Ahriman shifted uncomfortably on the sandy cave floor; no matter what position he took, small, devilish rocks managed to lodge themselves under his scales, making each one ache like a sore tooth. He looked with disgust at his hide – it once had a been a bright, glowing iridescent bronze, now it was a rather dull, sad looking coppery color. The horns on the right side of his head had broken, the skin underneath was sore and tender, and on that same side his eye dripped small drops of blood. His broken wing felt like it would take a least a month of bonecraft to get to the point it could bear the strain of flying.
He looked at the three prosthetic claws on his right front foot. The bioclaw was still intact for the most part, a lucky relief, since it would figure so prominently in his current plans. The commclaw was damaged, that was less of a worry – any communications with Dragonhome would be tracked anyway. Fortunately, its research databases were still intact and accessible, the main damage had been to the uplink graft. Also, most of its secondary functions were still intact, and might be of some use. Not surprisingly, the plasclaw was completely destroyed. He eyed it sourly. Even steelskin couldn’t survive a plasma arc meltdown, apparently. The connective tissue attachments were burned, raw and exquisitely tender, the grafted implants frayed and dead looking. When he licked it gingerly to clean it, he could still detect a slight whiff of ozone. It would take months of careful bone, gene and bloodcrafting to generate a functional replacement. It could be done, but it would take time and careful focus. But time was one thing he had.
In all honesty, he was surprised that these were the only injuries he had sustained. Hacking the timelink was extremely dangerous, but it was not like he had been spoiled for choice.
In a moment of indulgence, he allowed himself to dwell for a moment on his current circumstances. Living in a hole in the side of a mountain like an animal. Having to hunt for himself, and then eat raw meat. The cave floor was becoming untidy with scraps of wool and cracked bones. There was a distinctly unpleasant gamey odor about the place. And, there had been that disgusting infestation of sucking creatures that had attached themselves to his tender skin in the hollows of his front legs when he had tried to bathe. That did not bear thinking about.
He thought for a longing moment of his comfortable dwelling at Ahmirhold. His heated bathing pools, opulent furnishings and clever servants, each customized to his exact specifications. He particularly grieved for the loss of his chef, who had been extremely gifted in utilizing spices and exotic meats in new and interesting ways.
But, Ahmirhold was lost to him, for now at least, and there was no sense in wallowing in self-pity and nostalgia.
After all, this version of Earth definitely had possibilities for improving his rather wretched state. Granted, the dominant species here, the humans, were shockingly primitive, but with the bonding infection, their genetic makeup could be redesigned to make them useful indeed. Ahriman growled to himself a bit in self-satisfaction. The accident all those many years ago with the initial planetary survey team had proven fortuitous. The loathsomely stupid and savage humans had had the temerity to attack the Great Dragon leading the team (at the time the Royal Society had decreed this particular area Earth 9871 unoccupied, so the survey team had been completely taken unawares). In the ensuing fracas, there had been some cross contamination between the blood of the Great Dragon and some of the injured humans. The humans became quite ill, but the ones that survived became pliable and useful servants who could not bear to be parted from their master. They had been taken back to Dragonhome, where they were viewed for a time as interesting and pitiable oddities.
And in some cases, research projects. Too bad that enterprise had ended so badly. Indeed, ended with him imprisoned for treason.
Well, there was nothing for it. He had escaped, he was here, and it was time to get to work.
With enough experimentation, he was sure he could easily genecraft humans here on Earth 9871 to fit his needs nicely. Granted, the 50% mortality rate from the infection was unfortunate, but the ones that survived would be lifted up from from their lives of ignorance and drudgery to become something puissant and noble.
It would take a little finesse in selling the idea to present day humanity, of course. And more than a certain measure of guile. And showmanship. Humans were a superstitious lot. And even though they were small and relatively weak, enough of them could indeed bring down even a Great Dragon with their arrows and spears.
Ahriman carefully searched through the implant databank to pull up more detailed information about this time, location and language. Thessaly. In the period of human history that would eventually be classified as the Bronze Age.
It was time to start implementing the plans he had thought so long and hard about when imprisoned.
