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Red-Hot Rebound (Dragon-F x Human-M, vanilla)

ManFromAnotherTime Nov 15th, 2014 (edited) 10,953 Never
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  1. Red-Hot Rebound
  2. by
  3. The Man from Another Time
  4. themanfromanothertime@gmail.com
  5.  
  6.  
  7. “Come out, wyrms! Come out and do battle, for I come to avenge the city of Kyne!”
  8.  
  9. “Go away.”
  10.  
  11. At the entrance to a sheltered cave cutting into the side of a thickly-wooded mountain, an armoured man cocked his eyebrow in confusion.
  12.  
  13. More than a dozen times he’d challenged dragons from outside their dens, and he’d often been laughed at for his boldness, or told to prepare to meet his doom, or even sarcastically invited inside – but never ordered, in a flat tone, to simply bugger off. Ordinarily, a dragon’s pride simply wouldn’t permit such a flat refusal to accept a challenge.
  14.  
  15. Twisting his neck every which way in order to scan his surroundings, the dragon-slayer peered through the thin slits of his bellows-visored close helm, checking for any movement around him, and listening carefully for any approaching creatures.
  16.  
  17. The pine forest behind him was still and quiet. The rocky cave before him was dark and silent. Above, the skies were clear and blue. Nothing was trying to sneak up on him; he was alone.
  18.  
  19. This only served to confuse him further. If there wasn’t a trap waiting for him… why the blunt rejection? Perhaps he had been misheard? Certainly, the visor could impede speech. Lifting it and clearing his throat, he shouted as loudly and clearly as he could, “Come out and face your doom, dragons, or else suffer the shame of being bearded in your own den!”
  20.  
  21. “Go away, fool of a knight… Go away and leave us alone.”
  22.  
  23. Again a refusal. The dragon-slayer snorted in disgust, shook his head, twirled his sword and rolled his shoulders to limber himself up, and then cried out again, “Very well, wyrms, if you shall not come out, then I shall come in! Prepare yourselves!” His final challenge issued, he slammed shut his visor, hunched over into a fighting pose, raised up his shield, and cautiously advanced forwards into the cave, his fine steel-plated boots clinking softly against the rocky ground.
  24.  
  25. From inside, he could hear sounds of movement – at last, the creatures had been stirred to action, he thought – and he girded himself for the challenging fight to come. Two wyrms had struck the city of Kyne, two wyrms was the bounty set by Lord Petrovich, and two wyrms had the man tracked to this very den; two wyrms he would kill on this warm spring afternoon.
  26.  
  27. The warrior stared into the cavern ahead, focusing on the darkness in order to force open his pupils – a simple trick, but a useful one, considering that dim lighting posed no trouble for the scaled beasts he hunted. More than one dragon-slayer had met their end at the blinding threshold between light and dark, and some wary hunters only entered dragons’ dens at night in order to negate that temporary weakness, but this man preferred to risk disadvantage against the prospect that the dragons might be goaded to come out into the sun.
  28.  
  29. As he stepped ever forward, transitioning into the cave proper, he began to make out a figure ahead of him – the very familiar shape of an enormous, winged creature.
  30.  
  31. She – he guessed, for he couldn’t quite yet see the monster clearly, but the voice had definitely been female – was standing on all fours, her head held low in front, knees and elbows slightly bent, tail up in the air, and wings outstretched. It was the classic combat pose of a dragon fighting on the ground.
  32.  
  33. “Turn around now, knight,” she growled through clenched teeth as he approached, “and go back whence you came. We are in no mood to entertain visitors today, nor have we the patience to treat with fools. If you persist, a quick and brutal death is all you’ll earn.”
  34.  
  35. Now able to make out her features, he stopped. She was carmine-red in colour, perhaps ten feet tall and seven feet wide at the shoulders, which, for a typical Erebosan Red, would put her at a little over two hundred and fifty years of age – provided she wasn’t using magic to exaggerate her form, of course. With her present posture, it was difficult for him to gauge her other dimensions, but assuming the typical proportions, she would be forty or fifty feet from armoured nose to pointed tail, and probably weighed about eight long tons. Her cream-coloured horns were large, ridged, and straight, and grew out from the back of her head at a divergent angle.
  36.  
  37. She exactly fit one of the descriptions he’d been given by Kyne’s Captain of the Guard. There was a rather large problem, however: where before him was one wyrm, he was expecting there to be two.
  38.  
  39. Glancing left and right through the slits in his visor, the man asked, “It was not alone that you struck at Kyne, she-dragon. Where is your mate?”
  40.  
  41. “Don’t talk to me about mates, dragon-slayer,” came the growl in reply, but even as her claws angrily scratched against the hard stone floor, her voice carried a strange melancholy tone. She was behaving very oddly, the armoured warrior thought, but what was the cause?
  42.  
  43. According to the Captain of the Guard, the attack had involved two dragons, and the fellow had seemed a reliable, level-headed sort – not the kind to mistake one wyrm for two. So, it had definitely been two reds, of roughly the same size, that had struck the city, and while the dragon-slayer was all but certain that the creature before him was one of the culprits, she was far too large, and therefore far too old, to still be hanging around with a sibling – which meant that if she had attacked the city with another, that other must have been her mate, for dragons seldom cooperate with others of their kind otherwise.
  44.  
  45. The man carefully scanned the cave, craning his neck left and right to peek around any corners. “Two dragons landed in Kyne, two dragons set fire to its marketplace, pillaged its palace, and made corpses or vagrants of hundreds of its citizens, and I'll only be paid if I can rightfully say that both have been dealt with. Where is the other?”
  46.  
  47. She only huffed out steam and smoke from her nostrils, muttering, “Go and ask the wind, dragon-slayer; I no longer care to know where he has gone.”
  48.  
  49. Again, the bizarre undertone. And, by again failing to dispute his accusations, she all but confessed to participating in the attack, which made her refusal to fight even more confusing. The only remaining question was: what had happened to the other culprit?
  50.  
  51. Slowly bringing his shield-hand up to his face, the dragon-slayer watched his quarry for a reaction and, when there was none, cautiously lifted up his visor to get a better look at her, even as she stood ready to pounce on him.
  52.  
  53. No longer constrained by the narrow visor-slits, and with his eyes now fully adjusted to the darkness, he got a clearer look at the dragon before him. Her wings, rather than being spread wide to make herself appear even larger, were awkwardly hanging off her shoulders, halfway between open and folded. Her fore- and hind-paws, though certainly bearing deadly talons, kept shuffling aimlessly as she tried to maintain her pose. And while her mouth was shut, every now and then her head would shudder, she would inhale sharply, and her jaw would tremble.
