me what it does,” Xan said, taking a delicate sip from her teacup.

“And I have told you, it is a runic lens designed to focus the mana bound by this city's walls into a fine point,” Typh answered, before taking the other teacup and drinking deep while her eyes were drawn to the delectable food on offer.

“But why?” the inquisitor scoffed. “The reagents used were worth an actual fortune—the Alchemists Guild is still investigating the scope of the theft—and the child sacrifices? If you told me it was to make a man into a god I might believe you, but to focus mana? Why would anyone go to so much trouble for something so mundane.”

“Focusing ambient mana isn’t mundane, it’s dangerous.”

“Hardly, there’s never been an instance of a single side-effect from it besides faster passive levelling,” Xan said, gesturing out of Typh’s narrow window. “You can see it, can’t you?”

“I can see it, and it’s heinous,” Typh replied, shaking her head with dismay.

“It’s progress. It’s how we keep Epheria at bay.”

“I don’t think I understand…”

“You wouldn’t because you’re not human. Whatever you are, you probably gained most of your levels sitting tight somewhere in the ‘Spines. We humans don’t have that luxury,” Xan said pointedly.

“That’s not true! I—” Typh bit her tongue before she said something stupid. She had precious few cards to play and giving them away for nothing would get her killed before she had the assurances she needed. She tried to clear her head of Xan’s almost intoxicating charisma score before speaking again. “Explain it to me, please.”

“I can, but in exchange you have to explain everything you know about the ritual circle below Rhelea. And I do mean everything.”

“...I can accept that.”

“Good. On the other side of the Dragonspines, to the north of Lintumia, sits the Epherian Empire—or what remains of it. Its golden age is long past, but it still has the classers, and enough relics from the past to take over most of the continent should it ever try again. And it will try again someday.”

“As a former province of that once great empire, there are a lot of old classers within Epheria who still see Terythia and our neighbours as nothing more than rebellious upstarts to be conquered. Every time a new Emperor ascends to the Ivory throne, the rulers on Astresia hold their breath until they know that expansion and reconquest does not lie on their mind.”

“I don’t see what that has to do with warded walls and ambient mana,” Typh said.

When it comes to war, we can’t beat them, not alone, but a single steel rank in a keep will keep an army of a thousand pewters from even attempting a siege. By warding locations tight we can focus the ambient mana over a large area onto a select few and passively level them like you would in your monstrous dens inside a dungeon.”

“It’s not the same, dungeons are—”

“Inherently dangerous, hostile to all human life, and completely unwilling to tolerate our presence let alone negotiate?”

“They circulate the mana. They’d never let it sit like that!” Typh said, gesturing wildly outside. “Focusing that much stagnant energy in a single area is dangerous.”

“I assure you that it's perfectly safe,” Xan explained. “I’ve personally slept on a bed with focusing runes carved into the very frame for centuries. It’s how we stay ahead of the level curve. The King of Terythia’s palace itself is layered beneath seven separate walls of concentric lenses, not to mention the warding that goes into his personal quarters. Every human keep, fortress, and city in Terythia, if not Astresia, has warding that rivals, if not surpasses, what you can see here in Rhelea. It is safe, Typh.”

“And if it wasn’t, then don’t worry,” Xan shrugged. “Every few years some runescribe comes along with a better formation allowing us to concentrate mana over a wider area even denser than before. If there was something wrong with the runes then the issue would be corrected soon enough. Compared to what we had when I was a little girl, this is progress. It’s how we make the steel ranks we need to scare off the Epherians, and hunt monsters like you.”

“I’m not a monster.”

“Then tell me what you are.”

“That wasn’t part of the deal.”

Xan rolled her eyes and Typh had to resist the urge to choke the woman as she instead decided to funnel a slice of cake into her mouth. She had to remind herself that she was being goaded, tested even, and for the thousandth time since she surrendered, she feared that she wasn’t going to pass.

“You realise that this progress you speak of is why the dungeons want you dead? Why every non-human species on Creation is weighing up whether it’s worth the risk letting your cities stand,” Typh explained, trying a different tack.

Xan’s eyes practically flashed with delight at the admission. 

“Is that a threat?”

“No. It’s an explanation. What you’re describing is the reason why you’re noticing an upsurge in attacks lately. The Great Wards are failing and every one of your precious focusing arrays are doing the damage. The ritual circle beneath Rhelea will just speed things up here, but left to your own devices humanity will tear down the walls that guard Creation and doom us all.”

“...What precisely do you think would happen if this ritual circle was activated?”

“I know that it will pump the energy stored in the circle up into Rhelea where it will then condense and gather all of this bountiful energy that you’ve let gather in a focused point. Then the wards will deform and splinter around that mass of mana, and a Monster will tear its way through into Creation, and then everyone in Rhelea dies.”