The next morning, Ahriman polished himself as best he could on the sand beach, then walked up into the hills where he had been hunting among great flocks of sheep. He knew that the shepherds were not best pleased with his depredations and would probably be a bit out of sorts. Unfortunate, but not surprising. He chose a rocky outcropping that overlooked a prominent sheep trail threading through a shallow valley and sat down patiently to wait. He was sure to position himself so that the worst of his injuries were out of sight, curling his tail neatly around his legs.
He didn’t have to wait long before he heard the plaintive baas of sheep coming up the trail and two shepherds chatting with each other.
They came round the bend into the valley and never looked up. Ahriman rolled his eyes a bit. Dolts. Well – this species was what he had to work with. He made a mental adjustment to his commclaw so that his voice boomed down into the little valley.
“Behold! Ahriman, beloved of the Sun God has come!” he cried, lifting his wings for effect, trying not to wince at the pain in the damaged one.
The two shepherds, both small, wiry, dark haired men, looked up in shock. The sheep scattered in all directions. The men took off also, but Ahriman quickly leapt down and snatched one up before he could get out of the little valley. He held him none too gently in his claws.
“I require you to take a message to your king,” he said, eyeing the man darkly.
The man was trembling enough to make his own bones rattle.
“Tell him that Ahriman has come, and I wish to parlay with him.”
The man continued to tremble but managed to squeak out, “But I don’t know the king. I have only been to Larissa on market day. Never to the palace, never!”
“FOOL!” Ahriman boomed, giving the man a hard shake, “I did not ask you who or what you knew, or for information on your shopping excursions. I need you to take a message to the king and you will do it. Or….
Ahriman showed him his teeth, “I will hunt you down and all your kin. I can go to market too, you see.”
Ahriman knew that it would probably be a least a day or more for the wretched shepherd to make his way to Larissa to fetch the king. So, he used his time wisely, making himself more presentable, adjusting some of the features of his commclaw, and helping himself to a few more of the hapless sheep. When he felt the time was about right, he resumed his position on the convenient outcropping, and enjoyed a bit of sun. Within just a few hours, he heard the heavy pounding of horse hooves. Just over the ridge, a group of warriors came galloping towards him. They made their way into the little valley.
Quickly, he stood and activated the hologram from his commclaw. It cast him into a glowing gold nimbus, and he called out in his booming voice.
“WHO APPROACHES AHRIMAN THE GREAT?”
The horses immediately began bucking and shying, some turned tail and ran out of the valley, carrying their riders with them. The two leading riders and another man were thrown, and they took a bit of time scrambling to their feet. Two were dressed in rather ornate bronze armor, and one carried a spear, the other had a long sword at his hip. The other was in black robes and carried some sort of staff. He seemed quite stiff and old and had to be helped up from the ground by the other men. They stared up at Ahriman for a moment, then began approaching cautiously.
Ahriman waited quietly, dimming the hologram a bit.
“Begone Monster!” one of them cried, brandishing his spear, “Leave these lands, or you will feel my lance.”
Ahriman looked at him closely and slipped his tongue out, tasting the pheromones in the air. Ah, a young one – seeking to impress. Ahriman bowed his head slightly.
“You are brave, young warrior,” he said in his most reasonable tones, “but did the messenger I sent not tell you? I wish to parlay. I come as a representative of the Sun God, to speak with the king.”
The old man in the robes spoke up quickly, waving his staff.
“We do not know your Sun God here, we are loyal to the Storm King, like all civilized people,” he said pompously.
Ahriman looked at him sidelong. Bad data. Those planetary surveys could be notoriously scant on details.
“Well, er, yes, of course,” he said after a moment, extemporizing, “The Sun God and the Storm King are brothers, ruling the sky with their, er, sister, the Moon Queen. Do you not know this, Priest?”
The old priest shifted uncomfortably, and glanced at the older man, standing quietly beside him. Ah, this one was the king then.
“I do not mean to give offense,” the priest said more reasonably, “We have not heard these things in this land.”
“Uh, no, you would not have, Great Priest,” Ahriman said, watching the old man puff a little at the flattery, “The Sun King and the Moon Queen do not see fit to meddle in the affairs of men.”