  54.  
  55. She would certainly terrify a lesser man, but to the dragon-slayer it almost seemed as if she herself was terrified. Standing before him was not the kind of confident, power-projecting wyrm that would dare to strike at so large a city as Kyne. The man’s eyes narrowed sharply, and he looked askance at her, asking, “What has happened to your mate, she-dragon?”
  56.  
  57. “Do you think I wish to talk about that with you, dragon-slayer? You, who boldly called me out to battle not moments ago?” She spat out the words like poison, and reared her head up as if to strike, but there was still a hesitation in her step and a visible half-heartedness to her actions. And, despite her apparent anger, she was apparently unable to bring herself to act.
  58.  
  59. The dragon-slayer lowered his sword slightly. “I have slain many wyrms, and that is my reputation, but my honour is to have done so fairly. I’ll not trade an easy gain of the former for a stain upon the latter by killing so miserable a creature as you.”
  60.  
  61. “Miserable? ME?!” she cried, and her fury seemed to double; her eyes opened wide, steam pouring from her nostrils and cinders flying from between her lips – but before she could boil over, the dragon-slayer asked, plainly and firmly, “What has your mate done to you?”
  62.  
  63. She stared at him for several moments, silent and furious, but then her lip started to quiver, and her whole jaw soon followed. In a whisper, she began, “He left me,” but this whisper soon changed to a mighty shout. “HE LEFT ME! FLEW OFF AND LEFT ME!”
  64.  
  65. The dragon turned her head away, lip curling up into an enraged snarl, and she began to prowl around in a small circle, hissing and growling.
  66.  
  67. “… Growing too old, he said, the wretch, though I am scarcely three hundred, with two fertile centuries still before me! Uglier with each passing day, he muttered, the brown-hatter, though he has several times fought off suitors who might have claimed me! Uninteresting to bed, he dared, the flesh-monger, as if he was not always the first one to moan and roar when we coupled!…”
  68.  
  69. A bolt of fire struck the ground twenty feet away from the armoured warrior as the ranting dragon spat on the ground in disgust, and the sudden blast would have made the man jump in surprise, except that he was already shocked – shocked, to find tears streaming down the monster’s scarlet cheeks.
  70.  
  71. “… So he left! Threw away what we’d had, and took up with some raspberry tart he’d only met a year ago. Left me to myself, not three days past…”
  72.  
  73. Now, she had finished her circle and turned her head back to the intruder, resumed her combat posture, raised her head up on high, and bared her teeth.
  74.  
  75. “… And so, ‘honourable’ knight, if you find me miserable, it is not without good reason, I assure you – though you shall find me no less of a match when I set my fangs upon your steel!”
  76.  
  77. The dragon-slayer sighed, stood up straight, passed his sword from his right hand to his left, and then reached into a pocket at his right hip. From this, he drew out a white silk handkerchief, and held it out in front of him.
  78.  
  79. The she-dragon huffed and nodded her head at it, apparently confused by the gesture. “What’s that for?”
  80.  
  81. “You are crying, madam,” replied the man, arching his eyebrows and tilting his head sympathetically.
  82.  
  83. Even through her angry tears, she forced out a snarling laugh. “Your little rag won’t do anything for me.”
  84.  
  85. The dragon-slayer shrugged his shoulders, square of silk still proffered, “Nonetheless, it is yours if you should wish it.” A forceful puff of steam from her flared nostrils was all he received in response, so, after a moment, he nodded his head and spoke again. “I take it you had some history together?”
  86.  
  87. She lowered her head and hissed at him, “History! HISTORY?!” His question had sent her off on another angry tirade.
  88.  
  89. “I spent nearly a century spent together with that foul worm! A century of profitable and pleasurable days, when we took from others all that we wished, and crushed any who stood against us! A fine roll of years that once I thought would continue on until our twilight hours…”
  90.  
  91. Steaming-hot tears rained down onto the cave floor, fizzling noisily as they dropped onto the chilly stone surface. This second rant seemed to tire her out; her voice became low in pitch and quiet in volume.
  92.  
  93. “… All that, ripped to shreds and rotten away by that miscreant goat of a wyrm whom I once called my beloved.”
  94.  
  95. She trailed off, and her head was still bowed down, almost at eye level with the human whose words had provoked this emotional response, though she was gazing through him as if he wasn’t even there.
  96.  
  97. The man gently shook the little silk tissue, holding it up slightly closer to her head, and this small motion snapped her to attention. She snorted, blowing hot, sulphuric air in his direction, then muttered as she curled her neck back up, “No thank-you.”
  98.  
  99. She looked off, staring through the cave wall to the left, and there was a long silence, eventually broken by the soft ‘swish’ of the man delicately sheathing his sword into its leather scabbard. He stood there, shield still strapped to his left arm, and pocket-square scrunched up in his right fist. “Well,” he began, slowly. “Dead or driven off; that was the bounty. A bonus for dead, but a reward for driven off regardless. I’ll have to stay in Kyne a while to prove the issue, but with your mate having absconded, I imagine you won’t long wish to remain here.” Waving around at the surrounding cave, he concluded, “Here, where the shards of your broken heart still freshly lie.”
  100.  
  101. The she-dragon sighed as she dropped into a seated position, moaning, “Am I truly so pitiable, slayer-of-wyrms, as to be unworthy even of your blade?”
  102.  
  103. She sounded exhausted. Pouring out her anger like that seemed to have drained her inner fire, and the dragon-slayer, despite feeling some considerable relief at avoiding a fight with not only one, but both dragons, was still mindful of the rapidity with which her fury might return.
  104.  
  105. “I sympathize with your loss, madam, but it is my honour that makes me sheathe my weapon; I reserve my pity for those with a permanent affliction, and I think you shall surely recover from this unfortunate depression.”
  106.  
  107. She grunted, shaking her head and chuckling pathetically at her own misfortune. “Hmph. Your very words only make plain how pitiful I am, that I have listened to you instead of obliterating you where you stand.”
  108.  
  109. Completely drained, she stretched out her paws in front of her and laid herself down on the floor, starting to slowly sob again as she grumbled dejectedly, “He has left me ragged, rent, and torn.” She sighed, before concluding, “And now here I lie, docile, being offered sympathy and a handkerchief by a little man in a tin suit.”
  110.  