“We can handle monsters, Typh,” Xan scoffed, seemingly unimpressed. ”Rhelea has never had more steel ranks within its walls than it does right now.”

“You misunderstand me, Xan. I said Monster, not monster. There is a difference.”

“Oh? Enlighten me.”

“How aware are you of System lore?” the dragon asked.

“I’m over three-hundred years old. I probably know more System lore than any other human alive in this city,” the inquisitor boasted.

“Then tell me this, in all of your centuries have you ever once heard of anyone with the word Monster in their class, or skill description. Have you ever met any Monster Hunters?”

“I’ve met plenty, Goblin Hunter is a very common class out east—”

“I said Monster. Not beast, not creature, not goblin. Monster,” Typh interrupted.

“...I’ll admit that I haven’t,” Xan conceded. 

“I know you haven’t, because if you had, we wouldn’t be having this conversation and that ritual circle would be ash and the cavern caved in by now,” Typh explained. “You need to be hunting down the people who carved it, not wasting your time with me.”

“The ritual circle is safe under guard while it is being studied. Whatever monsters or Monsters you are worried about they won't get past an Alchemic Knight.”

“You need to listen to me Xan, I’m trying to help you. The Alchemic Knights aren’t themselves. They’ve been corrupted—”


“Typh, you need to understand the power dynamic here. You are a captive, one I am being unfailingly polite to because while that noble tag above your head patently isn’t your primary class it is a true one, and the Kingdom of Terythia has no desire to make any fresh enemies amongst the residents of the Dragonspines.”

“I—”

“I’m talking,” she huffed. “The Alchemic Knights' loyalty is beyond reproach. If you won't tell me what you are, or what you are doing here, then I’ll be forced to treat you as hostile and you wouldn’t like that. Now cut the shit and tell me what is going on beneath this city.”

“I’ve told you.”

“And I don’t believe you.”

“I’ve been nothing but forthcoming.”

“Really? How about we talk about the Alchemic Knight you killed then.”

“I…” Typh paused. “How did you know that? I buried her beneath tons of rock; you couldn’t have known where to look, let alone found her body so quickly.”

“Rhelea’s not as geologically stable as you think. When you crushed that knight a sizable part of the city collapsed.”

“How sizable?”

“Large enough that we were very interested in finding out what lay at the bottom,” Xan said. “And imagine my surprise when the earth mages found one of the Queen’s favourite soldiers pulped at centre of the collapse.”

“Okay, so maybe I haven’t been all that forthcoming, but I’m not hiding anything about the ritual array. It’s dangerous and is of no use to you besides bringing about your destruction.”

“Can these concentrating runes you speak of be used to improve the ones that hold the mana in place over a city?”

Yes. The urge to respond was so palpable that this time when she bit her tongue to stop herself from talking she not only drew blood, but ended up discreetly swallowing a mouthful of delicious crimson. 

“I preferred it when you tried flirtation and bribery to whatever that was...” Typh sighed, drumming her fingers on the table to stop them trembling as she tried to dispel her frustration at being so crudely manipulated.

“Don’t be cute. This will go a lot smoother if you don’t try and dodge my questions,” Xan warned. “Now can the runes be repurposed?”

The pressure hit her like a wave that threatened to knock her off her chair. Typh tried to bite her tongue again, but her mouth wouldn’t move until suddenly, against her will she found her lips forming the words.

“Yes!” she hissed. “But I still don’t—”

“Thank you,” Xan smiled, and the pressure immediately abated. 

“That was hardly ‘unfailingly polite,’ if that’s how you treat people then its no wonder—”

“Stop. You are not ‘people,’ you’re not even human. While your mimicry skill is one of the best that I have ever seen, you let yourself down on the details.”

“My details are very nice—” Typh began, leaning into her own stats to try and mitigate the pressure that Xan was exuding.

“Stop that. Gods how I hate interrogating high charisma monsters,” Xan said as an aside. “That isn’t going to work here. I get that you’ve gotten used to swanning around Rhelea bending humans to your whim with your gold flecked eyes and big tits, but listen to me when I say. That. Wont. Work. Here.”

Typh was silent for a time; she had never really considered the effect that her charisma score would have had on the locals. All dragons had high mental stats across the board which made them highly resilient to being influenced so crudely, but humans lacked a species class, and she knew from experience that the ones they took instead were dangerously unbalanced. Her own noble class was a prime example of this, heavily frontloaded with intelligence and very little else. With her comparatively high charisma score it made sense that she would attract a lot of attention. Suddenly her problems with the Guild, Galen and even Riyoul made a lot more sense, cast in the light of someone who was literally harder to forget by virtue of their superior stats.

The building shook abruptly, startling Typh from her thoughts, and Xan’s brow furrowed before she stood up from her seat.

“Excuse me, I have to deal with that.”

