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  1. For a tower to have been attacked by a dragon twice in the past two weeks, it seemed
  2. pretty undamaged.
  3.  
  4. At least, that's what I thought from half a mile down the road. Up close, it did look
  5. the part. Scorched ground and incinerated grass spread unevenly around it, blackened stone...
  6. And, in one or two places, it looked like the stone had just started to melt or run under the
  7. heat. The tower itself was intact- Good masonry and stone were evidently resistant to the odd
  8. flying lizard- but half the crenelation had been knocked off. And, closer, the odd scorched-
  9. clean bone and pile of warped metal suggested a fallen watchman or too.
  10.  
  11. "Welcome home, you sorry son of a bitch." I muttered as I dismounted to lead my horse
  12. up to the tower. Pausing to toe through a pile of bones and a broken sword, I couldn't help
  13. but mentally add, 'Hope you brought a coffin.'.
  14.  
  15. This was not exactly the best posting I'd ever gotten. Not only do a dozen deaths,
  16. two battles, and two weeks of abandonment do a number on the tower, but I'd like to think
  17. people are usually a little more subtle when sending their subordinates on one-way, suicide
  18. missions.
  19.  
  20. I paused at the tower's door. Normally, I'd pause to bury the bodies. Maybe a cairn
  21. instead, there certainly were enough rocks... But seeing as I was liable to join them shortly
  22. enough, I wasn't too keen on spending my last day digging graves. Might make me even more
  23. fatalistic than I was currently feeling.
  24.  
  25. And it wasn't like something was going to eat the bodies. There wasn't a living
  26. thing, aside from a few unburned plants, within two hundred feet of the tower. And anything
  27. that might have been edible, like, say, flesh, was currently fine black ash.
  28.  
  29. "Hells with it. Keep me alive until tomorrow, then I'll try to bury them, you hear?."
  30. I said, looking down at the my keyring and the locked door even as I directed my words
  31. upwards. Of course, being a god, I assumed He did hear, but whether he chose to do anything
  32. about it was another question. Gods. Like superiors, except more so, and even less
  33. understanding when you'd rather not die horribly in their name.
  34.  
  35. Bottom floor of the watch tower was fine, supplies mostly intact, (who'd been using
  36. them? Hells, who'd BE using them?) a small stable for courier's mounts that I felt no qualms
  37. in using, and the ladder up to the next floor. I'd normally avoid putting my horse inside,
  38. but it was a pretty decent one, and if I left it enough food, there wasn't any reason it
  39. shouldn't survive until someone else got sent to this little deathpost. For a horse that had
  40. never so much as glared at me, it seemed the least I could do. Before ascending, I considered
  41. leaving the door unlocked, but then again, the bodies outside seemed to prove running wasn't
  42. really an option.
  43.  
  44. Second floor was primarily defensive, third was barracks for the five who should be
  45. posted here, and fourth was the 'officer' floor. Even if I wasn't an officer, I'd probably
  46. head up there. Hard to charge a corpse with improper procedure. Almost undamaged, actually...
  47. I guess there wasn't much fighting inside the tower. It was a dragon, I suppose size would
  48. have been an issue.
  49.  
  50. But there was enough to set up comfortably and a comfortable enough over-supply that
  51. I could make as much of a 'feast' as can be done with watchtower supplies. The biggest prize
  52. was a small crate of pretty decent wine that one of the prior officers had squirreled away
  53. under his bed. And there was actually a section of the wall ripped away, or collapsed, near
  54. the commander's lounge.
  55.  
  56. So it was that sunset found me sitting on the nicest chair in the tower, feet up on
  57. another, wine bottle and the remains of a meal on a table next to me. In my nightshirt. I
  58. wasn't sure why I'd packed it, but what the hell? I was commanding officer here, and it was
  59. perfectly acceptable for a commander to order his subordinates to cover the night shift. I
  60. didn't have any, but I should have, and it wasn't my fault I was the only one assigned here.
  61. Plus, I had a sword. Just a sword. I was an adequate shot with a bow, but I didn't see myself
  62. bringing down a dragon with a mere arrow. It wasn't like being in armor and ready to
  63. challenge this dragon was likely to prolong my life. Asking it politely not to eat me was
  64. probably a safer bet.
  65.  
