Senta looked at the fortress at the top of the hill. Set against the shadows of the mountain, one could almost be forgiven for thinking it was part of the rocks. Ringing it for almost a mile in every direction was a sea of mud brick and stone buildings. They were homes of lizzies, but up here, where the only trees were scraggly dwarfs, they couldn’t use lumber as their primary building material. She looked back to see the coral dragon curled up in a ball, floating a foot above the ground. Zoey had been asleep for five days, relying on her mistress’s magical floating disk to convey her along.
“Wake up, you silly dragon. We’re here.”
“Whoop-tee-doop,” said Zoey, without opening her eyes.
“It’s quite an impressive fortress. It looks very different than when I was here last.”
“Yes, it’s crawling with lizzies now,” said the dragon, peering up with one eye. “And there’s a veritable stream of them coming up that road.”
“That’s the road of supplicants,” said Senta. “They’re coming to worship Bessemer.”
“No wonder he’s so full of himself.”
Senta waved her hands and the magical disk vanished, but like the proverbial cat, Zoey landed on her feet, seemingly with no effort. Senta continued on and the dragon followed. As they neared the road, Senta could see that Zoey had been correct. There were literally thousands of lizzies on it, making their way to the fortress and to the god who lived within. They weren’t all walking though. A mile from the great gate, there was an arch over the road. Upon reaching it, the pilgrims dropped down onto their bellies to crawl the rest of the way, dragging their tales behind them. As Senta approached, the line of lizzies came to a stop as they all watched her. She stepped up onto the road and strode through the archway, then stepped over the crawling lizzies. As she passed each one, he too stopped and stared up at her.
She was still walking up the road, her path weaving around prostrated reptilians when she spied a lizzie rushing down the path toward her. He was an ornately painted male, wearing a bright red cloth cape. He was hissing as he hurried. Senta reached up and plucked one of the glamours from around her head, activating the spell stored within. Once it was in effect, she could understand the lizzie’s words.
“You should not be on this road, human! What do you think you are doing?”
Suddenly the red-caped lizzie spotted the small dragon behind her. He was so startled that he tripped on one of the prostrate lizzies, falling in a heap at the sorceress’s feet.
“Now, what are you going on about?” asked Senta, looking down.
“You’re her?” said the lizzie, looking up from the dirt. “Yes of course you are. The Great God said you were coming, but I didn’t recognize your paint and feathers. I thought you were a male human.”
Senta looked down at herself. She was dressed in what she often still thought of as her Zurfina garb—black leather pants and high black boots, and a black leather bustier in place of a shirt. Of course the entire ensemble carried magic spells to make it her most comfortable set of clothing. She reached up and cupped her breasts.
“Yes, mammary glands, I see them now,” said the lizzie, rising to his feet, “but you have neither a very large bottom, nor a long tuft of hair.”
Senta ran a hand over her head. She was still wearing her blond hair in a man’s short style, parted on the side and razor-cut around the ears and neck. Of course, since she wasn’t wearing a dress, she didn’t have on the bustle that recent dress styles were requiring to be larger than ever.
The lizzie brushed himself off and then bowed.
“I am Khastla, the god’s most trusted. You should follow me. We will take the road of guests.
The red-caped male led the human and the dragon up a path paved with shiny river stones. It wound up the hill, sometimes approaching the main road and sometimes veering farther away. Finally it led to a small but beautiful gate in the cyclopean fortress wall. It was not as large as the main gate, but was lined with two beautifully carved statues of Bessemer.
The fortress had been completely rebuilt from the ruin it had been when Senta had been there before. Inside the walls were numerous tall buildings, constructed with smooth façades, but featuring many window boxes filled with flowers. Between the buildings were flowerbeds, walkways of colorful pebbles shaded with fruit trees covered in blossoms, and fountains which sprayed out water that was collected into little gutters that wound in and out to feed the plants. Hundreds of lizzies were working, cleaning, polishing, and gardening.
“This is all quite lovely,” said Senta.
Zoey gave a dismissive snort, sending a little smoke ring out of her right nostril.
“Pease follow me,” said Khastla. “The god has chosen the finest accommodations for you.”
He led them to a large three-story structure with a double door of heavily polished wood. Inside they found a spacious room decorated with mosaics on all four walls. A large stone hearth sat in the center of the room, with funnel-shaped device reaching down from the ceiling over it, obviously designed to vent the smoke from the fire. Around it were arranged two plush couches, and three large padded chairs with matching tuffets. Though the couches looked just like those found in any Brech home, the chairs were just slightly odd, a little too short, a bit too deep, and much too large for a human.
“These come all the way from Mallontah,” said Khastla proudly pointing first at the couches, and then the chairs, “and these were made by our finest craftsmen.”
“Very nice,” said Senta.
“This is nice,” said the dragon, shooting across the room and curling up in one of the chairs. “Much nicer than we have at home.”
“Szarine! Your guests are here!”