The Nest was an ancient volcano with three great main calderas. The largest was also the highest with the two successive both lower and slightly smaller in turn. Stretching over 50 miles from the farthest south wall to the farthest north wall the Nest was the home of the King. It was the stronghold of the Vayden and the only true city held by them.
Every wall soared nearly perfectly vertically upward for miles. They were all carved with millions of lairs that attached to the dens of the Arms. Arm and Wing lived together, from the day of Choosing. As cadets they lived in a single room with a sandy floor on the front half and a stone floor with a bed and desk on the back half.
Each rank that was gained came with lairs that became more comfortable, larger, and higher up the wall. Cadets lived at the ground level while the King’s lair was just above the great common lair that dominated the far southern face, looking north over the entire expanse.
Forests lined the bottoms of the cliffs where ancient rocks had fallen to make steep bank down to the lake that filled the bottom of the main caldera. The lake, warmed from below, spilled down into the second one in layers of water falls where it was met with many hotter springs, creating a maze of pools and cascades that provided places for people as well as dragons, to bath, soak, and visit with one another.
From there it poured down to the lowest caldera and into a vastly deep lake that emerged outside the mountain into the great river Suffah, that made its way eventually out to the lowlands far to the east. The warm waters of the lake made the Nest ever warm with rarely a winter so cold as for snow to actually fall inside. The Nest and Mount Eysah were held in its own weather patterns and no creature other than a dragon had any hope of scaling the heights.
They breached the top of the north wall at its lowest point, a narrow pass that many of the young and old used to get in and out. Burdened with Dart, Cursk had to labor to even get that high. Once over the jagged cliffs the heat from the waters created an updraft that aided the dragon in the long glide from one end to the other.
Jesop had ordered Kerik moved from his low den just barely inside the main caldera to mid way both up the wall and farther south along it. Most of the Nest was horrifyingly empty with as many craftsmen living in the Nest as Wings. The dens in the 3rd ring were completely deserted with only a fraction of the 2nd ring being used at all. Those that were living there were the artisans and their families. The 1st ring showed how empty it was by the lack of light from the dens. There were only hundreds where there should have been many thousands. Jesop’s heart sank every time he came home after sunset. The darkness was a painful reminder to how fragile the state of affairs were.
Cursk let Dart go at the lair door well above where Kerik’s old lair had been. Dart fumbled. He caught the edge, talons scraping and grabbing at the stone. Several shards broke free to crash downward, shattering into little more than flecks as they bounced off the lower cliff face.
Cursk had to shove himself off the cliff as he swept sideways to not crush in after Dart. More little rocks clattered downward but Dart was inside and Cursk was free. He spiraled upward with relief. He was old for this era but by the ancient reports he was just now nearing his prime. If only his Arm was not an invalid…
In the dark Jesop knew Slang was waiting in the air somewhere and he left Cursk’s saddle and simply leapt from the dragon. He hung a moment with the shimmering lights of the great city about him and the warm steaming lake below, reflecting the city lights and the stars back at him. A great hand caught him out of the air. Slang veered south and upward to the lair they lived in. It was one layer up and just west of the Great Lair. He was after all, Lord Marshall and while young for such rank he had already seen more battle than most anyone alive.
Light as a feather the great green dragon set him down and they both half ran half walked into the sandy lair out of the air and out of the sight of the world. It was good to be home and good to be in Slang’s presence.
Inside lights rose up soft and warm. The light bars in the ceiling of a Lair were activated by a dragon’s presence, not needing the touch that the control pads needed inside the Den itself.
“Have a Wisdom sent to him. No reports,” Jesop said.
Slang grunted to say he had already seen to it and Jesop looked up and at the dragon and smiled. “I missed you too.”
Slang chuckled and caught him. Jesop let himself fall into the dragon’s hand. It was nice to have such a big dragon to hold you and not just be able to hold onto you. He was so sore, so very tired, worried, and guilty about the fate of the all the scouts but mostly for Kerik. He got an image of Slang watching out over Dart to be sure nothing came of it. Jesop relaxed a little.
“I don’t know what to do Slang,” he said. It was good Slang would watch out over Dart but that was just one of the things on the Lord Marshal’s mind. “We haven’t had anyone chosen in months, few and fewer are flying. Our skies will be empty soon if things don’t change.”
Slang rumbled. He was not just any dragon and he had to wait for certain standard of female. He could not just go snatching young scouts out of the air, no matter how tempting it was. He needed to remind all the Wings of the way things should be. All the females he might have taken wind for were all scouts and quite busy. He shared Jesop’s worries but couldn’t do much more than they already were.
Despite how much was on his mind Jesop was almost about to fall asleep in Slang’s hand when the dragon grunted in warning. Jesop got up. He crossed the lair to the door to his bedroom. He shrugged off the slim pack he wore on this back and tossed his Belts to the chair as he stepped up into the room. He peeled off his leather jacket and hung it in his wardrobe. It went with the other worn and dirty but not fouled leathers that he kept locked away.
Picking up his pack he left his room and pulled out the folders as he crossed the living room to the dinning room. He set them all on the table before he slipped into the kitchen. Jesop took out his tea pot and filled it, already feeling tension building from what he knew he was about to endure. Once the water was on he checked his cold drawer for food and found it utterly empty.
The soup yesterday night had worn off and he was hungry but he was as likely to cook as he was to spout wings. He settled for tea. Once it was steeped enough he added several spoons of honey and hopped up to sit on the kitchen counter. It wouldn’t be long now, he thought as he sipped his hot drink.
