Uncle Hyena (unclehyena) wrote,
Uncle Hyena
unclehyena

The Kobold's Tomb

The Kobold's Tomb

It wasn't that Bluecheek LIKED kobolds; he thought they were nuisances, when he thought of them at all. It was more that he didn't like being intoxicated, and he had somewhat more respect for the Green Lady's law than most other crocodilians, even when they were all sober. This had led him to rescue more than one hapless kobold from being tortured and or eaten by Blue's less sober companions. Since the birthmark that had given him his battle name-- a vague blue diamond on his right cheek-- made him easy to recognize, he had developed a reputation among both crocs and kobs as a kobold friend.

When a human incursion came, it was only natural that Blue would find himself drafted into wrangling kobolds. He expected to hate the duty, but he didn't. Yes, they were tiny-- he outweighed any five of them together-- and cowardly, and vain, and cantankerous. But they were also fiercely loyal, and their vanity exceeded their cowardice. This meant that while one of them would run from an aggressive rabbit, ten of them in formation would march right down a dragon's throat, because none of them wanted to be the first to break.

The incursion extended through most of two seasons, and by the end Blue's unit had developed enough of an identity that they wanted to stay together. Blue thought about it, realized that the Green Lady's border was long enough that there was likely almost always a minor incursion going on somewhere, and agreed. The kobolds celebrated by getting themselves tattooed with blue diamonds on their right cheeks, and Blue was sufficiently moved by this that he had the edges of his birthmark touched up to better match his troops.

Blue took his responsiblilities seriously, and did his best to keep the Blue Diamond Skirmishers both effective and alive. His performance was good but not flawless, and the Diamonds drew enough recruits to replace their losses, but Blue always knew exactly how many kobolds had died because he himself had made a mistake. The unit prospered, at least in kobold terms, for several years before their luck ran out, and a new incursion BEGAN with an attack on the Blue Diamond's current camp. Blue managed to rally his troops well enough to retreat and sound the alarm, but three out of four of his kobs died before the dust settled.

The Blue Diamonds disbanded once relative peace returned. Most of the survivors wanted Blue to lead them into human territory on a revenge mission, but Blue knew that was suicide, and stated, as his final order to the unit, that they had an obligation keep the memory of their fallen comrades alive, and that meant surviving. Most of the survivors obeyed.

Blue himself had no idea where his path would lead next, though he did know the first stop: He had been invited to an audience with the Green Lady herself. It wasn't an invitation he could turn down, even if he had wanted to. The idea of meeting and speaking to a dragon that out-weighed him by a hundred to one terrified him; terror was the only reasonable response to that situation. But it had never been Blue's style to give in to fear, and he wasn't going to change at this point. Besides, he had a question to ask.

Blue had spent a lot of time with the kobs, and had heard several different renditions of the improbable story of Grex-Who-Rode-the-Turtle. The story went that a kobled named Grex had TWICE had the nerve to ask Maelstrom, the Great Monster Turtle, if it were true that kobolds who were worthy could be re-incarnated as dragons. The first time, Grex had been on the verge of death, and had chosen to trade his answer for his survival. The second time, though, he had gotten his answer, but had never told anyone what it was. He only said that he knew the answer, and that he would carry it to his grave. And then he had sailed off into the bay, and had never been seen again. The story fascinated Blue.

Blue made his tortuous way through nearly a hundred miles of swamp to the heart of the Green Lady's domain, and at last he stood before her: The Jade Empress, the Mistress of the Great Swamp, the Green Lady herself in all her horrific glory. Blue tried very hard not to think about being bitten in half.

"You have done well, little crocodillian," the Lady said, in voice like thick black silk. "Truly, you managed to make a silk purse from a sow's ear."

Blue felt a strong urge to curl into a ball and beg for mercy, but his posture didn't show it. "The silk was there, Your Highness. I just took the time to find it."

The Lady laughed at that, a thunderous rumble that made Blue even more inclined to curl into a ball. "Well said, Bluecheek. Well said indeed." She smiled ferociously and continued, "Is there any boon you would ask of me?"

"Now or never," Blue thought. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and said, "I would know the end of the story of Grex Turtle Rider."

The Lady did not merely laugh at this; she reared up onto her hind legs, held her belly with her fore-claws, and guffawed, while thumping her tail vigorously on the ground. For a moment, Blue was too busy keeping his footing to be frightened. Finally, the Lady returned to her normal stance and answered. "Why, he took his secret to his grave, of course. Had he not promised to do so?" The Lady smiled again, showing teeth bigger than Blue's hands. "But that is not the end of the story. Grex returned from his second meeting with Maelstrom, loaded his boat with tools and wood, and had a headstone for himself made. And somewhere, on a waterless island to the east of Thirsty Harbor, he built an underground shelter for himself. He continued to cruise Hurricane Bay for some years, but one day, he retired to his little island. And on another day, sometime later, he went to sleep in his burrow, and did not wake up. So the Turtle has told me, and so I believe."

Blue was stunned. This was more, though very other, than he had hoped for. After some moments he remembered his manners and said, "Many thanks, Your Highness. I am proud to have been of service to you."

"Enjoy your quest, Bluecheek Kobold-friend," the Lady answered. "May you prove worthy of each other."

Blue did his best to obey that instruction, but the road was hard. Getting humans to see him as an ally rather than an enemy was difficult and dangerous. He found work on a ship as a landsman-at-arms, and then gradually made his way to being recognized as an able seaman. He realized that he was following Grex's path, but he was not a friendly little kobold with a pleasant reputation; he was an eighth-ton scaly green monster with far too many teeth. There were no friendly waterfront taverns for him to shelter in, and while the kobold warrens came to recognize him, and treated him well enough, there was an utter lack of willing females of any species.

It took Blue more than twenty years to acquire the nedessary skills, and amass the necessary money. He often asked himself why he seemed to be devoting his life to chasing the ghost of a kobold who had been dead before his own birth, and he never invented an answer. Still, he perservered.

The day came when he sailed his own boat east from Thirsty Harbor, and began to explore the several small islands. His first inspection of the archipelago turned up nothing, but he did not give up, and went back over the islands foot by foot. Eventually, he located a sealed door in the side of a hillock which he thought had to be Grex's burrow. It took Blue a while to figure out how to open the door; he didn't want to just smash his way in, and it was clear that it had been sealed from the inside. But he also thought that, if Grex had wanted to be found, he would have left a way in, and eventually Blue found it.

There was a bed that held the desiccated body of a kobold, some similarly mummified foodstuffs, and a sealed water cask that was not quite empty. Set into the wall was an octagonal stone that bore the words, "Grex Turtle Friend. The Way will never be easy, and it will seldom be clear."

Above the name, set into the stone, was a diamond of blue glass.

Blue bowed respectfully to Grex's body, carefully resealed the door behind him, and set off in search of the Turtle. He had some questions of his own.

PDH 9-19-2021
Modified 10-8-2021
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