by Jay Requard

Oh, for Agni’s sake.

I heard her footsteps well before the little idiot entered my cave, when the wind roared through the trees as the fleshed mammals of the forest skittered to escape the crashing of her march. The smell of oiled iron, the thud of well-worn boots, and the clatter of what was probably a mess-kit—I can’t tell you how many mortals left home without one.

Another adventurer.

My stomach growled. I gave a lazy look to the horde of gold, gems, and gaudiness piled beneath me. Part of the joy of sleeping on a pile of treasure was that it allowed me to keep cool during the hot summers, sloughing the dead scales from my body as I tossed and turned in the midst of fretful sleep. What tossing and turning didn’t do was make me hungry.

Getting up, the hassle of putting the show their kind expected—why would I want to?

But these adventurers apparently knew nothing about naps. I’d be hungry after I moved around trying to hold off some nut with a hero-fetish, who would hardly be mouthful, and then the forest would burn, the villagers would cry “Awful beast! Awful beast,” and then I’d be out of my nice little cave, my nice little treasure, and itchier than a whore with bugs in her skirts.

Her outline breached the lighted maw of the cave, one I had chosen high up in the mountains, one that I had hoped at such distances and climbs would dissuade lazy treasure hunters. She was a slight thing, too small for the massive ax slung to her back. The helmet on her head, two sizes too big, rested its painful weight on her shoulders as she tramped in, her mail clanking all the way. Her small grunts reached my ears each time she moved.

Barely a mouthful and helpless. Again, why would I want to get up for that?

“Could we not?” I called, my first words uttered in a decade.

Startled by my address, the girl yelped before slipping on the smooth stone flow, which had been sanded clean when I first crawled into my abode. Rolling in a twisting, yipping, crashing mess, she skipped like a stone to the base of my glittering litter.

A moan of shock escaped as I looked down upon her, my ruby eyes reflected in the minute pools of her own. Wings unfurled, I spread my shadow until it swallowed her. Her breath stopped, and in a sliver of a second, so did her heart. Her eyes widened in an unexpected way I thought impossible for a more beautiful human, though she wasn’t unhandsome, as the apes went. I wondered if I could tap my fore-claw on her armored chest and crack her open like a nut.

“Look,” I said, ignoring the temptation, “As delectable as I think you’d be, I really don’t want to get up.”

“Help me,” she blurted.

“Help you?” I puffed smoke from my nostrils in amusement. “I have heard many reactions in my time, in many languages from many mouths, yet none have ever asked for help. They usually whimper before they soil themselves.”

“Help me,” she repeated, mewing. “They’re slaughtering them. The giants are slaughtering my village.”

“What do you think this is?” I asked. “You always try to tame me, your kind, when you’re not trying to split my skull open. Once again, you elevated monkeys have no sense of station or propriety, and yet here you are, asking for help. What do you get off?”

“We…we promise to forever leave you be. We won’t tell of your gold, of your legend. We will remain silent,” the girl said, broken by her awe of me. “We’ll leave you alone. We’ll even feed you.”

Oh my. A sliver of peace, no word of where I laid, the luxury of a steady cow here and there—an attractive the offer.

“I do have quite the reputation,” I acknowledged. “But who am I to turn down a good bull now and again?”

* * *

The waft of roasted flesh intoxicated my senses as I glided over fields of wavering light, the heat fresh on my sinuous form. Powered by the typhoon force of my wings, I surveyed the earth left ravaged in my wake, with all, giant and man, purified to state where they would grow, reborn as fresh grass, flowers, or perhaps the center of the some tree. All were fine aspirations.

I circled until morning edged the smoky horizon in a sickly color; yellow bile seen through an emerald. The land embraced me among the singed remains of the girl’s town. She stood there, this dumb little adventurer, on a high hill that overlooked the breadth of my kingdom. From her view I imagined it looked less like clear devastation, but more an ashen miasma, as if the taste of my tongue had burned so hot that all life had perished in clouds of dust, with whatever left behind caught in reliefs of black brittle. Not my finest work, but the beauty sufficed.

“Why?” she asked when I loomed. “We offered you peace and worship. We offered you quiet.”

“My dear, what is the difference between the peace of blight and the peace of paltry words? That way I see it, I have assured a more honest peace, a blemish-less quiet, and no neighbors to break promises. And your cows are still out there, alive and lowing. I shall feast well.”

“But no tales will be told,” she screamed, reduced to absolute stillness. She could failed to lift her ax, too taken with the glory I had created before her. “The world knows of us. There will be quests, questions, histories extracted from the dead. They will find you.”

“Which serves me still, my dear,” I said, gleeful. “I do have quite the reputation, you know.”

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Jay Requard
Jay Requard is a Epic Fantasy author from North Carolina. When not writing, he spends his time reading, cooking, lifting kettlebells, and drinking tea. He has a fluffy cat named Mona.

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