“But now, the Storm King is hard beset,” he continued, putting a note of urgency into his voice, “War has come to the Storm King’s realm, great evil is being done by the Gods of the Hittites. The Storm King requested his brother send his greatest general to ask the humans for aid. And I have come!”
Ahriman took a noble pose, but still kept an eye on the men below.
The priest looked shocked at this information, and opened his mouth to speak, but the older man shushed him.
“I am King Peleus, ruler of these lands,” he said, bowing slightly before Ahriman, “And I have ridden here with my heir, and the Chief Priest of the Storm King when we received your message. What would the Gods have of us? We are but a simple people, tending our flocks and fields. We know little of matters of this import. Surely the Storm King knows that leaving our people alone, to fend for themselves, without the strong backs of our men would make for a great hardship.”
Ahriman looked askance at Peleus, noting his armor’s well used appearance. Data indicated that these people, the Myrmidons, were notorious thieves, pirates, slavers, warriors and general makers of mischief. Apparently, this king liked to haggle. Even with the Gods. Ahriman snorted slightly with amusement.
“Not only am I a mighty warrior in my own right, I carry the Blessing of the Gods in my veins,” Ahriman said, leaning down, focusing on the men in front of them, “One drop, and your warriors can become like demigods themselves. No army will be able to withstand them.”
The King looked at him skeptically but the younger one appeared interested.
“Of course, the Hittites are an evil people,” Ahriman continued casually, “But they have great wealth. Great cities. Beautiful women. It is an offense to the just Gods that the wicked should prosper so.”
“Yes, you speak truthfully, Lord Ahriman,” the King said smiling thinly, “The Hittites are a wicked bunch, and the righteous should make them pay for their crimes.”
Several months later, Ahriman stood in the courtyard adjacent to his new dwellings, inspecting his newest ‘recruits.’ This was the fifth such group he had worked with – prior experiments had delivered mixed results. The upside was he had enough bonded servants now to keep him well cleaned and groomed, and he had two that were making progress as personal chefs.
Sadly, mortality rate had run between 30-50% of the test subjects (disobedient penestae and criminals for the most part). Ahriman’s excuses about the low quality of subjects not being ‘worthy’ of the ‘Blessing’ had worn thin with King Peleus. The King was reluctant to give over his finest warriors unless he had proof that they would indeed become the supermen that Ahriman claimed he could create.
In truth, Ahriman was becoming more than a bit irritated with King Peleus, and his pointed comments when he watched the bodies being carted from Ahriman’s ‘laboratory’ that he had had constructed in an old stable adjacent to the palace. And his even more pointed comments about Ahriman’s predation into the local sheep and cattle herds.
But progress had been made, a bit of a breakthrough actually with the last group. Ahriman had finally identified the gene sequence that provided resistance to the blood pathogen, and the men that stood in front of him, all warriors, had the needed gene sequence. He had also been able to tweak the pathogen serum a bit so that the bonded humans could escape the slavish devotion shown by the humans that had be brought to Dragonhome. In any event, that had turned out to vary quite a bit by individual in any event, and had a tendency to follow personality traits. He was also able to add in some specific modifications that enhance many of the subjects’ physical abilities.
Ahriman looked at the 12 men, all standing in the courtyard at rigid attention. Their bronze armor was spotless and shone nearly golden in the sun. They each carried large shields, and had good quality swords at their sides. These men were all volunteers. Peleus had grudgingly approved their participation in the experiment.
They looked at him expectantly. It appeared some sort of speech was in order. Ahriman bowed his head to the group.
“You stand before me, chosen of the Gods themselves!” he said in ringing tones, standing to his full height (his shoulder nearly reached the eve of the stable), “And none will stand against you! We will ride forth and smite the evil in the East!”
The men responded with a sharp “humph” and banged their spears against their shields.
“Come forth now, and receive the Gods’ Blessing!”
The men formed a line in front of Ahriman. He was still working on a more easily handled delivery system for the serum, but for now he just used the hypoinjection graft that was in his bioclaw. It was a bit large and painful for the humans, but as long as they refrained from squirming too much it didn’t cause an excessive amount of damage. These warriors took the inoculation stoically.
