The town says it has a dragon problem, but it might just be the other way around.
I checked some of the houses, expecting to find corpses strewn about the floors. Instead, I found nothing—as in, nothing. The barren floors lay fully exposed to the sunlight shooting through the uncovered windows. The bright white of the naked walls lit up the room, further emphasizing the lifelessness of the hollow abode. The dragon stole this town’s soul. I had to make her pay.
The only nearby mountain range was to the north of Longshore. I headed there to face this monster. On the way, though, I found several wheel tracks that dug deep into the ground. They led straight into the mountains. Hoping to find a militia waiting to fight alongside me, I confidently pressed forward. Yet, when I reached the base of the mountain, the tracks stopped, with not a trace of whoever made them to be found.
As I scaled the mountain, I shuddered to think of what awaited me. The shivering cold of the snow-covered mountain top couldn’t hold a candle to the icy dagger of fear shooting through my stomach. However, I had to keep going. I had to avenge the town that had surely fallen victim to the dragon’s merciless rage.
Finally, I reached the top, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw that miserable pile of crimson scales. I drew my sword and faced the beast.
“Your reign of terror ends here, you monster. I’ll make you pay for what you’ve done!”
“You want to take my life? Go ahead. They already took everything else.”
“Of...of course...they did,” I stuttered. “They fought valiantly to avenge their brethren! Now I will do the same.” She started sobbing and wheezing. Before long, she started coughing, as if she were choking on her own cries. I’d never seen such a pathetic sight. I almost started feeling sorry for this wretched creature.
“I know your game. You’re just a con artist waiting for the perfect moment to roast me alive.” She hung her head down and turned to me. Tears cascaded down her cheeks. Her regretful eyes pierced my heart. As she opened her mouth to speak, I dropped my sword.
“If I could roast you, I wouldn’t have needed my treasure, and they wouldn’t have...” she couldn’t finish. Instead, she collapsed under the weight of her own sadness. The wheezing echoed through the air. I feared that she would choke to death, but part of me suspected that she would’ve preferred that fate.
“Wouldn’t have what?” I asked.
“They wouldn’t have taken my baby!” She slammed her head into the ground and wailed into the snow. I had to do something before the wheezing kicked in and she started breathing snow. I nearly tripped over my sword as I ran over to get her head out of the snow. Her head alone weighed more than I did.
As I lifted her head, I stared into the eyes of a mother who would never see her child ever again. The burnt-orange sunset reflected off the lakes of sadness flooding from her eyes. Her tears extinguished the fire that once burned inside her, leaving nothing but ashes behind. What a tragic existence they left for her.
“Who took your baby?” I asked her.
“What do you care? You’re just here to kill me, so do it and get it over with.” I felt a disgraceful weight drop violently into my stomach. She was right. I did come to kill her, but I had been tricked. I could redeem myself, though.
“No. The town hired me to stop a monster, so help me find the people who took your baby so I can stop them and finish my mission.”
“They paid you to kill me, didn’t they? So why not just kill me?” That weight in my stomach turned into a fire. As I took a few steps back, I began to breathe more forcefully. Clenching my eyes and staring directly at her, I stomped my boot into the snow, sending my sword flying into the air. The metal of the blade reflected the sunset, covering the area in an aura of orange light. The fire inside me now surrounded me as I extended my arm to catch the blade. They just made this personal.
“Twenty years ago, my mother took me on one of her merchant runs. Bandits kidnapped me, hoping to ransom me back, but my mother couldn’t afford their demands. So they used me as a common thug until I escaped. I made it back to Longshore, only to find that my mother, overcome with grief, killed herself before I returned.”
“I won’t let history repeat itself. Where did they take your baby?”
“I heard them say something about Ossan.” That’s close to the capital city. Plenty of merchants and performers gather there to impress the nobles who venture from their palaces to enjoy the high life—not to mention bandits looking for rich targets.
“Take me there.”
“Why? I can’t do anything. If I try to breathe fire, I’ll just start wheezing again.”
“You want to bet? Now open your mouth.” She gave me a puzzled look but complied nonetheless. I climbed in, trying not to pierce her tongue with my sword.
“First, take me to Longshore. I need to pick up some supplies. Then, we head to Ossan.”