  111. “Whether you accept them is your own affair, madam,” replied the knight, a sympathetic frown on his face, “but my offering is no mark against your ferociousness.” It staggered him to realize it, but the dragon-slayer really did feel sorry for the poor, wretched, eight-ton beast, and he found himself trying half-heartedly to lift her spirits. “You do strike a most intimidating pose, and it was only my own extensive experience with your kind that permitted me to pierce through your veil.”
  112.  
  113. She didn’t dignify his honest flattery with a response, only sniffling and swallowing to clear her nose, still trying desperately to maintain a regal posture, with her paws crossed before her and her head held high.
  114.  
  115. The dragon-slayer reached up and grimly scratched at his chin, “I’ll have to wait until you depart, I’m afraid.” Thinking over what would happen next, he explained, “It wouldn’t do to return to Kyne while you still lair so closely. I’ll set a camp not far from here and wait for you to depart.” He looked up at her reassuringly. “I will be discreet; you’ll have your privacy, and you won’t even know I’m nearby.”
  116.  
  117. Again, there was no reply, and the man turned and took a couple of steps to leave, but some little nagging thought made him shrug his shoulders and shake his head, turning back and speaking up once more. “I’ve never experienced heartbreak on such a scale,” he began, clearing his throat before looking her in the eye, “but I’ve heard tell that it is often of some benefit to converse with another about the ordeal, in order to lessen the pain and quicken the healing.”
  118.  
  119. Almost as soon as he said it, he could’ve kicked himself – this was only going to rile her up again, he thought, and then he really would have to put her out of her misery. Though he did enjoy the challenge of a good battle, and a dragon of her age was sure to have a sizeable hoard, he found the prospect of fighting such a miserable creature distinctly unappealing.
  120.  
  121. Yet, incredibly, she did not become irate – far from it, for she snorted in dejected laughter, “Hah! Do you propose that I share my sad tale with you, gossiping like a silly milk-maid? It is a ridiculous thought. And yet,” she inhaled sharply, tears temporarily restrained, “I cannot deny that speaking of his misdeeds does have a certain appeal.”
  122.  
  123. She got to her feet, and the dragon-slayer was quick to react, tensing up and sharply gripping his sword-pommel, ready to draw his weapon in the blink of an eye, but her movements were casual, almost lethargic. He stood incredulous as she turned to retire deeper into the cave, speaking over her shoulder, “But I’ll not entertain a guest here, in the entryway of my abode. Come inside, dragon-slayer, if you are sincere…”
  124.  
  125. She smirked, huffing out steam, as she noticed his ready posture. “Or retreat, and take up your solemn watch, if you are too afraid to follow a broken dragon deeper in her shattered home.”
  126.  
  127. The winged creature strode off down the tunnel, deftly squeezing through the narrow bend in the middle and rounding a dark corner to the left.
  128.  
  129. Stunned, the dragon-slayer furrowed his brow in confusion. He had on previous occasions accepted dragons’ sarcastic invitations to enter into their dens, certainly, and on many occasions he had spoken with his prey at some length before dispatching them in combat.
  130.  
  131. It wasn’t therefore fear which held him fast – it was surprise; surprise and genuine confusion that she had apparently decided to accept his sympathetic gesture.
  132.  
  133. Glancing around one more time to make sure this wasn’t some supremely elaborate trap, the dragon-slayer took a deep breath, shrugged his shoulders, and followed after her, wary, but genuinely curious.
  134.  
  135. The tunnel was undefended as far as he could tell, and he soon reached the far end in safety. Here, the path forked in two, and while from down the right exit he could feel the faint draft of cool, moist air, down the left there was a dim, flickering red light. He took the left route, as she had, and a few hundred paces later he came upon a large cavern shaped like a flattened, squared-off sphere, with a clear bowl-like depression in the middle and a gently-arched roof overhead. The room was ringed with magical balls of spell-fire, stuck to the walls and casting their light towards the stalagmites and stalactites that jutted from the floor and ceiling. Shadows danced along the walls, but the central area was additionally lit from above, and here there was something far more interesting than the interaction between sorcerous illuminations and limestone projections.
  136.  
  137. An enormous heap of treasure glittered in the centre. Coinage of gold, silver, electrum, copper, and others covered an area perhaps eighty or ninety feet in diameter, piled up in rolling hills, and dispersed among the coins were gemstones of all kinds. Here and there was seated a true work of art – a jewelled crown, a golden sceptre, gilt statues; the long-lost regalia of hundred ancient kingdoms.
  138.  
  139. It was a fantastic sight, and the dragon-slayer let out a low whistle, for it was by far the most impressive hoard he’d ever come upon; the wealth of a dozen mighty states. The greedier part of him was starting to regret not simply chopping the wyrm’s head off when he still had the nerve to do so – before hearing her sad tale and succumbing to his own sense of decency.
  140.  
  141. Lounging on top of as much of the hoard as she could manage was his would-be host, and she was just putting the finishing touches on arranging a section of the treasure, moulding it with her forepaws to form a small, distinct mound of the shimmering stuff – his seat, the man quickly realized, as he stepped down into the treasure-room.
  142.  
  143. The she-dragon watched silently as the knight clambered hesitantly onto the shifting sea of coins, somewhat clumsily making his way over to the small pile that she had raised for him. It took a little effort, and he felt at risk of sliding off at any moment, but he managed to seat himself relatively comfortably.
  144.  
  145. She said nothing, so the man cautiously started to un-strap his shield, speaking casually, “Well,” he began, still taking in the fantastic sights before him. “Perhaps it will be of some consolation to you, madam, to know that I now wish I had not felt such sympathy for you, earlier. I have seen many dragon hoards, but none quite so impressive as this.”
  146.  
  147. His shield removed, he placed it before him and looked around at the treasure once more. Finding it impossible to fathom the value of such a fortune, he smiled wryly up at her and said, “I think I might have become a very rich man, if not for my honour.”
  148.  
  149. She tipped her head slightly, acknowledging the compliment. He could see that her cheeks were still wet, so he continued on, “I wonder if the hall was filled to the brim, when your mate was still with you?”
  150.  
  151. Now it was her turn to grin, and she slowly drew a mass of coins towards her with one arm, curling it up against her chest as she boasted, “Oh, if I allowed him to rip and tear my heart, at least I kept safe my pride. He and his new flat-backing strumpet shall have none of our once-shared wealth while I still draw breath.”
  152.  
  153. The man nodded, his smile gone, “You are certain he has taken up with another, then?”
  154.  