  66. I entertained myself with a chessboard that had, amazingly, been left in progress.
  67. Couldn't tell whose move had been last, but it didn't really matter, since I was playing
  68. against myself. At least someone I could beat. It probably didn't help that I was also
  69. talking to myself, carrying on a slightly-intoxicated back-and-forth. I felt pretty resolved
  70. with my imminent demise not terribly upset, but perhaps a bit lonely. And maybe depressed,
  71. though I think that's understandable. At any rate, imminent death, and the lack of anyone to
  72. witness seemed to make it alright. No consequences to worry about.
  73.  
  74.  
  75. ###############################
  76.  
  77.  
  78. It was, in fact, just as I was bragging to myself about having taken my white queen
  79. with my black knight, that I began hearing wingbeats. Massive ones, approaching rapidly.
  80. Still approaching rapidly. I found myself wondering whether the dragon simply was going to
  81. slam into the tower, and whether that would knock it down or kill the dragon. And for a
  82. moment, I thought it had, as the tower swayed and groaned mightily, until I realized that it
  83. had simply landed on the roof.
  84.  
  85. After a few seconds of consideration, the tower seemed to decide not to collapse. A
  86. few minor groans remained, but my attention was monopolized by the much more riveting sound
  87. of dull not-quite 'metal scraping on stone' sound, and some very, very heavy breathing. It
  88. occurred to me that maybe I would have preferred to go in my sleep, though I banished that by
  89. admitting that, yes, this would probably have woken me up.
  90.  
  91. "I can smell you, human..." a rather loud voice rumbled. Well, I suppose there was no
  92. pretending I wasn't here. For a moment, I was at loss. Then I decided it couldn't really get
  93. worse.
  94.  
  95. "Give me a moment, I'll be right up!" I shouted out the breach in the tower wall.
  96. Standing, I grabbed my glass of wine and the bottle. A brief consideration lead me to put the
  97. glass down, and simply take the bottle. Maybe I'd be lucky enough to come back down for
  98. another one at some point.
  99.  
  100. The trapdoor to the roof was tough. I thought I was pretty at peace, but that
  101. trapdoor, and the fact that I could die the moment I climbed out it, brought my potential
  102. death even closer. I probably stalled for a full twelve seconds there, before convincing
  103. myself to suck it up. Staying inside was probably only mildly safer. Steeling myself, I
  104. flipped the trapdoor and ascended the last rungs of the ladder.
  105.  
  106. It was pretty damn large, though not quite as huge as I'd imagined. No ancient wyrm
  107. this. Though easily enough to kill me dead. It doesn't really matter how much you're told
  108. dragons are huge, titanic creatures with raw power sufficient to take on a small city.
  109. Dealing with a mass of scaled muscle, claw, and fang twenty five feet at the shoulder is a
  110. bit different. Lots of claws and fangs, actually. Perched cat-like on the edge of the tower,
  111. wrapping halfway around it, tail twitching gently. For a moment, I worried that it would
  112. simply bat me off the tower with it's tail while I was distracted.
  113.  
  114. But that wouldn't actually change anything, would it? "Ah, welcome. Sir Sebastian
  115. Cyril, your host, guardian of this tower, at your service." That got me a level stare from a
  116. head that looked larger than I was. I was no pro at reading dragon expressions, but I thought
  117. it looked extremely un-amused.
  118.  
  119. "And the other of you?" it spoke. Loud. Not quite as deep as I'd expected. Kind of
  120. funny draconic-sounding accent. More pertinently, I suppose, I was busy trying to figure out
  121. who else it was expecting.
  122.  
  123. "Uh, I'm the only one here, as far as I know, your lordship." I attempted to answer
  124. smoothly. For some reason, it was suddenly pretty easy to do. I just didn't care too much
  125. anymore. 'If you're going to die, die with your boots on.', I think they say. Why not?
  126.  
  127. "I heard you discussing your game as I approached." it spoke. I thought I detected a
  128. hint of irritation in its words. "Who were you playing with?"
  129.  
  130. "Ah. That would be me." I offered with a brief bow. "Didn't really have anyone else
  131. to play with."
  132.  
  133. "And you were talking to yourself?" the dragon rumbled skeptically, beginning to
  134. circle the tower. Despite its immense size and bulk, it seemed entirely capable and
  135. comfortable of creeping around the roof, half over the edge. I just stood there. It wasn't
  136. like it could kill me any more dead from behind.
  137.  
  138. "Well, I'm bored, it gets late, and I figure that, being dead, I'm not going to have
  139. to worry about what people think of me, so... eh, I might have let myself go a bit." I
  140. confessed with a shrug. Hard to address it specifically, what with it creeping out of my
  141. sight, but it wasn't like I could be addressing anyone else.
