Sadrahan slept flat on his back against a far wall, hidden in a small corner of his cavern, Lamashi was against his chest, her head turned to one side and her legs sprawled out, his wings were wrapped securely around them both, creating a blanket of their leathery surface that held in the warmth of the tiny demoness and let her snuggle against him without fear of her either crawling free or rolling away.
No dreams haunted him, nor nightmares either, rather there was only the endless blackness of his slumber until he felt a stirring little claw dig into his body. Lamashi’s tiny body was slowly rising out of a deep slumber of her own, and when she jabbed the little tip of her claws into his flesh he instinctively awakened. His eyes flew open to stare up at the mossy glowing green sky and his arms instantly wrapped around to grasp the infant demoness.
“Are you ready to eat, Lamashi?” He asked and sat up, slowly retracting his wings back into his body while holding his hands in place to keep her against himself. Sadrahan opened his mouth and let out a yawn loud enough that all four walls picked it up and threw it back to him, while Lamashi looked around with big, wide eyes as if wondering if she had a multitude of fathers around her.
She opened her little mouth where small fangs were starting to protrude and yawned a tiny yawn, it reached no walls and carried barely farther than her lips themselves. She looked around again, turning her head in each direction as if wondering, ‘Why did no sound come for me?’
“When you get older you’ll have a voice to shake the heavens, but for now… well… just not now.” Sadrahan said and bopped her nose with the back of his claw before taking her to where a series of skins sat ready with a supply of goat milk mixed with goat blood. The stack was five high, a gift of some of the efforts of those tending the animals, but when he popped the mossy cap free and raised the leather bag to Lamashi’s lips she turned her face away.
“What? You aren’t hungry?” He asked, cocking his head to one side while looking down at her, he brought the skin close to her face again, brushing the tip across her lips and again she turned her face away, her tongue came out in disgust just before she started making a little squealing noise that caused Sadrahan’s ears to flick backwards as if to flee the shriek.
“What is it that you want… to put your claws up my nose again? I’ll let you do that if you stop making that noise… what about clawing my chest again…” He turned the tiny demoness and felt the claws of her fingers and toes alike dig into his body and while she continued to cry, she tried quite hard to scale him like a tree. Her tiny muscles strained as she struggled against the world’s attempt to pull her back down to the ground.
Sadrahan’s hands remained close, his large fingers wrapped against her torso in case she fell. “Are you going for my nose? You’ve already got my ears I swear it!” He winced as her shriek became more intense the higher she climbed.
“She wants meat.” Liln said as she sauntered toward him, every step followed a straight line so that her hips rolled left and right, in her left hand she waved a thick goat’s leg bone with a raw and bloody haunch of goat meat still attached. The fur stripped away so that the flesh beneath was exposed. Blood dripped down and little echos of spatter followed the noise of every taunting step. “I thought this might happen. The last time I fed her, she was less enthusiastic. Plus she bit me.” Liln chuckled a little, “When they bite at the last suckle, they’re ready for meat. Especially if they have teeth. And she has a fine set on her.” She smiled a little and bared her own fangs with it.
“You could have told me.” Sadrahan said when she came close, the crying stopped and Lamashi’s greedy, hungry eyes followed every wave up and down of the bone, her head nodded as if she understood and agreed with Liln’s words.
She might not have understood.
But when Sadrahan watched Lamashi’s slightly oversized head bob up and down and her big, saucer eyes following every motion of the meat… and drool dripped down onto Sadrahan’s chest, he knew that Liln was right.
“I would have, but My Lord,” Liln said when she extended the haunch of meat toward him, “you were both asleep by the time I returned. I didn’t want to wake you. Not before…”
A crash somewhere rang out and seemed to threaten the foundation of the mountain. Liln looked toward the exit, but was nonplussed while Sadrahan bent over, dropping the meat to the stone floor and cradling Lamashi, shielding her body with his back. “That, began today.” She said and smacked her lips.