  155. She growled, and anger flashed in her eyes as she spoke with clarity, “Absolutely certain. He met her almost a year ago, I think, and of late, she had taken to following us in the distance, circling high above like a hungry vulture.”
  156.  
  157. A bit of flame escaped her lips as she huffed out indignantly, “Do you know, three months ago, I returned from a hunt, and I found them scrying on each other? He was…”
  158.  
  159. She trailed off, starting to tear up again, and struggled for a moment before finding the strength to continue, “He was speaking aloud, gazing into his crystal orb, watching her and listening in, and she surely doing likewise from some remote cunny-warren, and they were carrying on an obscene conversation, not merely talking, but also stroking themselves as they did so.”
  160.  
  161. Scrying on each other, in their respective boudoirs? It was an appallingly clever way of magically carrying on an affair, and the knight was somewhat impressed with the idea. “Did you confront him?” he asked.
  162.  
  163. She waved her paw and shook her head, “Of course! But he lied to my face, and told me I was mistaken, that I had misheard and mis-seen.” She looked away, dejected, “And I don’t know why, but I believed him.”
  164.  
  165. The man nodded, and the motion made his visor unexpectedly snap shut. He quickly reached up a hand and shoved it back out of the way, then considered the whole absurd situation – him, acting as a counsellor to a grief-stricken red wyrm – and decided he might as well just remove the whole damn helmet.
  166.  
  167. He started to work on removing his leather chin-strap, asking, “Were there other incidents?”
  168.  
  169. “A few, yes,” she replied, turning her head back towards him. “Rather than becoming more cautious after I discovered him, he became more brazen. As I had believed his awful lie the first time, he must have thought me so pathetic as to believe it again and again.”
  170.  
  171. The she-dragon looked down and aimlessly batted some of the treasure around with her left paw, whispering, “To my disgrace, I did.”
  172.  
  173. Having removed his helmet, the man flipped it upside-down and placed it beside him on top of his little heap of coins, pressing and twisting it to dig it in securely, then unstrapped his gauntlets and tossed them into it, rubbing his hands together after liberating them from their steel and leather enclosures. “It’s no disgrace to you, madam, but only natural. He lied to you, damn him, to further his own miscreant ends, while you only lied to yourself, in order to keep what a precious thing you thought you were going to lose.”
  174.  
  175. The dragon-slayer gestured with one open hand as he continued, “For you did mention that, until his treacherous heart was revealed to you, there had been contentment, dare I say happiness, for some time?”
  176.  
  177. “Yes,” she nodded. “Yes, there are many pleasant memories that I now wish to forget. Eighty-six years’ worth. Near a third of my life.”
  178.  
  179. There was the faint clunking noise of steel plates as the man hunched forward, placing his armoured elbows on his mailed legs. Holding his chin in his hands, he asked, “Was he your first?”
  180.  
  181. “No,” she began, more quickly than before. “He was my fourth – but this was the only one that lasted for any real length of time. It was a rare and,” she ran her claws through the heap of coins around her, exposing the fact that the pile was really quite deep, “as you can see, a very profitable partnership.”
  182.  
  183. The dragon-slayer glanced down at the treasure-pile and nodded, “Indeed, indeed,” but he was distracted; something had been bothering him about her appearance since he entered the well-lit room, and only just now did he at least realize what it was.
  184.  
  185. Dragons tended to sleep on their hoards; whether this was more comfort for the body or for the mind, nobody could say for sure, but one thing was always true: sleeping on top of coins and gems tended to result in those same things gradually becoming embedded between a dragon’s tough scales. A wealthy, old, wyrm could easily carry around an entire fortune wedged into its hide, and even a younger beast would glitter in the right light.
  186.  
  187. The miserable creature before him, however, was bereft of such incidental ornamentation, and there was more than that – he spotted small, distinct, gouge-marks, spread across her torso, though concentrated in those places where the scales were the largest and most likely to trap pieces of treasure.
  188.  
  189. She had picked herself clean, scratching and scooping with her claws to remove the coins and gems which had become trapped between her scales. It must have taken forever; hours and hours of delicate and painful work – and more than a little blood.
  190.  
  191. A self-destructive reaction to her misery? Or, perhaps, the desire to purge from herself all things which might remind her of her former love?
  192.  
  193. She was staring off through the wall again; lost in memory and sorrow. The knight stayed silent, and watched as her tail slowly swept through the treasure-pile, her hind legs squirming, burying themselves deeper into the gems and coins, flexing and extending.
  194.  
  195. Those sorts of motions would only accelerate the process of embedding treasure back into her hide, and they were too specific to be anything but deliberate. Clearly, she regretted what she’d done to herself; it must have happened at the most woeful nadir of her depression, perhaps even the very night he’d left her.
  196.  
  197. But her behaviour in front of him now was elevated from those black depths, and it was clear to him that, emotionally, she was on the mend. Perhaps the problem was simply that she needed to have this obvious fact pointed out to her.
  198.  
  199. Licking his lips, he cleared his throat, and broke her out of her reverie. “I must disagree with you, I think, when you said that he left you ‘ragged, rent, and torn’.”
  200.  
  201. Her eyes flicked towards him, and he continued, “Has he left you upset? Naturally, for such atrocious behaviour would upset anyone. Depressed? Certainly, for the happy plateau of such a lengthy relationship cannot be ended without an ensuing trough. But ragged? Surely not, if this enormous hoard serves as your living-room furniture. And rent, or torn? I see no recent battle-scars on you – yet surely he tried to take some share of this treasure with him?”
  202.  
  203. She took a deep breath, squirming more into the treasure pile, and replied slowly. “He did, yes. But the cold sorrow of grief had not yet overcome me, and I stood up to him with such firm resolution, that he didn’t fancy his chances in the end, and left empty-handed.”
  204.  
  205. The man smiled and gestured at her with his right hand. “You see, then? You are not broken. I felt the heat from your lips, when you growled that he would never take what is rightfully yours. The fire of your heart may be starved for fuel and choked for air, but it is not by any means extinguished.”
  206.  
  207. Sitting up straight again, he concluded with a dramatic air, “I’ve no doubt that you will soon find someone who will sweep in like a crisp morning breeze, and rekindle your flame.”
  208.  
  209. The enormous she-dragon looked over at the tiny armoured man, sitting on his little perch of gold and silver, then, even as tears still slowly trickled from her eyes, she started to laugh from the very depths of her belly.
  210.  