  142.  
  143. "So they send the insane to face me." it seemed, to my surprise, amused. I couldn't
  144. see it's expression, but it almost sounded like it was chuckling.
  145.  
  146. "Now, I'd say that's a bit harsh..." I began. Perhaps breaking out the wine so early
  147. hadn't been a good idea; I wasn't drunk, but I felt mildly buzzed. It had also probably
  148. contributed to me being willing to carry on a conversation with myself. "It's not like I'm
  149. raving mad and wearing a goose on my head."
  150.  
  151. "Playing a game with yourself, Talking to yourself, and coming out to face a dragon
  152. in your nightshirt, armed with a bottle of wine?" it asked with audible amusement.
  153. "Particularly one you have good reason to believe is here to kill you."
  154.  
  155. "You raise an interesting point!" I said, as if struck by an idea. Pretending to grab
  156. a weapon at my side, I continued, "Let me just draw my sword, charge to attack, and get
  157. knocked off the tower by you, or your tail, or maybe your wings." I accompanied the sarcastic
  158. response with pretending to draw a sword, but abandoned it as perhaps a bit too much. Hell,
  159. sarcasm probably wasn't a good idea at all. Dragons were probably like kings, got all titchy
  160. at being mocked."If you insist on fighting me, I'll attempt to defend myself, and if for some
  161. reason, you're bent on a 'fair fight'- which I might suggest is inherently impossible, given
  162. the differences between our respective forms- If you're interested in that, I'd be happy to
  163. go and fetch my sword and armor. Who knows? Perhaps I'd win. Somehow, I doubt it."
  164.  
  165. "I don't believe such a lack of self-preservation weighs in your favor." the dragon
  166. said. Again, that inscruitable dragon-voice didn't really give me anything to go on. On the
  167. other hand, it had almost finished its circle of the tower, and I could again look at it
  168. without having to turn. Not that there was a lot to see; it was just as big and scaly as I
  169. remembered, bristling with claws, horns, fangs, and rippling with truly inhuman amounts of
  170. muscle.
  171.  
  172. "I believe it bespeaks boundless self-control and utter rationality. I could probably
  173. toss in 'peace with my gods' and 'quiet dignity' too, since I'm already stretching it a bit."
  174. The dragon stopped a dozen degrees short of a complete revolution, and I figure it's
  175. reasonable to turn to face it. Suddenly, I feel a momentary waver of fear, but ward it off
  176. after a moment. I've been 'fearless' so far, why not keep it up?
  177.  
  178. "If you were rational and wanted to live, I would think you would be on your knees,
  179. begging for life. Or perhaps just mercy." It really doesn't get more blatant than that,
  180. outside of a bard's tale. Lucky me, maybe I'm in one. It also occurs that perhaps that's a
  181. dragon's equivalent of a smile, though it has more teeth than I tend to prefer.
  182.  
  183. "I suppose I might." I say as agreeably as possible. "Then again, I doubt that would
  184. have much of an effect. Someone like me? Not much practice at the whole 'groveling' thing.
  185. I'd probably just bungle it." A prolonged silence followed, in what I assumed was unspoken
  186. interrogative. "I did introduce myself as 'sir' Cyril. Dignity and all that. To put it
  187. another way, what are you going to do if I don't, kill me?"
  188.  
  189. "There are so *very* many ways I could do that, though..." the dragon answered,
  190. again, about as threatening as it could be. This was hardly the time to back out, though.
  191.  
  192. "Suppose there are." Now would be the time to offer a counter. "How many of those
  193. involve me bringing up a crate of a rather delightful vintage to share with your lordship," I
  194. ask, hefting the bottle in my hand, "and maybe a game of chess or two while we're at it?".
  195. Somehow, I seemed to have managed it. Though I wasn't solid on- Well, I apparently was
  196. willing to bet my life on it, but that still didn't mean I knew what I was doing,
  197. particularly when judging a dragon's body language. It didn't seem taken aback, but it seemed
  198. amused.
  199.  
  200. "Your unmitigated boldness does you credit, human. I think, perhaps, I could accept."
  201. Gods above, I think I might have just made it. Secured bragging rights for the rest of my
  202. life, even. Crazy like fox, dragon. "However, there is one thing that must be addressed
  203. before I will proceed." That gave me pause for a moment, not the least because it chose that
  204. point to start advancing towards me. Just what would it want addressed?