The door made a soft chime as it opened to warn him that time was up. He sighed and took another sip of tea. It was only a few steps from the front door to the kitchen and Tev was there. He saw Jesop on the counter, looked him over and shook his head.
“One of these days I am going to take all those damn browns and burn them,” Teven said. Jesop let him grumble, he noticed that the man had a plate in his hands and Teven was as good a cook as Jesop was not. So despite the hard words and the likely scolding he was about to get from his Keeper he was also going to eat well.
“Where did you go this time?” Teven demanded. “Off to some Jazidin whore or to pick some Scout weed? You find it necessary to slip off, and if I tell the council the truth I look like I am failing to Keep you,” he half snarled at that. “And don’t think your laying the folders out on the table convinces me for a moment that you were here.” He took the tea out of Jesop’s hand and set it on the small table that stood against the kitchen wall across from the stove. Teven turned to glare at Jesop with his hands on his hips. “Well?” He demanded. He gestured shortly. Jesop slid down and went to the table as ordered. He sat and took the fork and whispered a thanks to the Spirits for the food, as he always did, and took a bite of wonderful tasting cooked vegetable of some sort. He didn’t even know what it was let alone how it was cooked, but most things Teven brought were that way, he just ate and enjoyed it.
Teven made himself tea, leaned back on the counter and gave Jesop a moment to eat before he cleared his throat. “Well, where did you go?”
Jesop considered lying and even trying to deny he went anywhere but Teven really did know better and if he didn’t tell, Slang would tell Toke anyway. The two Wings were nest brothers and as close with each other as Teven and Jesop were at odds.
Odds, was not the right word, but they were far from being friends. Teven hated Jesop and had since they were children. Fate was cruel to make Jesop outrank Teven, to deny him the crown that everyone had thought would be his, after all he had the biggest dragon in their generation; was the grandson of the old king and the 12th Rah in a line to be Chosen. But he was made Keeper by the dragons instead and that was that. Jesop, the orphan, outranked him.
“I went after Dart and Kerik,” Jesop said around a bite.
“Dart will fly again…only because I know what I am doing with wings. He would have been grounded, Teven.” Jesop looked over. “Our scouts deserve better than that. A faulty scar and a dragon looses everything.”
“So? What happened?”
“Red Men,” he shook his head. “The pack is broken. I ordered a flight of scouts to hunt out the nest to kill any young.”
“How is he? Six years out is a long time,” Teven said, his tone almost sounding concerned.
“Worn out and in need of some attention.”
Jesop shrugged a shoulder. “He’s a strong man and very close to his Wing. I expect he’ll be Wing Leader when Duth goes down.”
“That says a lot.” Teven almost seemed impressed that Jesop thought so highly of the scout’s skill.
“Like I said, he’s a strong man and close to his Wing.”
“You hope Dart Falls?”
“I won’t let him leave until he does.”
“Good.” Teven grunted. “At least you’re not stupid.”
Jesop let that slide and just ate his meal.
“Take a bath Jesop, you smell… and throw out those browns and get back into White like you belong and for Gods sake shave that beard off. You look like a scout.”
Jesop made no remark, just cleaned his plate as the Keeper in black went to gather up the paper work. It would be his job to file it or deliver it as need be. Jesop got up, washed the plate, wiped down his sink and set the plate to the side for Teven to take home.
He made another cup of tea for himself and spooned in more honey. He retook his seat on the counter and knew he’d change out of the browns, shave and put on his damned whites and Teven would grunt and assume it was done as ordered. It was not because Teven ordered, it was because Slang deserved his Arm to at least look the part he had been forced to play.
Jesop’s arm ached, the weather was about to change. His arm had been stabbed through once. A spear had staked him to the ground on the cliff top and Teven had been the one to do it. It had taken a year for the healer to fix it and now it ached at sudden weather changes. That wasn’t the only scar he had from Teven’s attacks as boys. It was just the only one that still ached and was prone to betray him now and then.
How sad was it the only person who was remotely a friend was Teven. Dragons didn’t count, they were all his friends, after all, they had made him Lord Marshal. He shook his head at himself and wished they would choose a king, but no black dragons had been hatched and hardly any eggs that had come had even been fertile. Empty slime, nothing more.
His head hurt and when Teven was far enough away he’d take something to help with that and take a few more to help him sleep. At least now he wasn’t hungry. Teven stopped in the door with the folders.
The Keeper was a grand looking man and looked rather like his father and his father in turn. He was built like a Sat with solid strong body, handsome face so much so that being a Rah was to say a man was handsome and exactly what women wanted. Teven was no exception. The normally celibate post of Keeper was not that.
Teven had had a wife of all things, until she died and then he had more lovers than Jesop cared to think about. Toke should be snatching scouts out of the air everyday, everyone already knew Teven slept with all their Arms.
“Toke is upset,” he said seriously. “He said one of the younger scouts came in the other day and went directly to the nursery and was not in good shape. She won’t say anything but he thinks she was pinned down. He’s worried that all the last few have been that way and that’s why at best, we get grays. He’s not sure who is doing it but he’s getting very upset about it. So if you know any female who will talk to you, now would be the time to go figure this out.” He took his plate and left Jesop.
Jesop sighed, slid off the counter, took out his little blue bottle from the back of a small kitchen counter drawer. He shook out several gray pills, debated the number and put them all back but two. Once he downed them he put the jar back. The last sip of tea swallowed them and he washed the cups and put them away before he went to go bath, shave, and put on his whites.