* * * * *
After we made it back to Longshore, I raided a few homes until I found a closed helmet. I then grabbed a red rug and draped it over myself. Next, I went to the alchemist’s shop and grabbed a few orange potions. Lastly, I took a barrel of wine. The dragon took one look at the barrel and instantly regretted trusted me.
“The wine’s for them, not for me,” I assured her. I don’t think she believed me, but she didn’t have much of a choice.
I loaded my items into her mouth, climbed back in, and off we went. I’ll give her all the credit in the world: I could hear her agonized groans as she tried to suppress her coughs. The supplies rocked back and forth as her stomach pulsated and her mouth braced for the next whimper. She had to breathe through her nose for the entire trip, lest she give me or my stuff a chance to fall. We made it, though. She did her job. Now it’s time for me to do mine.
“Hey, look! It’s the big scary dragon! Ooooh!” I heard a voice mockingly shout.
“We’re doomed! We’re gonna get coughed at!” joked a second voice, barely able to contain his laughter.
“Why don’t you try breathing fire?” he asked, before sarcastically answering his own question. “Oh, wait, you can’t!” Suddenly the whole town erupted into uproarious laughter. We’ll see how long that lasts when we show them how dangerous a cough can be. I punched the roof of the dragon’s mouth, and she let out a painful cough, releasing me but holding on to the barrel.
“You want fire?” I shouted in a gruff, intimidating voice as I fell from the sky. “I’ll give you fire.” I grabbed one of my potions, swung my arm to the side and flung the potion at the first laugher I saw. As soon as the potion hit, he burst into flames. He chaotically scrambled for a bit before tripping into a nearby bathtub. Suddenly, the whole town erupted into a panic.
“Now!” I yelled, looking up at the dragon. She spit out the wine barrel. I chucked another potion into the air. Upon impact, the sky lit up. The wine shot forth from the exploding barrel in every direction. Fire rained down from above. The dragon flapped her wings furiously, fanning the flames. I knew we wouldn’t do much damage—alcohol doesn’t burn that hot. Sometimes, however, style is just as effective as substance.
After the flames died out, I walked toward the cleared-out market and saw the baby. She had been caged, chained, and paraded in the city square for rich snobs to gawk at. I drew my sword and walked to the keeper, who stayed behind to guard the cage. I think he was too afraid to run from the flames. He couldn’t stop his scrawny legs from shaking in his boots. Just then, I heard the dragon wheezing.
“Care to meet my brother?” I asked the keeper. He emitted a few petrified gasps as he shook his head violently. Raising his hands and sweeping them from side to side, he wanted to make sure I didn’t misinterpret his panicked response.
“It’s alright! He’s cooperating!” I shouted. I didn’t bring anybody else for her to spit out, but the keeper didn’t need to know that. I motioned toward the gate, and the keeper rushed to unlock it. The baby bolted from her former prison and into her mother’s arms. I wanted to look up and enjoy the heartfelt reunion, but I had unfinished business.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” I declared. “You’re going to load everything you stole from my friends back into your carts and give it all back. Then you’re going to return to Longshore.” Everybody hung on to my every word.
“Once a month,” I continued, “I will come back to Longshore with some of the stuff and leave it in the town. You will then proceed to fill my empty cart with meat, which I will take back to my friends.” I swept my eyes across the city, looking for any sign of dissent.
“Does anybody have a problem with that?” I asked. Nobody dared challenge me—not with a fire-breathing dragon hovering over me. The townspeople scurried into their homes, gathering every piece of the dragon’s treasure, and loaded it into five carts. They then backed away, obediently waiting for my next move.
“Oh, and since I stopped the monsters, just like you asked, I’m taking these five carts as my payment.” I didn’t mention the equipment I looted, but I’m sure they wouldn’t have minded.
* * * * *
Life is pretty good. I have a cozy little cavern on top of a mountain, guarded by a fearsome dragon. Every month, with her at my side, I wheel my cart of goods to Longshore and exchange them for meat for us, just like my mother taught me. I still venture forth from time to time to collect bandit bounties and enforce justice. We do need a revenue stream to keep our treasury stocked, after all.
The baby’s growing up nicely. She’s a fast one and doesn’t have the same coughing problem as her mother. She makes for an amazing scout, always warning us of danger well in advance and keeping us three moves ahead.
As for the mother? She’s a legend. Most people have seen a dragon that can spit fire, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one that can cough knights into existence.
It's nice to have friends in high places.