  211. “Ha-ha-ha… Heh-ha-ha-ha-ha! Ohhh… Oh, my dear dragon-slaying knight, I fear that true poetry is quite beyond you.” Shaking her head, she sighed, and, for the first time, lowered her head and lifted up a paw to actually wipe away her tears, still chuckling, “And yet, I cannot help but delight in your metaphor, primitive and awkward though it might be.”
  212.  
  213. The man started to laugh a bit as well, shrugging his shoulders amiably. “Heh, well, no-one would ever mistake me for a bard, I’m sure, but I do try.”
  214.  
  215. She took a deep breath in, and then out again, and he saw her actually smile, almost contentedly. “I needed that. I needed a good talk. And a good laugh. And…” Trailing off, she cast her eyes about the room, then swallowed before finishing in a sombre tone, “And for someone to remind me that my life would go on.”
  216.  
  217. The she-dragon’s face broke into another, smaller, smile, and she looked down at the knight, “I didn’t expect it would be the man sent here to kill me.”
  218.  
  219. He snorted, “Well, I believe it’s said that ‘Life makes fools of us all’.”
  220.  
  221. “Ah, my dear ignorant knight,” she replied, still smiling. “The famous line is actually that ‘*Love* makes fools of us all’.”
  222.  
  223. “Hmph.” The man flexed his jaw around for a moment in thought, then raised a finger and said, “Well, surely someone’s said that ‘To live is to love’, no? In which case I stand my ground.”
  224.  
  225. Growing somewhat uncomfortable in his seat, he shuffled his legs, but this only provoked a little coin-slide as the hill partially collapsed underfoot.
  226.  
  227. Ahead of him, she chuckled, “Not very sturdy ground, though, is it?”
  228.  
  229. Recovering, he grinned, “I’ll make do. The scenery is magnificent, and the company pleasant.”
  230.  
  231. She didn’t reply, and he didn’t continue. For the moment, neither of them seemed to have anything more to say, and while the she-dragon seemed to be considering her surroundings in a new, happier, light, the dragon-slayer found himself drawn to her face, his gaze slowly wandering back and forth between the golden orbs of her eyes and the smooth lines of her lips, seated as they were amongst the jagged, darker, horn-spikes of her armoured head. There was something very endearing about it; against a background of raging flame, a gentle, almost bashful smile.
  232.  
  233. After a few moments, she became aware of his scrutiny, and felt bizarrely self-conscious about it, so she simply stated, “It’s rude to stare.”
  234.  
  235. Roused to his senses, he blinked several times and averted his gaze, embarrassed, “Oh, my apologies, madam, I was, uhmm…” He trailed off, took a moment to compose himself, then smiled, turning up to look her in the eyes once again. “My hostess has a most enchanting smile, and I found myself enthralled.”
  236.  
  237. The she-dragon seemed almost to freeze in place, her head sideways to his own, and she stared motionlessly at him with her left eye – then, a moment later, he noticed the faintest trickle of smoke start to waft up from her nostrils.
  238.  
  239. This inscrutable posture she maintained for quite some time, and the dragon-slayer found the growing silence extremely awkward. Clearing his throat and licking his lips, he placed his hands on his knees and stood up. “Well, I, erm… I’m glad to have been of some help, but I wouldn’t wish to overstay my welcome, so, uhhh, as the hour is growing somewhat late, perhaps I ought to bid you farewell.”
  240.  
  241. Just as he was reaching down to gather up his helmet and gloves, she interrupted him. “Won’t you stay for dinner, at least?”
  242.  
  243. Bent over his things, he looked up, mouth hanging open, and found her hesitantly looking straight at him, still with that same enthralling smile on her face. He was momentarily lost in her bewitching eyes, uncertain of just what was going on, and when he eventually found himself again, he stood up and smiled, “I’d be honoured – As long as I’m not on the menu, of course.”
  244.  
  245. The knight managed an awkward laugh, and the she-dragon opened her mouth into a toothy grin, replying, “I have not left my home for several days now, but my larder is not so empty as to make necessary such an awful breach of decorum.”
  246.  
  247. She started to her feet, but the mention of leaving her home made the knight suddenly remember a very important detail. “Ah, speaking of leaving your home, madam, I had earlier placed a rather potent and debilitating trap-spell over the entrance, and it will still be active for some time, so please let me know if I should go and remove it.”
  248.  
  249. Alarmed, the dragon looked the armoured man up and down. He was dressed in steel plate, he carried a sword and shield, and he had not disputed her when she called him ‘knight’, but clearly there was more to the man than mere physical action. “You are a mage as well as a swordsman?” she asked, curious. “One cannot fight dragons with steel alone,” came his reply, and she concurred with a chuckle, “Indeed, one cannot.”
  250.  
  251. Narrowing her eyes, she reached two clawed fingers into one of the larger mountains of treasure, drawing out a human-sized ornate silver goblet, encrusted with rubies and sapphires. After shaking out its glittering contents, she handed it over to her guest – who dutifully accepted it – and then she waved her head at the far back wall, whispering something in the arcane tongue so quietly and so quickly, that the mage-knight could not make out the spell.
  252.  
  253. However, her purpose soon became obvious, as an open-topped crate came floating through the air towards the centre. It was packed full of hay, and crammed with a dozen bottles that clattered and clanked when the levitating box came to a halt and floated to the ground, landing gently down upon the flat expanse of treasure between the two of them.
  254.  
  255. Another whisper from her, and a single bottle silently floated up out of the crate, then made its way over to the man, who held out his goblet. It was an impressive display of fine telekinetic control – but, he considered, that was certainly the kind of thing one would learn after a couple of hundred years without opposable thumbs.
  256.  
  257. The cork popped seemingly of its own accord, and the bottle spun around to present its label to him. As he bent over to read it, she spoke up, “A fine Merovin red, from Juxtaquasi. Nearly a century old.”
  258.  
  259. He nodded courteously, “Very nice. My hostess has excellent taste.” When he held up his goblet, the bottle tipped itself over, filling his cup, and he mused aloud, “If this is but the aperitif, then the evening is full of promise.”
  260.  
  261. The bottle floated downwards, drilling itself securely into the pile of treasure, and the cork flipped over and forced itself half-way back in. She started towards the tunnel entrance again, remarking, “It will be a little while before dinner. Please, make yourself comfortable, and fill your goblet as you please. There is a pool of fresh water there,” she gestured with her head towards the back-right corner, “if you should wish to freshen yourself up.”