Her sharp eyes traced every contour of his body, ‘What a specimen… he seems to grow stronger all the time… and covering his daughter with his body like that… his wife would be so proud…’ Liln thought as her admiration for her Lord redoubled in an instant.
Lamashi dug her claws into his body to cling to him and wailed at the noise, but when the cave did not collapse and Liln showed no sign of fear, Sadrahan straightened up, “What exactly was that noise?” He demanded, his relief warring with his annoyance, his eyes went from Liln to the exit, and from the exit to the ceiling, only to start the circle over again.
“The newcomers are digging, they are hitting pockets of burning air, to clear it, they set it on fire, it shakes the mountain, but that is all. I told them not to start until today, it seems they didn’t want to wait any longer.” Liln bit her lower lip, “I didn’t expect it to be this loud…”
“And why are they digging, Liln?” Sadrahan inquired when Liln crouched down to pick up the dropped haunch.
“They’re searching for the stones, and searching for iron… they walked through some of the other caves and…” Liln tightened her lips, looked up at her Lord and his daughter, grabbed the haunch by its white bone and stood up again. Lamashi leaned away from her father, her little arms stretched out, her fingers grasping and claws clicking.
The infant made little ‘Mah’ noises again and again with eyes centered on the feast, drool dripped from her fangs and splattered on the floor to mix with the dripping goat blood.
“Is it bad?” Sadrahan asked, “Have they found nothing at all of value? Are even those white stones useless?” He braced himself for the worst, holding a deep breath in suspense while Liln helped Lamashi to get a firm grip on the goat leg.
Her tiny teeth tore into the flesh while the adults watched, her claws held it in place, and a long, steady series of ripping flesh noises followed while they watched her, and listened to one another.
“No, My Lord. Far from it. While the red, green, and blue stones are worthless trinkets… the… the ruby, I think you called it, being especially pretty, the white stones are a wonder. Macu believes that if he could find a way to forge it, we would be able to create metal clothing unlike anything the humans showed us. And as for iron, they seem to find another vein of the stuff with every step. Lord… this mountain is richer than anything we ever dreamed of.”
She broke into a great, giant smile. “Isn’t that wonderful!”
She waited for Sadrahan to cheer and shake the walls with his enthusiasm.
She waited for Sadrahan to impulsively embrace her in a moment of emotion when he realized there was enough iron for every tool they’d ever need.
She waited for some kind of reaction.
What she got however?
Sadrahan walked backwards to lean against the cave wall, “It sounds good, doesn’t it, Liln?”
“Y-Yes, My Lord, isn’t it?” She asked, his words sounded as if he thought it wasn’t, and left her head cocked to one side while she scratched at her left horn while she sought an explanation for his barely concealed wariness.
“No. Not if we’re not strong enough to defend it, because if anyone learns about this, it will be all our villages, but worse. The humans covet the wealth inside of mountains, if they find out what lies in here? How many will they send against us to take our home from us?” He asked in a low whisper, his deep eyes filled with a sense of unending sorrow. “Don’t you see? Even when we are strong enough, if we can keep this secret for a generation, two generations, three generations or more of their kind, sooner or later the humans will know. And when they do, there will be what they call war.”
“Then we make ourselves supreme.” Liln answered and crossed her arms in front of her bosom, her back straight and defiant, the worry in her bright red eyes couldn’t be concealed, but her tongue had spirit.
Sadrahan nodded in agreement and set his daughter on the stone floor, while she ripped and tore into the flesh with claws and teeth under his watchful gaze he said to Liln, “Yes we do, it is that, or it is death.”
