Vlad certainly had no intention of becoming Vlad the Dragonslayer that fine May morning. In fact he was only supposed to go as far as Willow-on-Taukney to buy his mum a wheel of fine Taukneyshire cheddar. Vlad's mum had always told him never to talk to wizards but the stories had been so fine, so mesmerizing. Vlad hadn't seen harm in talking to old Genikar for just a moment. None of that helped as he crouched in a damp little cave that Genikar had claimed was a forgotten gateway to the ancient Dwarf Runs of Mount Feneelzin. He lightly and repeatedly struck his head on the grim basalt before him, muttering "Stupid, stupid!" under his breath.
Vlad was from good solid Middlelands stock. The people of the Middlelands were not big on adventures - Vlad's own Da had often said "Ye can keep yere epic quests! Me, I'm just for a hot meal and a full flagon!" As a wee bairn Vlad remembered sitting by the hearth down at the Wet Whistle, listening to Genikar spin his tales of great heroes and kings, staying until his Da cuffed him for staying up so late and sent him home to bed. Every tale would end with the prince rescuing the fair princess or the hero slaying the foul monster terrorizing the countryfolk. And the men of Ambleshire would roar with laughter and refill Genikar's flagon and thank the gods that there was no heroing needed there in the Middlelands.
Vlad grunted disgustedly. "Oi!" he thought to himself. "If me Da could see me now he'd cuff me so hard I'd miss next Tuesday! And where be Genikar now with all his fine tales of adventure and luscious appreciative wenches? He's gone and knocked his fool self out casting some damn-fool spell and now’s likely down that overgrown lizard’s gullet! Leaving me here in a fine little pickle - an angry dragon outside and me with just a little skinning knife that wouldn't scare a large rabbit!"
Not that Genikar had come right out and said to Vlad "Hey, wanna go slay a dragon?" Oh no. At first Genikar had just needed a "little help" getting a cart to Danestown - the roads were boggy and he was afraid his swaybacked old mare wouldn't be able to pull the cart out of a mudhole. The wily old mage had even offered to buy his mum's wheel of cheddar as payment for Vlad going out of his way. So Vlad's best mate Davin had gone back to Ambleshire carrying Vlad's mum's cheese and Vlad had agreed to stay a day and help Genikar over the Taukney ferry and down the muddy path to Danestown. Of course in Danestown it had been a shiny guinea to stay on and get Genikar's goods to the border. Each simple step lead to his next involvement and before he knew it Vlad was huddling in the back of a forgotten cave hoping a dragon wouldn't hear his breathing.
The dragon was nothing like the soaring magnificent creatures of Genikar’s tales either. It didn’t speak and it didn’t swoop through the sky with the sun glistening on iridescent jewel-like scales. The beast had wings aye, but Vlad was more likely to get airborne than this hulking creature. It scrabbled along, a vast serpentine belly clearing the ground by mere inches on stubby legs. Vlad’s eyes watered as an errant breeze brought the foul carrion stench of the beast to the back of the cave.
“And where is his vast horde of gold and treasure anyway?” Vlad muttered to himself in disgust. He looked around the dank cave where he huddled but saw nothing more than stone outcroppings and a few piles of ash.
“Give Genikar his due. His tales got the firebreathing right at least. Guess that why yon lizard doesn’t mind the damp.” Vlad clamped his hand over his own mouth as the dragon’s head rose up. The triangular snout turned to the rear of the cave. It sniffed the air, nostrils larger than dinner plates flaring wide. Vlad wished he could strike his head on the rock again but he knew he couldn’t afford the slightest risk of a sound.
The dragon stepped further into the cave, still snuffling at the now-still air. Vlad held his breath in an attempt to be completely still. Still suspicious of something the dragon sucked in a huge breath and then pursed its muzzle in a dainty moue. Vlad would have chuckled except the dragon then exhaled a narrow ribbon of flame that reached to the back of the cave, just a scant foot from where Vlad hid. The fire roared greedily as Vlad recoiled from the sudden heat. To his great horror he collided with a stalactite behind him and broke off the tip. The stone shards clattered noisily down the back wall. The dragon lumbered forward, nearly filling the cave mouth with scaly bulk.