  262.  
  263. He bowed in reply, though he carefully watched her leave.
  264.  
  265. ‘What the devil am I doing here?’ thought the man, once she was gone. It was true that he had on two occasions actually dined with a wyrm – and both times his quarry, at that, for dragons were nothing if not proud. Possessing tremendous wealth was important to them, and while some would not let so much as a penny escape their taloned grasp, for many others it was the ostentatious display of wealth and power which brought them true satisfaction. So it was that he had actually eaten, drunk, and talked beforehand with two of the dragons that he had triumphed over in his career thus far. They had been affable hosts, eager to cater to his every whim, delighted to hear stories of his various battles, and sharing many tales of their own accomplishments.
  266.  
  267. Yet, throughout those meals, there had always been the undercurrent of a pending challenge. Those had been but the pre-battle meetings of opponents who respected each other, who were extremely confident in their own abilities, and who were eager to test themselves against their enemies – but only when their enemies were at their best, for to do otherwise would be un-sporting, and telling of cowardice, which for great wyrms was tantamount to a mortal sin.
  268.  
  269. Now, though…
  270.  
  271. He took a sip of the wine, a lovely vintage indeed, and then made his way down from his perch, heading towards the water-pool.
  272.  
  273. Now, it was different.
  274.  
  275. Instead of the calm before a mighty storm, there was only the tension of occasional awkward silences. And what purpose was served by staying here? He had felt genuine sympathy for the wyrm, it was true, but now, having apparently cheered her up, the deed was done. Was the offer of dinner merely a form of payment for services rendered?
  276.  
  277. The dragon-slayer passed between a pair of tall stalagmites and found himself before a shallow, raised pool of water, fed by a steady trickle running down the wall from above, and draining out from a cut in one side down into a little flow that ran off along the floor and then into a natural hole that carried it away. He set his goblet down on a flat-topped outcropping and plunged his hands into the pool.
  278.  
  279. It was very cold; almost frigid. Melt-water from the mountain peak above, no doubt. He splashed a little bit on his face, then reached into a small pouch hanging off the back of his belt and removed a little silver-framed mirror and an ivory comb.
  280.  
  281. Might as well ‘freshen up’, as she had suggested. His tabard had gotten somewhat muddy from the hike up the hillside, so he quickly intoned a cleaning spell to blast off the muck, and considered the armour beneath – perhaps he had time to give it a quick polish? Probably.
  282.  
  283. In his mind, he reflected that the sympathy he’d felt for the miserable she-dragon had largely evaporated – but it had not left behind a void. Instead, he now felt a little pride at having succeeded in helping elevate her out of her misery. And there was pleasure, too: from her playful banter, her generous hospitality, and from her smile.
  284.  
  285. That delicate, determined, magical smile of hers… It was a most captivating thing.
  286.  
  287. He splashed some more water on his face, ruffled his hair, took another sip of wine, then splayed his hands on the pool’s rim and stared down at his watery reflection.
  288.  
  289. Well. A nice dinner amidst the impressive hoard, a week or two spent camping in the woods until she moved away, then back to the city to collect a handsome payment for very little effort. As dragon-hunts went, it was certainly a strange one, but it promised to be no less rewarding.
  290.  
  291. ***
  292.  
  293. It was nearly an hour later when she returned, levitating an immense bronze platter before her. The knight rose as she entered, wine-cup still in his hand. His white tabard appeared pressed and was utterly spotless, while the steel plate of his boots, vambraces, couters, and what other few parts of his armour were visible underneath his cloth were polished to a silvery gleam. His hair was neatly combed back, and he had even shaved off the two days’ worth of stubble.
  294.  
  295. He looked like a grand knight of the realm; all that he lacked was a great plumed helmet in his hands and a squire to hold his banner.
  296.  
  297. But if the dragon-slayer seemed as though he belonged standing to attention in the throne-room of a mighty castle, his hostess, on the other hand, was now a figure to whom even emperors should bow.
  298.  
  299. She was bedecked in what must have been over five hundred pounds of glittering jewellery. A heavy gold necklace hanging at her throat was the centrepiece, and it was made of such solid, thick material that it seemed more like a horse yoke than a mere ornament. Tassels encrusted with gems dangled from all around the massive ring, and a wide chain where it was open at the bottom stretched and flexed as she moved, keeping it tight but not constricting. She wore a pair of torc-like bossed anklets, two playfully mismatched spiral bracelets, and a pair of long, dangling earrings that hooked into multiple piercings in her great, scaled ear-flaps. Around her waist there was a beautiful narrow sash made of woven gold chain, and the tip and base of her tail were capped with wide rings of ornately-carved ebonstone pieces, set in gold. Even her horns were decorated – thin golden chains were wrapped around and draped between them, and they shimmered with the diamonds that were embedded within.
  300.  
  301. Against such a stunning entry, the man scarcely paid attention the dish hovering before her. It looked like a roast bird, some kind of enormous turkey-fowl; perhaps a juvenile roc or a particularly large axe-beak.
  302.  
  303. The staggering beauty of such fantastic, custom-made jewellery was so overwhelming that she nearly finished settling herself in across from him before the knight came to his senses and actually got a look at the dragon herself, underneath it all.
  304.  
  305. She’d dried her cheeks of tears. Her teeth, he noticed when she grinned at him, seemed to have been cleaned and polished. And when she blinked, he caught a glimpse of Tyrian purple eyeshadow.
  306.  
  307. Her demeanour had shifted, as well. She had stridden in, mighty and confident, and her movements were swift but elegant; a marked change from her slow, plodding, and lethargic pace before.
  308.  
  309. And if her smile was the same, her eyes crowned it differently; instead of hesitant and worried, now they projected determination and confidence, and she seemed to radiate power.
  310.  
  311. The dragon-slayer was both impressed and relieved; impressed, because she was expertly masking the outward signs of the bitter sorrow that must still linger within, and relieved, because he felt far more comfortable in the familiar presence of a bold and mighty wyrm.
  312.  
  313. The platter descended between them, sitting neatly beside the case of wine which was now another bottle short, and the dragon whispered at a pile of treasure behind her, levitating out a fine silver plate and a set of cutlery, which she floated over to her guest. “Shall we begin?”
  314.  
  315. The knight accepted the silverware and bowed, and she motioned for him to serve himself.
  316.  
  317. After they’d helped themselves to first portions, dinner proceeded with a small amount of chit-chat.
  318.  