  205.  
  206. "I'm sure we can come to some sort of understanding. Might I inquire as to what
  207. bothers your lordship?"
  208.  
  209. "That does, Sir... Cyril." the dragon answered ominously. I resisted the urge to ask
  210. as it began casting a spell, expecting it to elaborate one way or the other. What I did not
  211. expect was a flash of fire, as if the dragon itself had ignited and was burning up, and it to
  212. vanish- Replaced only by the smaller and decidedly humanoid shape of an curvaceous elven
  213. woman in an elaborate dress, with flowing crimson hair nearly to her waist. It- She --
  214. approached me slowly, extending a hand grandly as she reached me. Still a bit too stunned to
  215. process properly, I accepted it, bowing to kiss her hand greet her on reflex. Though I hadn't
  216. thought about it at all, this seemed to please her, and she responded with a dazzling smile.
  217. I almost fell for it before I remembered that the elf before me wasn't, and in fact, had
  218. probably eaten half the previous guards before me.
  219.  
  220. Remembering that almost saved me from feeling embarassingly under-dressed in my
  221. nightshirt.
  222.  
  223. "I apologize for my error, lady...?" I trailed off in question. I suppose that might
  224. explain why i- She- was so amused with me. Then again, it's not as if I happen to be an
  225. expert on the gender of reptiles.
  226.  
  227. "Appology accepted. Kalfyria Darathyix will do, Sir Cyril." she answered, as regal
  228. and condescending as any lady of the court. Still, it was something; It seemed like i'd
  229. amused her enough that she was... Well, it felt kind of belittling, but 'playing my game', it
  230. seemed.
  231.  
  232. "If I may ammend my previous offer, would you like to enjoy the drinks and game I
  233. offered inside, perhaps along with a roaring fire?"
  234.  
  235. "By all means, lead the way." She gesture to the trap door, allowing me to open it
  236. and begin down. Despite my lack of fear earlier, I suddenly found myself dreading two things
  237. above all else; slipping, falling, or otherwise making a clumsy fool of myself... or making
  238. an indecent glance upwards, at the lady- lady-dragon... descending above me.
  239.  
  240.  
  241. #######################################
  242.  
  243.  
  244. "Rook to E4, Cyril." Her voice was lazy and smug, but confident above all else. "I do
  245. hope you have something up your sleeve this time." I could feel her watching me, and the only
  246. reason I managed to hide my smile was that I was facing the fireplace, placing a log squarely
  247. on the fire with the aid of the poker. I did manage to get the grin under control before
  248. turning around, stepping back from the blazing fire. It would have been stifiling if it
  249. wasn't for the gaping hole in the wall, where I had been watching the sun set six hours ago.
  250. Instead, it was merely warm, and enough that I could still wear the robe I'd made an excuse
  251. to put on earlier.
  252.  
  253. Returning to the table, though, my control broke for a moment. She actually had made
  254. that move. I'd been betting on it, but it was still a bit of an achievement to put one over a
  255. dragon.
  256.  
  257. "I just might, my lady. Of course, there are stories about those who think to
  258. outsmart dragons... Perhaps it would be safer for me to keep it up my sleeve. Subtle and
  259. quick to anger, are they not?"
  260.  
  261. "That's wizards." she counters easily. Internally, I send every prayer of gratitude I
  262. have towards the Drunken God. My attempts to ply her with alcohol seemed to be working. I
  263. knew she'd been drinking well over twice what I had, but I was finally getting confirmation
  264. that it was actually doing something. Apparently dragons weren't so invlunerable, or perhaps
  265. only weren't while in humanoid forms.
  266.  
  267. "Wizards, you say... those enigmatic magic-users, the ones who can call upon the very
  268. powers of the world to do incredible things, like conjure fires, or fly, or change form?" I
  269. ask as I make a show of studying the board before sitting down. Out of the edge of my vision,
  270. I watch her color slightly, still unused to and easily irked by being teased. Even when the
  271. sole reason she had decided not to kill me was that she liked my fearlessness... She did seem
  272. to be getting grip on it, though.
  273.  
  274. "And do they say anything about those who bore dragons?" Closer to an affable
  275. counter, though it's still sinister enough, with steel audible beneath it. Like she's not
  276. quite sure that such an affront can be allowed, or she isn't certain that it isn't actually
  277. an attack. Kind of amusing, in a way that would be pitiable if I didn't know she was entirely
  278. capable of following through on her threats. And now she might think I was deliberately
  279. throwing the game if I lost. I and my banter to blame.