“That’s it, I’m in the soup now. If I don’t go now I’ll never have the space to squeeze past. If I get eaten by a dragon, I’ll hope I can haunt Genikar’s shade in the afterlife!” Vlad muttered, past caring if the dragon heard him. Hoping for an element of surprise Vlad placed both hands on the rock in front of him and vaulted over. Or he tried but cold and cramped muscles failed him and instead he sprawled gracelessly on his stomach right in front of the dragon’s questing snout. Vlad got his surprise though, and the dragon reared back its head away from Vlad’s sprawled form.
“Heeeeyyaaaa!” Vlad screamed and pushed off the ground, clumsily scrambling back onto his feet. He stumbled forward and brandished his skinning knife. “Come on you misbegotten overgrown salamander! I’m not afraid of ye!” Vlad’s voice cracked on the “ye”, which rather ruined the dramatic effect.
The dragon blinked in surprise and paused briefly before inhaling again. Vlad watched carefully and when the dragon stopped inhaling he tumbled madly forward. He somersaulted a half-dozen times, veering randomly to the left or right with each tumble. The dragon exhaled flame and came close enough to singe Vlad’s beard but didn’t strike home. Vlad tumbled a last time and popped up next to a bulky forelimb almost as thick as his waist.
“Ye missed!” Vlad grinned nastily and stabbed at the shoulder with his skinning knife. He stared round-eyed as the blade broke harmlessly against the dragon’s ruddy scales with a metallic TING!
“Bugger!” Vlad cursed and then tossed the useless hilt at the dragon’s eye. The dragon caught the missile in its mouth and swallowed it.
“Smug little bastard, ye are!” Vlad muttered as he dove for the cave mouth. The dragon’s sinuous body still blocked most of the entrance, but the beast couldn’t move sideways at any speed and Vlad slipped past into the warm spring sunlight. Vlad smiled and stepped forward where he promptly tripped over Genikar’s body.
“Godsdamn! I thought ye had been eaten!” Vlad said. Genikar lay tossed at the cave mouth, one arm outstretched and his other hand clutching an amulet around his neck. The amulet flashed golden in the light, but more than that it seemed to pulse with an interior glow.
“I don’t recall seeing that before. Mayhap it is tied to your last spell?” Vlad reached out and tugged on the amulet. The clasp opened with a snick as if the amulet was eager to move. There was a bright flare as the necklace came free and then the amulet pulsed faster, synchronizing itself to Vlad’s racing heartbeat.
The dragon roared in rage, having doubled back in the cave and forced its head outside past its tail. Vlad blinked at the beast and quickly fastened the amulet around his own neck. He dropped the medallion inside his tunic, hissing as the metal touched his chest. It burned there with a cold fire and he reached to pull it out again when he noticed something that froze him in place. As soon as the amulet had touched his skin the dragon stopped looking at him, choosing instead to sniff the air as if unsure where Vlad had gone. Vlad paused for a moment, thinking of Genikar’s last spell, remembering th
e wizard speaking of going undetected through the dragon’s den. Vlad waved his hand in front of the dragon, at first tentatively but quickly gaining speed and energy.
“Hah! The wizard appears to have left me a mighty spell of concealment. Ho! I am away!” Vlad chuckled and boldly strode away, back down the path. It was only a matter of moments before he went around a bend in the path and was lost to sight.
Another ten minutes passed before Genikar blinked his eyes and stood up again, smiling as he brushed dirt from his robes. He straightened his hat as he made a mystic hand pass at the dragon. The dragon froze in place before fading into translucency and converting into a large body of crimson smoke.
“That should bait the hook nicely.” Genikar said to the evaporating smoke. “Now we wait.”
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