Once finished they made their way into the area of the stables where they could be tended by the physicians (if you could call them that) during their transition. Ahriman hoped his analysis was correct and they all would survive the illness, as these were excellent specimens.
Ahriman turned to see the young prince standing in the courtyard.
“Yes, my prince,” Ahriman answered politely, “How may I be of service?”
“I want the Blessing.”
Ahriman frowned at the young man. He couldn’t be more than 17. He was well built and handsome – at least the young females seemed to think so. Ahriman leaned his head down to examine him more closely. The boy stood quite still.
“My lord!” Ahriman said, “Does the King know you have come?”
The young man looked away, uncomfortably.
“We have spoken of it.”
Ahriman chuckled. The young, they were all the same, no matter what the species.
“And did he agree?”
The Prince looked up an Ahriman, his jaw set.
“By the laws of this land I am a man, I chose my own way. Am I worthy or not?”
“Give me you arm,” Ahriman said.
The Prince held out his arm and Ahriman took a blood sample. The boy stood stoically as his arm was jabbed with the needle from the bioclaw. In just a few seconds Ahriman had the results. The prince had required sequence. Ahriman chuckled again.
“I’m sure King Peleus will not be pleased with me if I allow you to take this route.”
The Prince looked at him angrily.
“Are you his servant then? I was under the mistaken impression that you were beloved of the Gods! That you answered to no man.”
Ahriman reared up to his full height and hissed loudly. Quick as a striking snake he hit the prince in the shoulder with his bioclaw and gave him the hypo that contained the pathogen. The Prince clutched his shoulder in shock then slumped to the ground.
“No, you fool. MEN ANSWER TO ME,” Ahriman said in a booming voice.
He glowered over the prostrate boy for a moment. Arrogant insect, he thought angrily. Then, he calmed himself. He would work this to his advantage.
Ahriman called out to the servants.
“The Prince has received the Blessing, come and tend to him!”
Five days later Ahriman stood in the courtyard. The sun was bright and hot. His scales gleamed with a golden sheen that was nearly blinding.The King stood with him.
“It is a lucky thing indeed that my son still lives,” Peleus said, looking at Ahriman levelly.
“It was not luck, Peleus,” the dragon replied coolly, “It was the will of the Gods.”
“Myrmidons, come forth!” he cried out.
Twelve men came into the courtyard and formed ranks in front of the dragon. They placed their hands on their chests and bowed their heads. They were taller, their shoulders broader, their arms thick with muscle and sinew.
King Peleus looked at them and nodded, obviously pleased.
“And where is my son?” Peleus asked.
“My Prince, the king calls for you,” Ahriman called into the recesses of the laboratory.
A figure emerged from the shadows of the door. Tall, dark hair streamed past his shoulders. He was no longer a youth, but a man, taller than the others, and even broader of shoulder and more muscled. He strode into the courtyard and stood before the dragon. He bowed his head and placed his hand over his heart.
“I am here, my Lord,” he said.
“Indeed, you are.” Ahriman said. He turned to the king, who looked at his son with a mixture of wonder and horror.
“So, this is the army we would use to march on he Hittites? 13 warriors? An unlucky number,” Peleus said trying to recover himself, but his eyes never left his son.
The Prince looked at his father, his dark eyes cold.
“We are the Blessed of the Gods, King, have a care with your words. We march where Lord Ahriman bids,” he said, his voice cold and distant.
Peleus stared at the men, his mouth agape.
“What are we unleashing on the world? What have you done to my son?” he whispered to himself.
“The Wrath of Gods,” Ahriman said, rising to his full height and looking down upon the beginnings of his army.
“And command of this army will go to you, my Prince,” he said, looking down on his newest creation with pride.
“Call me by my given name, Lord, I am the spear of the Gods before I am a prince. And you are my general.”
Ahriman looked down at his new achievement fondly.
“And spear of the Gods you will be, Lord Achilles.”
Achilles looked up at the looming dragon and smiled, his teeth showing long and pointed like knives.