  280.  
  281. "Not much. Though I do concede that it could be because that's even more hazardous
  282. than affronting them. Very well, I can but do as my guest commands." I make further show of
  283. my grand acquiescence, and reach out to move a single piece. As she watched my move, and the
  284. began thinking on her next, I noticed her glass was half empty, and moved to top it off
  285. again.
  286.  
  287. "Anyway, to resume that description, and condense it a bit, Duke Vladen Errol is a
  288. crotchety, bitter old man. Allegedly was a knight, even a guardsman, back in his day, though
  289. for all I know he's older than a- Than you, even. Tends to take poorly to this, that, and
  290. everything else to boot. In my case, my father seemed to offend him at some point, and I am
  291. apparently his avenue of revenge. Didn't really expect such a blatant attempt at murder from
  292. him, but what can you do? Evidently I was wrong. Least I'm not expected to like it."
  293.  
  294. "Terrible, I agree." Darathyix agreed. Lady Kalfyria? I was having trouble
  295. remembering which was appropriate, or which she had asked me to use. Perhaps I hadn't come
  296. out as far ahead as I thought in my efforts to wine her.
  297.  
  298. "Really?" I asked sardonically. I some how doubted she actually meant it on my
  299. behalf. As she reached out to move a pawn, she confirmed my belief.
  300.  
  301. "Of course." she verified. It was apprently her turn to adopt an ironic tone. "Of
  302. course you didn't like being sent to your... presumed... death," Her pauses were only
  303. partially punctuation; I'd made my move immediately after she made hers, and her eyes
  304. narrowed as she began to suspect that I actually did have something planned. "More
  305. pertinently, however, I dislike the concept of being used as a tool by such a creature as
  306. your Errol-"
  307.  
  308. "Oh, believe you me, he's not mine. You can have him." She flashed me a glare at
  309. being interrupted, though it faded almost instantly as she realized I was merely joking
  310. rather than rude. She moved a piece again, and I instantly retaliated. Her eyes narrowed
  311. further, but she did not mention it..
  312.  
  313. "Indeed." she agreed, followed by a lengthy pause. "I would never have objected if I
  314. hadn't heard the story from you, but now that I have, I confess I feel happier in my decision
  315. not to slay you on the rooftop."
  316.  
  317. "I'm happier too." I agreed, "Vindication is sweet."
  318.  
  319. "On this, we can..." she began, stopping abruptly. I nearly started when I realized
  320. she wasn't just pausing for effect or emphasis, but had suddenly completely focused on the
  321. board. Ah, she'd caught me. "You motherless, scaleless, spawn of a kobold!" she hissed
  322. venomously, orange eyes blazing and locked on the chessboard. Absently, I noticed that her
  323. draconic accent had resurfaced and intensified, presumably as a side effect of being angry.
  324. Livid. Definitely livid, I decided, as I noticed she was exhaling trickles of smoke.
  325.  
  326. Her fury held for almost thirty seconds, as she evidently realized the extent of my
  327. trap. I left her to it; I was trying not to allow my fear to return, but it seemed more like
  328. simple self-preservation to avoid drawing undue attention until she'd calmed down slightly.
  329. Which she seemed to do, deflating slightly and no longer looking like she was trying to cause
  330. the board to combust through sheer hatred. "Tiamat's tortured heart..! Beaten by a human.
  331. ...Though I suppose I did ask it of you."
  332.  
  333. "I do tend to interpret a game as a challenge, I confess." I said, doing my best to
  334. sound affable. "And in some cases, simple courtesy to offer my opponent a good game." For a
  335. moment, her otherwise-beautiful countenance darkened as she threatened to take offense. It
  336. passed relatively quickly, though.
  337.  
  338. "I take offense where there is none." she said. About as close to an apology as I
  339. figured she was capable of. "Perhaps there is more to this game than I suspected."
  340.  
  341. "I always thought so." I said. I wasn't trying to flatter, but ingratiating myself
  342. with her seemed to be a constant effort. "Perhaps another game? I feel warmed up, as it goes,
  343. and you seem to be getting a grip of things- You don't have to win to learn a lesson." I
  344. counter before she can object. She bites back whatever she was about to say, accepting my
  345. words. Without warning, she seems to break out in a downright predatory smile.
  346.  