‘So, he learns of the wealth of the mountain while his daughter takes a bite, and before she has even swallowed what is in her mouth… our Lord is already thinking three or more generations beyond? Could it even be that he already knew? He got a ruby from the merchant and knew where it came from… did he decide on this place back then, knowing it had useful things for us?’ Liln’s head spun with the whirlwind of impossible possibilities… ‘That kind of luck doesn’t seem natural… and it’s even harder to believe when coupled with his immediate jump to threats that don’t even exist here yet…’ Her thoughts then turned to Assamo who was no doubt making his morning run while the wall outside continued to mark a path for him as it rose one log at a time.
Without a second thought, she put a hand on his arm to draw his attention to her, when his eyes met hers she said with breathless wonder, “We will make your will reality. I swear it. Your plans will all come true, I promise you.” She answered as she struggled to imagine a line of villages stretching along the mountain base and into their secret depths, with vast seas of farmland and demons clad in metal shirts like the ones who cut the wings of herself and her child.
‘Such is his vision, I know it now, that must be what he meant to Zorahen when the chief asked what they do now that they’ve come here… ‘Follow me.’ He meant that for all of us, for all demon kind… and all who submit to his rule, chief of chiefs, and Lord of Lords… our mighty, unstoppable… Demon Lord.’
‘Strength enough to keep my daughter safe… if that takes many, then I will find many… no matter how many it takes… no matter what means I have to use… there will be many, many between her and all threats, now and in the future.’ Sadrahan promised, but before he could respond to Liln’s curious words with any encouragement, a shout came from out of sight.
“Lord Sadrahan…!” The deep rich voice could have only one singular source that Sadrahan could identify before its maker even came into view.
“What is it?!” Sadrahan shouted back, a shiver of worry ran up his spine, the catch in Sarthas’s voice, not to mention the sound of running feet were both uncharacteristic of the male.
“The other villages have come! They’re here, they’re here!” Sarthas shouted while running into view, he didn’t stop until he came almost within reach and dropped down to one knee and bowed his head.
“How many.” Sadrahan asked at once. But Sarthas didn’t answer right away, he was still catching his breath, his chest expanding and contracting and one hand holding itself over where his heart must have been pounding.
“Wait… what is it? This should be good news…” Sadrahan felt his claws tense in his hands, and sensing his rising anxiousness, Lamashi stopped chewing her meat and began to cry, her head turned up and she began to wail at the sky of stone and moss while another rumbling shook the mountain.
“They are twelve villages in number, but also survivors… others, more than we sent walkers to meet! And… there is a… a…” Sarthas tried to answer and gulped for air.
“A what! Spit it out, your words aren’t food to be choked on!” Sadrahan snapped, and Sarthas closed his eyes, steadied himself, and said…
“Assamo was out running, he met the one to walk at the front, words were traded, the boy lost his temper… he… the one who tends your daughter, he was struck down!” Sarthas shouted and Lamashi’s wails went higher as the distress redoubled.
“Assamo… he’s…” Liln felt her knees grow weak, they wobbled beneath her and for a moment her body threatened to collapse.
“Alive. The human wise woman, Shala, has him in her care. But it was a narrow thing. The one to lead the march swears he will speak to none but the one who claims to be chief of chiefs, who could not even protect his mate!” Sarthas explained and raised his head.
Sadrahan took that in, his daughter’s distress shook him to the core, the promise of a violent challenge was bad. The injury to Assamo grated, he gritted his teeth… but as he listened to his daughter cry and scream as the adults’ upset minds pressed in and crushed her comfort and security and stopped her from even being able to eat as she did a moment ago? His blood began to boil and a low growl rose in his throat.
And when Sarthas passed on the dismissal of his mate’s death…?
“How dare he!” Sadrahan roared as a violent rumble below shook the mountain so hard that bits of moss were shaken loose and fell down to splash in the water and splatter on the moist stone floor.
‘His wrath… shook the very mountain… how can that be…?’ Sarthas wondered.
He took only the span of half a breath to look at the pair of demons alone with him, and then… he ran, the embodiment of demonic wrath given flesh, to go and face the one who mocked his wife and made his daughter cry.