I spent my four years in hell doing deep jungle patrols along the river at the delta. I had seen a lot of men die and not nicely. I had even killed a huge water dragon as it was eating my squad leader. That had gotten me the huge gizzard full of dragon gems. With that I had purchased a very large section of land along the edge of the slowly spreading war zone.
I guess I should explain about dragon gems. All water dragons are female and when they hatch a mage stuns them and inserts mage crystals. Supposedly it keeps them from attacking and killing their soldiers, it does not work. Anyway after five years the female dragon has to return to the hatching ground to lay an egg.
Since there are no males it is not fertile. The mages stun the dragon and insert more mage crystals before letting it go. It leaves and a mage retrieves the egg and uses it to create another dragon. Some of the older water dragons have many dozen crystals. What makes them valuable is what happens inside the dragon.
The extremely strong acid and chemicals in the gizzard alter and change the crystals. They also create a extremely hot temperature that also works to alter the crystals. When removed no two gems are alike. They are as hard as diamonds and more rare. Some are small and some large and they are no longer the same crystals that were put into them.
Chander was the city that was closest with a very large base. I had purchased a half dozen out of service float cars and moved them to a stream. I put them side by side on stone foundations and bought a water wheel to generate power for pumps to water my fields. I plowed the fields and moved rocks to start walls.
Each night I put the horses in a strong barn and ate alone. I hunted using a modified service carbine to feed myself and carried a pistol just in case. From the first day I was killing monsters. I began to mount them like hunting trophies. I had a group of six manticores, four griffins, a pack of viper dogs and two huge serpents I coiled up by the door.
Beside that I had a couple of dozen hides and skins that I had tanned. I was digging a well and three paces down when the earth shifted. I froze and stood still as I waited and then the earth beneath my feet vanished and I was sliding and falling. I landed on my feet and rolled before I stood and looked up. At least the hole was still there and I was not trapped.
The room was cut stone that had been polished. Through the thick dust I saw the gold doors and tall phoenix statues. I moved closer and saw the mage symbols around the edge of the door mantle. On them were engraved glyphs and runes and I had no idea what they meant. I reached out and gently touched the doors and pushed.
They silently began to open and I stared as lanterns flickered and came on. I was looking into a room with stone shelves on the walls. On the shelves were gold or silver books and around a large stone coffin were dozens of chests. I thought of treasure but when I opened one it held more books. When I opened one even the pages were made of paper thin sheets of gold.
I looked at the runes and then around the room before I headed to the door. I carried the book I had taken from the chest and started to close the doors. The lanterns went out and I was looking around the dim stone room I had fallen into. I saw another set of ancient wooden doors and went to open them.
Inside it was just dirt from a collapsed roof. It took me thirty minutes to climb out and into the hole I had dug. I rested and looked at the mage book before I grabbed my rifle and started for the city. I ignored the regular market places and the base and went to the dozen glittering towers connected by bridges high in the air.
I went through and to the one in the middle and walked to the door. I saw the servants and guards as they looked and watched me and began to pound on the door. A servant opened the door and sneered, “we do not want or...”
I snorted, “shut up and listen. Tell your master I have found an ancient mage burial chamber. It is full of gold and silver books like the one I hold.”
He looked at the book and then looked at me before he turned, “wait here.”
He closed the door and I turned and started walking. I went to a marketplace I had been to many times. I sat in a small eatery and set the book on the table and ordered tea and fish cakes. I was eating when a very old looking mage sat across from me. I glanced at him and he looked at the book, “you did not wait.”
I snorted, “I do not like bad manners or to be treated like I am nothing.”
He blinked and then nodded, “I see I need to speak with my servant.”
He gestured to the book and I pushed it to him and waved to the owner of the eatery, “tea momma.”
She bowed turned and a teenage girl hurried out. The mage was silently turning pages and murmuring. He sipped the tea and finally closed the book, “what do you want?”
I smiled, “I could melt the books for the metal.”
He shifted and hesitated, “sorry. What is it you wish?”
I sat back, “a protected barn and a well.”
He blinked, “a barn and a well? That is it?”
I shrugged, “yes.”
He grinned and then laughed, “I like you.”
He stood and bowed, “if you would show me the way?”
I stood and set a silver coin on the table, “thanks momma.”
She nodded and watched as we left. The mage seemed a lot more alive than he looked and walked with a long stride. He kept glancing at me as we left the city and I took the rifle off my shoulder. When we got to my farm he looked at the stuffed creatures and then started laughing.
He created spiraling packed dirt stairs down into the chamber I had fallen into. When he pushed open the doors and the lanterns came on he froze. He stared at everything before finally looking at me, “a barn and well?”
I nodded and he shook his head, “what you see is worth...”
He shrugged, “a lot.”
I shifted, “and who would have the gold to pay for it? This war is even costing you mages.”
He sighed and nodded, “true. Very well.”
He patted my shoulder, “would you mind if I removed the books slowly?”
I shook my head and we walked out. He put a protection spell on my barn and created a large basin with a fountain of clear water. He even had dinner with me before leaving. The next morning I had six drakes leap over and into a field and charge my horses. I knelt and aimed and shot the first.
The others changed direction and came for me. I shot a second in the chest and a third in the neck. The last three slowed and I shot one in the throat. As it went down the last two turned to flee. I knew drakes well, they would run now but they would sneak back later. I aimed and shot one in the back of the neck and the last leaped a bush and vanished.
I growled as I stood and looked at the dead animals before I went to get knives. After I skinned them I removed the heads and feet. I had to cut them up to move the bodies since the horses would not come near. I was doing the last one when the mage and his servant arrived. He was not paying attention and I was lucky to see him.
I looked around like I had been doing all the time and saw the last drake stalking the mage. I wiped my hand and picked up my rifle. It was a long shot but I aimed and took a breath before I squeezed the trigger. The rifle kicked and roared and the round cracked and the head of the distant drake snapped to the side before it fell.
The mage looked at me and his servant yelled to hold my fire. The mage turned to see the dying drake and shook his head. After I had finished the one stalking the mage I washed the drake stones, some were emeralds and others had a few sapphires. There were also a lot of regular rocks and stones so their pocket of gems must have run out.
Drakes preferred gems and could or seemed to be able to smell them. I was cleaning the hides at noon when the mage returned and behind him were two teenage girls. He walked to me and smiled, “I brought you a couple of girls. They both know how to cook, which you seemed to be having problems with.”
I grinned and he looked at the girls, “the smaller one is Angel and besides having a very lovely butt she has an eye for business. She can find a buyer for your crop and your stuffed creatures. Hope has a minor finder ability and can find ways to move your crop or merchandise across the country if needed.”
I looked at the girls and he chuckled, “they were worried I was to old to breed them but seemed very happy when I told them about you.”
I blushed as they grinned and I turned to point to my front door. I had to move the horses and make sure they had not hurt themselves before I came back. I went down to see if I could remove the earth inside the other set of doors. It was hours before I walked into my house. I looked at the first room and it just seemed different and more like a kitchen and dining area.
Angel smiled, “we are cleaning and moving things around.”
I nodded, “it looks very nice.”
I washed and then left and went to the other end of the float cars. The last was where I cleaned, tanned and stuffed the creatures. I stopped and stared at three separate areas alive with animated metal hands and arms. Right now the first area was cleaning the drake hides, heads and feet. The second was weaving a wire mesh body, the last was or seemed to be making glass eyes.
I shook my head, “that crazy mage.”
.... There is more of this story ...