  347. "Very well. Perhaps this time, however, we can let something ride on the game? Make
  348. it a bit more lively?" I met her eyes, and had a strong suspicion that this time, she's the
  349. one who has something planned. And perhaps my judgement is impaired by how much I drank in
  350. the past few hours... Against my better judgement, I did not immediately refuse.
  351.  
  352. "I'm listening..." I said cautiously.
  353.  
  354. ###################################################
  355.  
  356. It was mid morning as my eyes reluctantly opened. Happily, despite the light, the
  357. officer's quarters were on the west side of the tower, and the only light to enter the room
  358. was reflected through the windows and that gaping rent in the tower walls, not shining
  359. through directly.
  360.  
  361. Which meant that open eyes were only marginally more painful than closed eyes, and
  362. the agonizing hangover remained a single unchanging pain in my head. How much had I drunk
  363. last night? Because 'drunk' really must have been the word. Joy.
  364.  
  365. I'm abruptly faced with a far more pertinent question, though. Namely, why was I
  366. looking at a shock of blazing red hair about two inches from my face? And why did I feel
  367. someone on my arm? Trying to avoid movement, I focused on simply remembering. Not possible; I
  368. remember the first two chess games... parts of the increasingly less-focused third... And
  369. everything else was simply black. Void. I couldn't remember.
  370.  
  371. Of course, even that much already suggested who this was in front of me- In my arms,
  372. even. I wished I could remember what the hell I thought I was thinking. It was a small
  373. challenge to resist the urge to scream, but I manage, partially out of awareness that my
  374. hangover would probably express its disapproval, and the dragon (In my arms!) would probably
  375. do so shortly afterwards.
  376.  
  377. After a few moments of panicked confusion, I managed to haul myself together, and
  378. began doing my best to untangle myself from her and the bed. She remained asleep, thank the
  379. stars, and I managed to stagger over to a nearby chair. The question of "How did I do this?"
  380. was then replaced by "What do I do now?". A real challenging question, too. Just to review,
  381. I'd made a complete mess of my posting, derelict in duty, cowardice in the face of the enemy,
  382. fraternizing with the enemy, probably treason to boot... How the hells do you explain NOT
  383. getting slain by a dragon? I didn't actually expect to live through the previous night, and
  384. now that I had to deal with it... Ugh.
  385.  
  386. "What do you want?" I muttered to myself, not so much talking to myself as trying to
  387. get myself to focus via aural cue. It sort of worked; I almost woke the dragon. The 'maiden'
  388. in my bed gave a quiet, satisfied-sounding moan, and shifted slightly in the bed. That got my
  389. attention, and held it until I was certain she hadn't actually woken up. Throughout it all,
  390. my head ached away, and I futilely put a hand on my forehead as I turned my attention to the
  391. matter in question.
  392.  
  393. Ruling out something ridiculous like fleeing the kingdom, I'd have to go or at least
  394. report back to my superiors.. Including Duke Errol... And explain why I was alive when a
  395. dozen men before me had died horribly. If I... Basically did anything but return with her-
  396. with the dragon's head, Errol would leap at the opportunity to accuse me of cowardice. Of
  397. course, I didn't maintain position at the watch tower, I simply rode out somewhere, spent my
  398. time hiding, and returned 'miraculously' unscathed. I might be able to claim I was waylaid,
  399. and never arrived, but then what happened? Maybe if I could claim the dragon spared me to
  400. send a message? But what? I wasn't going to ask her to make demands; there were limits to
  401. even how far my morals stretched.
  402.  
  403. The only thing I could do, then, was claim to have slain the dragon... Which would
  404. hardly be easy. Well... It could be. I found myself glancing down at my sword and dagger,
  405. sheathed, and still on the back of the chair where I'd hung the belt the previous day. She
  406. was asleep and humanoid; she seemed a bit tougher than she appeared, but it wasn't like she
  407. was covered in armored scales...
  408.  
  409. I reached down and drew my dagger, staring unseeing at the blade. The risk was
  410. relatively minor- death and dishonor now or later- but I still wasn't certain I could
  411. actually do it. I slowly turned over the dagger over in my hand, trying to decide one way or
  412. the other, then eventually gave up with a whispered curse, flinging the dagger at an empty
  413. chair. It didn't even have the deceny to stick, instead bouncing off and landing on the
  414. carpet with a dull clank. .
  415.  