  319. He was the fourth son of a minor Haemusian baron, she learned; with no prospect of inheriting his father’s title, he had trained in the art of war since a young age – and, when his aptitude for magic was discovered by the local witch, in the arcane arts as well. Fated to wind up a retainer in some nobleman’s court, probably his eldest brother’s, his career in dragon-slaying had begun when he joined in a hunt for the great wyrm Yavaszimishek, and acquitted himself remarkably well. A combination of spoils from the hoard and some gifts from his brother, now the baron, saw him nicely outfitted, and one of the other hunters had taken him under their wing.
  320.  
  321. For her part, she revealed that she had hatched on one of the large volcanic islands of the great Northern sea, a bleak land almost perpetually shielded from the sun by heavy clouds that poured down snow and ice, while hot, steamy water and smoke boiled up from the earth below. When she’d been old enough to survive the trip, she made for the Erebosan mainland, at first sticking to the familiar arctic and mountainous terrain near the roof of the world, then venturing more and more south, finding the warmer weather much more to her liking.
  322.  
  323. After half an hour, there was still a considerable amount of meat left on the platter; the hostess had deliberately taken a minute first portion, leaving more than enough to encourage her guest to take a second helping. Sure enough, he did so, for the bird was absolutely delicious; crisp and golden on the outside, but juicy and flavourful on the inside. The knight found himself wondering if she had cooked it herself using her own flame-breath – if so, she must be quite skilled at controlling herself, or else she might easily have burnt it to a crisp.
  324.  
  325. A smile and quick gesture of satisfaction from him made it clear that he wouldn’t be taking a third plate, so she bowed down her head and greedily dug her snout straight into the carcass, ripping it neatly in half. She probably hadn’t eaten in some time, he thought – another sign of the stress under which she’d been labouring, and which now seemed to have melted away.
  326.  
  327. In her haste to indulge herself, however, she had made a bit of a mess, as some of the thick grease had splattered across her cheek, and she struggled to lick it off – but it was too far back from her mouth, and her tongue was too short to reach.
  328.  
  329. Stifling back an amused chuckle at the scene, the knight pulled out his handkerchief once more and noisily cleared his throat.
  330.  
  331. With her tongue still vainly striving to reach almost to her ear, she looked quizzically down at him – his silk cloth held out and his lips pursed in to suppress a smirk. It took her a moment to put the pieces together, and then she ceased her fruitless endeavour and amusedly emitted a single loud laugh, “Hah! Eager to get some use out of that little tissue, are we?”
  332.  
  333. Holding his plate in one hand and the handkerchief in the other, he grinned, “To a man with a hammer, madam, all things appear as nails.”
  334.  
  335. She snorted in reply and shook her head, laughing, but bowed her neck down before him. “Very well. I’ll permit you to sate your gentlemanly manners.”
  336.  
  337. “My hostess is most generous”, he laughed as he put down the plate, then reached up to her cheek and started to wipe away the grease.
  338.  
  339. “This must surely be the closest you’ve ever been to a dragon’s mouth without your sword in hand,” she remarked.
  340.  
  341. “Not true, actually,” he replied, giving one last dab at the splotch, “Once I met a wyrm who dearly wished to show me his maw before we fought – he had a pair of hinged iron rails instead of jaws, and they were set with cruel metal spikes. An old blue wyrm by the name of Isengrim.”
  342.  
  343. She withdrew her head sharply, narrowing her eyes. “Isengrim? Isengrim Iron-Jaw? You met him?”
  344.  
  345. The knight paused, running his tongue around in his mouth as he refolded his handkerchief.
  346.  
  347. “I did rather more than meet him,” he admitted.
  348.  
  349. Now her eyes went wide, and she seemed to regard the man before her in a new light, looking him up and down for several seconds. “You slew Isengrim?” she asked, shocked. He nodded in reply, and she continued, “Impressive. His exploits are legendary even among wyrms. Many are the erstwhile dragon-slayers who fell before Isengrim Iron-Jaw’s mighty teeth. How did you manage it?”
  350.  
  351. Putting the silk cloth away, he spread his hands as if embarrassed, “With some trickery, I’m afraid. I coated my armour with wax made from the concentrated sap of the iron-rot tree. As soon as he bit me, his jaw fizzled away to powdered rust, and I killed him in the ensuing confusion.”
  352.  
  353. Again, her eyes narrowed, wondering if he was telling the truth, “But how did you stop the wax from rotting your own steel armour?”
  354.  
  355. “Ahh,” he replied, a smile creeping back onto his face, a little proud of this particular accomplishment. “I wasn’t wearing steel on that day. Knowing of Isengrim’s fearsome jaw, I had specially commissioned a suit of gilt bronze for the occasion. It was very expensive, extremely heavy, and quite clumsy to move about in, but the wax was harmless to it.”
  356.  
  357. She grinned again and nodded, “Ingenious. I applaud you, and I’m sure he would have applauded you as well, if only posthumously.”
  358.  
  359. The dragon-slayer sat back down and gathered up his plate and cup, but his brow was furrowed, and he asked, hesitantly, “I thank you, although, I admit some surprise. You applaud me for killing him, yet did you not just say his exploits were legendary? Surely you would have preferred that he survive?”
  360.  
  361. Licking her lips, she replied in a quiet voice, “All dragons die, knight. Isengrim was a wyrm who truly lived, and for that, he is legend. If he was laid low, by a cunning and handsome warrior, then it was surely his time to pass, and I hold no grudge against the one who did it, congratulating them instead for their bravery and skill.”
  362.  
  363. “I see. Then I shall humbly accept your acclaim,” said the dragon-slayer softly, and he bowed his head to her.
  364.  
  365. He couldn’t help but notice the distinct emphasis she had put on ‘cunning’ and ‘handsome’. Being praised felt strange; it wasn’t that he hadn’t heard it from a dragon before – he had told stories of his fights to wyrms, and they had congratulated him on his accomplishments – but in those cases, the wyrms involved had been confident in triumphing over him, and, in a sense, were glorifying him in order to glorify themselves – as the ones who would finally put an end to his draconic killing streak.
  366.  
  367. The dragon before him showed no desire for a fight, so, again, although her actions were familiar, the circumstances made it feel very alien. Where before he had allowed the compliments to roll off of him as nothing more than a foe’s distracting banter, now the words penetrated him, and he felt a certain buzzing excitement – though that might have been the first two bottles of wine, which he’d finished in a little less than an hour and a half.
  368.  
