Hundreds of miles to the southeast of Port Dechantagne, the lizzie city of Yessonarah stretched across the sloping side of the great hill the lizzies had named Zsahnoon. Less than three years old, the city already housed more than 100,000 reptilians, and more were arriving every week. At the city’s northern edge, it touched the shore of Lake Tsinnook, created when the River Ssukhas was dammed. On the east, the city was protected by a great stone wall running from the edge of the hill to the lake, but there was only a wooden wall on the west side, and it had several large gaps in it. Amid a sea of square wooden houses were two dozen stone foundations that would someday hold important public buildings, but as yet only two such buildings existed. The first, the great palace of the king was in use, though it was only about two thirds completed. The other was the first great temple to the lizardmen’s god Yessonar.
High Priestess Tokkenoht stood at the top of the stepped pyramid, 130 feet above the city streets. The pyramid’s design was different from temples in any other Birmisian city, as so many things about Yessonarah were different. Each of the nine levels, representing the nine ages of the universe, was covered in smooth white limestone. The staircase running up the pyramid’s front, from the base to the top, was marble trimmed with red brick fired in a kiln, a process learned from the soft-skins. Behind her, the square vault was dark grey marble, with a copper frieze and a doorway trimmed in copper. And on either side of that doorway was a sculpture of the god, carved of stone but covered in silver. The top of the vault was of course flat, to give the god a place to sit when he came to visit.
The temple’s dedication was still three days a way, but everything was coming along. With a quick glance at the acolytes stationed at the vault, Tokkenoht descended the great staircase. A hundred or more lizzies, mostly new arrivals to the city, stopped what they were doing to watch her. She was quite a spectacle. Her smooth green skin was painted azure blue, with zigzag designs of bright yellow down her belly. She wore a cape made of feathers of all colors of the rainbow, from crimson achillobator feathers near her tail, to bright blue utahraptor feathers poking up to form a collar behind her head.
When she reached the street, the crowd parted for her, some of them bowing low. She hissed pleasantly to them and then climbed into her sedan chair, an enclosed seat carried litter-like by the four large males, their bodies painted white, who waited beside it. It was a not a long journey to the palace, but the streets were busy, so by the time they arrived, the sun was already dropping toward the western horizon. When the bearers sat her chair down, Tokkenoht dismissed them for the day and walked quickly up the steps to the residence.
“Welcome home, High Priestess,” said Sirris, waiting at the top. She had no paint or feathers, but wore a large gold necklace, with a Yessonar pendant.
“Thank you, wife of my husband. Were you waiting to speak with me?”
“No. I just stepped out here. I am on my way to check with Ssu and see that all the preparations are complete.”
“I will go with you,” said Tokkenoht. “I want to see the… what was that soft-skin word that Kendra used?”
“Yes. I want to see the children.”
Together, they walked through an ornately carved archway and into the royal gardens. The gardens were not particularly impressive at the moment, as the winter plants were past their prime. It wouldn’t be long till they were pulled out and replaced with spring flowers. But the colorful birds in the aviaries still sang and the fountains still sprayed their jets of water.
Just past the gardens were five plots of carefully prepared soil, and just beyond them, a huge cage. Built like the aviaries, the cage was a half dome made of mesh wire over a wooden frame. Unlike the aviaries though, which were twenty feet in diameter, this great cage was one hundred feet across. Inside was a carefully created environment, replicating the forests that stretched out hundreds of miles in every direction.
Ssu sat on a stone bench, watching the inhabitants of the cage. Tokkenoht and Sirris stopped beside her and looked. Scampering around inside the enclosure were some one hundred little lizzie offspring. Half of them were over a year old and already starting to walk upright. The other half, not yet yearlings, were still on all fours, scarcely thirty inches long.
“How are they?” asked the high priestess.
“They are good,” said Ssu, flushing her dewlap in pleasure.
“Oh, that one is mine!” shouted Tokkenoht, spying a blue band on one of the little hind legs.
Yes, things in Yessonarah were very different. Everywhere else in the world, female lizzies laid their eggs in communal nests in the forest. An old female was usually assigned to watch over the nest until hatching, but after the hatching, the offspring ran wild until they were captured and civilized into a lizzie household, or they were eaten. But here, in Yessonarah, the females were keeping track of their eggs and their offspring. What had started two years before as an experiment among the wives of the king, had spread. Now every house in the city was preparing its own nest for the coming spawning, and its each house had its own egg keeper. In two more years, the first lizzies ever to know their parents would be old enough to join society. This was the reason that so many lizardmen were flocking to Yessonarah, especially females.
After the servants had stripped off her paint, and she had bathed, Tokkenoht walked into the hearth room and lay down on her mat, in the way of her kind, on her belly, arms down at her sides, and with her nose pointed toward the central fireplace. She had almost dozed off when Szakhandu lay down beside her.