  416. "Problems, Sebastien?" I heard Kalfyria ask. Nervous as I was, I jumped a foot in the
  417. air, spinning to look at her. She was decent only due to the covers, half sitting up, and had
  418. evidently been watching my quandary with some amusement, judging by her smile. "Given your
  419. boldness yesterday, I should hope you aren't backing down from some kind of danger now. It'd
  420. be a shame to find out you weren't actually as fearless as I suspected."
  421.  
  422. For nearly ten second I can't decide on an answer, and contemplate whether flattery,
  423. deceit, or trying to tell her what she expects is the best course of action. Faced with her
  424. condescending invitation, and the ever-growing awkward silence, I'm forced to answer. "It
  425. isn't so much fear as standards, Kal- Darathyix. Same reason I said I'd rather die than
  426. grovel yesterday."
  427.  
  428. "Really." she says, obviously skeptical despite the tone. "And what could possibly be
  429. troubling you now?"
  430.  
  431. "Mostly what I'm going to do since I didn't get murdered by a dragon last night.
  432. Mostly how I'm going to explain my survival, despite not having slain a dragon last night." I
  433. try to prevent it, but my voice takes a turn for the bitter as I finish.
  434.  
  435. "Mmmm. A profound issue. Surely you could still correct it, though-" she reasoned.
  436. She sounded sympathetic, wrapping the covers around her like a cloak as she stood. She even
  437. managed to look sympathetic, though I was pretty sure it was jeering in her eyes rather than
  438. actual empathy. " It's still here, alone, defenseless, vulnerable, and your blades are right
  439. there..." Defenseless. Hah.
  440.  
  441. "As I said, that's another place I draw the line. I'd prefer to go without a record
  442. for stabbing women in their sleep. Or even awake. Provided they're in their bedroom, it's
  443. kind of the principal of the thing that matters."
  444.  
  445. "Really? What if the woman's a monster then, a flying scaled beast, breathing fire
  446. and devouring humanoids? It only looks like a woman. Surely that's sufficient exemption..."
  447. Her voice takes several steps towards mocking, and she approaches close enough to place a
  448. hand on my shoulder. I resist the urge to step back or brush it away, mostly because I'd feel
  449. obligated to look at her if I did.
  450.  
  451. "It apparently wasn't enough last night." I manage to grate out, wondering whether
  452. I'm more angry at myself or her. Probably the former; what had she actually done for me to
  453. hold against her?
  454.  
  455. "Ah, the poor knight. Deceived, bereaved, used by the vile temptress." she laughed,
  456. apparently amused by something, though I couldn't guess what. "Whatever happened to your plan
  457. to use the dragon in turn?"
  458.  
  459. "Well, I can't actually remember it, but I suspect it didn't extend beyond last
  460. night. Maybe this morning." I suppose I shouldn't really be surprised at the mockery; dragons
  461. are hardly reputed to be kind, benevolent, or understanding.
  462.  
  463. "He can't remember? Truly? How utterly perplexing." she says. It's still mocking, and
  464. I try to ignore her as she leans in closer to me. "Perhaps you'd like me to remind you?"
  465.  
  466. "No, I can't remember, I blacked out last night." I state, turning back to look at
  467. her again. Her expression abruptly changes to a small frown, apparently taken aback by my
  468. statement. "I drank too much, that's what happens." I add by way of explanation, trying to
  469. say it with as little irritation as possible. "If you wish to remind me, feel free, but I'm
  470. content remaining ignorant to my drunken ramblings."
  471.  
  472. "A shame, then, they were such interesting ones... Bold, too." she says merrily,
  473. shifting gears rapidly. "I believe they started with you slaying... defeating? Defeating, I
  474. think, the terrible dragon, and rescuing from it a fair maiden. Mmm... Perhaps a princess of
  475. some far off land, or a fallen noble house, her family destroyed, and she, kidnapped by the
  476. vile beast." She gave a lazy smile as she noticed my expression of shock; she was obviously
  477. actually recounting something here, and most startling of all to me, I thought it might
  478. actually be something I said; I couldn't remember, but there was an odd sense of deja-vu to
  479. the plan she was explaining.
  480.  
  481. "Being such a noble, kind-hearted, honorable individual as your self, you rescued her
  482. and gave her the beast's hoard, as much of it had no doubt come from her own family... Then
  483. you returned to your home, where you gallantly proposed to her." Her laugh wasn't exactly
  484. nasty, but was hardly comforting. "Taken with her dashing rescuer, she could hardly help but
  485. accept. So would begin a happy marriage, a couple straight out of a bard's tale, and for a
  486. lucky someone, the opportunity to try her hand at court politics and intrigue..."