The inquisitor left the room without another word, but instead of leaving her alone as she usually did, a pair of steel rank knights in the Inquisition’s colours filed into her cell where they watched her in silence, standing on either side of the door. Typh knew from her limited interactions with them that they weren’t worth trying to engage in conversation. The amount of effort required to get a single grunt of acknowledgment out of them simply wasn’t worth it.

Time passed, and the building continued to shake and groan intermittently while tremors ran through the brickwork that caused the discreetly hidden runes to flicker and wane. Cracks spidered through the plastered walls and the stoic knights watching her said nary a word. Finally, after minutes of frustrated waiting, Xan returned coated in gore that smelled distinctly human.

“Do you have any connection to The Silver Spears?” the inquisitor asked.

“The who?” Typh responded genuinely curious as to where this was going.

“A team of recently deceased steel rank adventurers,” Xan explained, looming across the desk as if to search Typh’s face for any signs of recognition.

“I can’t say that I have,” the dragon said calmly while her eyes tracked a bead of blood that ran down Xan’s neck only to disappear beneath her starched collar. Typh’s stomach rumbled and the dragon found herself hungry and not for sandwiches or freshly baked lemon cake.

“What about The Moonsteel Company?” Xan asked, either unaware or uncaring of Typh’s more primal response.

“I’m afraid that I’m not familiar with them ...although ...didn’t they kill a hydra a few months back?”

“Fuck,” Xan said, slumping back down in her chair. 

“It would seem that we are out of time,” Xan sighed, running a blood streaked hand through her hair. “I know that you’re a dragon, Typh. A Sovereign Dragon. And, judging by the adventurers who just tried to spring you from this prison, it would appear that Lord Traylan is aware as well.”

“You knew?” Typh asked, feeling a pit of dread form in her painfully empty stomach.

“Of course I knew; [Alternate Form] is a bronze-rank skill, and I’m steel. Your stats gave you an edge, but you really should have levelled it to peak-iron along with the rest of your abilities before you tried to infiltrate human society.”

Typh’s mouth felt dry, and she resisted the nearly overwhelming urge to swallow. For a brief moment she considered attacking Xan, but under the current circumstances it was a very bad idea. She had to focus on the bigger picture.

“What happens to me next?” Typh asked.

“You have to give me something good. A compelling reason for me to keep you alive a little bit longer. If you don’t, then I have to choose between handing you over to Lord Traylan, who will execute you, or the Alchemist’s Guild, and I think you know what that entails. Neither option is particularly appealing to me. The former is willing to send adventurers against sanctioned agents of the Inquisition, rebelling against the throne in all but name, and the latter has lied through their teeth for months about the sapience of dragons. Something which will have consequences.”

“You however, don’t have to consider that, but I’m going to leave this room, and when I come back, if you can’t give me something better than pacifying a rebellious city or earning me the goodwill of the most influential institution in this country then I will have no choice,” Xan continued, moistening her lips with her tongue, and Typh couldn’t help but notice how the woman didn’t flinch when she tasted another person's blood.

“For a monster you’re not that bad, Typh, but I have a duty. One I will not hesitate to sacrifice you for.”

“And Arilla?”

“She’s The Dragonrider. A peasant of no great worth or influence, the moment I find her I’ll hand her over to Lord Traylan on a platter. Unless you can surprise me and offer me something even better than what I think you are capable of.” With that said, Xan left the room tracking crimson footprints all through the cream carpet. 

The stack of unblemished paper stared up at her and Typh idly considered what she knew that was worth her life. She had millennia of forgotten arcane knowledge that the humans would kill for if they recognised the significance of it, but she was loath to share even the smallest fraction of her secrets with them, especially when they would no doubt use them for something as suicidal as reinforcing the focusing lenses in their runic walls.

Still, she had to focus on the bigger picture, and that required buying herself a few more days. The Monster was coming, and it seemed that there was nothing she could do to stop it. Escaping Rhelea would be trivial in all that chaos, but doing so would also be a waste of her best and possibly only chance to kill it.

Tap, tap, tap.

Tap, tap, tap.

Tap, tap, tap.

Like a nail being slowly hammered into her skull, the return of her winged pest was not welcome, especially now. Typh stormed over to her small window intent on staring daggers, and perhaps throwing a cake fork at her persistent tormentor. She had no magic that she could risk calling upon, especially now that an ultimatum had been given, and her dignity had yet to degrade to the point that she was willing to attempt catching a pigeon with her bare hands, but she needed to do something to express her rage at its unwanted return. 

Closer now, she glared through the bars that filled her narrow window and halted. She could see the vermin perched there, tapping away almost innocently at the iron while it waited for her to approach. Her breath hitched in her chest once she got close and against her will a wide smile blossomed on her face as the pigeon cocked its head to the side meeting her eyes. 

Gold flecked irises met sickly green flames and it took everything she had not to cry out in joy. Still smiling, the dragon returned to her writing desk. 

Half a quill or not, Typh had some very detailed letters to write.

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