  487.  
  488. Much as I wanted to, or at least, felt like I should, I couldn't really deny this. It
  489. just seemed... true. Something I might say, if while fantastically drunk, and perhaps just
  490. looking for an excuse, rather than an actual plan. But... It could work. Theoretically. I
  491. suppose it could count as a crime, in a certain light of view, but if nobody ever knew, or...
  492. Gods above, I should realize it was a bad idea the moment I had to heap that much
  493. qualification on it. But it could work... With an air of defeat, or the feeling that I ought
  494. to posses one at this point, I stood there almost dumbstruck.
  495.  
  496. "And you actually wanted this..?" I managed to say in a shaky voice. Bizarre as it
  497. was from my end, it seemed like it would be even less palatable for her. It was difficult to
  498. believe that she merely wanted to 'play noble'.
  499.  
  500. "With some persuasion." she agreed enigmatically.
  501.  
  502. "And that would take the form of..?" I asked warily. She laughed, and I did concur to
  503. some degree, but I was somewhat worried about granting her a blank promise. Even if I was
  504. apparently a bit late to be bargaining.
  505.  
  506. She seemed to agree, and her answer came as she forcibly steered me back towards the
  507. bed with a hungry look in her eyes. "Well, to begin with..."
  508.  
  509.  
  510. #####################################################
  511.  
  512.  
  513. "I don't know how to broach it delicately, but people are starting to ask questions."
  514. It was a rueful greeting as I entered the room. Lavishly decorated and luxuriously appointed,
  515. I occasionally wondered whether her investments in the manor were some kind of nesting
  516. instinct, or perhaps a kind of attempt to recreate a dragon's traditional hoard. It probably
  517. was not relevant.
  518.  
  519. "Questions about what?" Kalfyria asked with mild interest. She put aside the letter
  520. she was reading, and stood to greet me. We shared a brief embrace, and a ginger one, on my
  521. part. I knew she was really several tons of dragon- Knew it very well, as it happened- but it
  522. had getting somewhat difficult to keep in mind over the past few months, as her belly
  523. swelled.
  524.  
  525. "Mostly you. They seem to think that ten months is a bizarre and unnatural amount of
  526. time." We parted after a few seconds, to all appearances, an unremarkable idyllic couple. I
  527. had to stifle a grin as I mused on the bizarrity of it all.
  528.  
  529. "Mmm. Even for an elven maiden, cursed by the vile and cruel dragon you defeated?"
  530. she asked. Over the months, she'd managed to almost entirely lose her initial condescension
  531. and mocking, but not quite all of it. At the moment, though, it was mostly teasing. "Perhaps
  532. I will have to do something about them..."
  533.  
  534. "Gah. Please, no." I said with more than a little dread. "I was not kidding when I
  535. said I thought your retaliation against the Valerians was complete overkill."
  536.  
  537. "They insulted me." she said, maintaining an aura of unperturbed reason.
  538.  
  539. "They insulted you!" I agreed, suddenly aggravated. We had had this conversation
  540. before. "That hardly justifies ruining their family name! If you wanted equitable, snub
  541. them back, don't destroy them!" I turned my gaze upward, knowing exactly how this would end.
  542. She had established from the very beginning that she would maintain her disguise, but she did
  543. not feel obligated to play nice.
  544.  
  545. "Someone of the late Lady Valerian's station insulting me is a far more grievous
  546. slight than if I were to return the favor." Kalfyria replied with a hint of smugness.
  547. "Besides. I have very strict beliefs on how to deal with my enemies..."
  548.  
  549. "Of course, of course." I answered, conceding defeat. Abruptly, I grinned. "Marry
  550. them, right?" Her expression darkened for a moment, then softened. She still had trouble
  551. discerning humor from insults, but was getting better. Or perhaps just a little less
  552. aggressively defensive.
  553.  
  554. "Mmm. Indeed." she agreed with a faint smile. "Excuse me for a moment." Turning away
  555. from me, she crossed to shut the door, and close the curtains. "Now; I assume you won't be
  556. willing to tell me who was asking these questions?" I offered a brief grimace, but nodded.
  557. Evidently I hadn't changed the subject well enough. "I shall have to keep an ear out for the
  558. source of these questions."
  559.  
  560. "Kindly deal with them more gently than the last ones." I said, realizing that there
  561. was probably nothing else I could do. "I was actually hoping we could come up with some sort
  562. of explanation, instead."
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