  369. She was drinking as well, having dug an enormous goblet out of the treasure-pile, and levitated over a cask from the ‘cellar’ at the back of the room. It was already her fifth or sixth gallon-sized cup, and, he supposed, that was probably proportional to his five half-pint glasses.
  370.  
  371. He had studiously tried to avoid staring at her, lest she call him out on it again, but now, as they finished off the last of the meal, he found the dragon before him difficult to ignore. She was lounging on her right side, her belly towards him and her tail curled up in front of her. All of her jewellery was on clear display, and none of the pieces had lost their lustre – far from it; they were even more spectacular against the backdrop of her incredible hoard.
  372.  
  373. And the pieces were enhanced by her posture, as well. The solid yoke-like necklace was even more captivating with the way her steady breathing slowly heaved it up and down. The chains hanging from her ears and horns had softly clinked and rattled with every movement she made, drawing attention to their shimmering selves, and even her bracelets and anklets seemed more stunning when he could grasp just how massive they were compared to her powerful limbs.
  374.  
  375. But one of her ornamentations held his attention more than all the others: the delicate, thin chain sash around her waist. Appearing from behind her far side, it gracefully traced the contour of her ample left hip, then poured sensuously down across her jasmine-yellow belly, exposing a number of dangling golden tassels set with pearls.
  376.  
  377. The tassels would wiggle and writhe with every breath she took, and now and then she would shift her legs, revealing some new part of the chain in exchange for hiding another, and he found the effect mesmerizing, though he tried his best to avoid making a fool of himself.
  378.  
  379. Finished with his meal at last, he placed his knife and fork together on his plate, then transferred the whole thing off of his lap to the ground, gathering up his goblet and wine-bottle in the process, and pouring himself another drink. Across from him, she was licking her lips, the last of the meal down her gullet, and filling her floating cup as well. They caught each other’s gaze and raised their glasses to one another with a gracious nod, before both taking a draught.
  380.  
  381. The dragon-slayer leaned back on his little throne of coins and smiled, holding the cup in both hands on his lap, and she likewise lowered her goblet back down the ground, securing it with a paw. There was a long, silent pause while they looked each other over.
  382.  
  383. “I-”
  384. “A-”
  385.  
  386. The man chuckled at the mutual interruption and nodded, “I defer to you, madam,” but she only shook her head and sternly intoned, “Oh no; you are my guest here, knight. I insist you go first.”
  387.  
  388. Swirling the wine around in his goblet, he cleared his throat, then said, “I simply wished to thank you for the most excellent dinner and the lovely evening. And, to reiterate my firmly-held belief that a lady with your charming grace, regal bearing, impeccable manners, and stunning beauty will find no lack of fine, eligible suitors to choose from.” He held his cup up to toast her, and she nodded in acknowledgement.
  389.  
  390. She did not, however, say anything of her own, and as the silence dragged on, eventually the man’s curiosity – not to mention his ego – got the better of him and he asked, “There was, erm, something you wished to say as well?”
  391.  
  392. The dragon looked away momentarily, and when she moved her head he could see that there were faint traces of smoke smouldering up from her nostrils. Seeming hesitant to look him in the eye, she replied, “I, likewise, wished to thank you for the pleasant company you have provided. I also wondered if, as you seem very well-versed in conjugal matters, you have any present attachments of your own.”
  393.  
  394. He grinned, “Not at the moment, I’m afraid. My eldest brother has yet to find an opportune political use for me, and my roving occupation makes it difficult to hold down relationships – except for my armourer, of course! I dare say that even if I were married, I’d probably still see him more often than I would my wife.”
  395.  
  396. “Your steel is indeed most impressive,” she agreed, looking him over. “I think it would have taken some considerable gnawing and chewing to get through. Does it really fit you so well that you have declined to remove it for dinner?”
  397.  
  398. The man pulled back the sleeve of his tabard, showing the fine quality of the hinging at his right elbow, replying, “Oh, it does, and as closely as a fine leather glove.” Then he brought his hand up to his lips, concerned, “But I hope I have not offended my hostess by leaving it on?”
  399.  
  400. “Not at all,” she smiled. “It suits you well.”
  401.  
  402. “May I reply, then, that my gracious hostess herself seems quite well-suited to her magnificent collection of adornments.” Extending an open hand towards her head, he continued, “I have never seen such a fantastic set of glittering diamonds as the ones presently suspended between your horns.”
  403.  
  404. There was another pause, and he noticed – again – a thin wisp of smoke suddenly emanating from her nostrils, but it disappeared almost immediately when she inhaled a moment later. Clutching her goblet between two fingers, she tilted her head and said, “Surely, you cannot have a good perspective on them from down there? Would you care to examine them more closely?”
  405.  
  406. “Oh, why, certainly, madam,” he said, placing his cup on the ground and standing up.
  407.  
  408. She slowly bowed down her head, looking him over as she brought her snout within arm’s reach. His gaze wandered from the mouth big enough to bite him in half, to the golden eyes that were now boring into him, and then up to the magnificent jewellery suspended between her horns.
  409.  
  410. “Yes, yes,” he began, captivated by the ensemble before him. “Exquisite craftsmanship,” he nodded, in awe, and then he met her stare, intoning, “A real work of art, possessed of unearthly beauty.”
  411.  
  412. They locked gazes, transfixed, each held in place by the closeness of the creature before them. For the dragon-slayer, this was an intimacy he’d only ever shared with his prey, and then only briefly, in the heat of battle. The simmering calm of the present was utterly foreign to him.
  413.  
  414. Her nostrils pulsed out intense heat that swept over his face and warmed his cheeks, and when she inhaled it seemed as if she was drawing only the air which directly surrounded him, as if tasting his scent. His attention darted back and forth between her two eyes, mesmerizing in their golden complexity, while hers seemed to slowly drift across his face.
  415.  
  416. As the seconds wore on, the man felt the moment start to slip away, and though part of him protested that there was nothing to do here, that if he had any idea what was good for him, he should sit back down and let the evening end, another part demanded that he not let the opportunity pass – and it was this voice that he heard most clearly.
  417.  
  418. Almost without thought, he stretched out his right hand, cupped it under her spiked chin, and gently pulled her towards him, too caught up in things to feel astonished that the scaled head actually followed along.
  419.  
  420. When her lips were close enough, he leaned forwards, placed his left hand on her cheek, and kissed her softly on the side of her mouth, just behind the armoured beak of her snout.
  421.  
  422. The realization that he had just kissed a dragon hit him with a sudden jolt, and though he still moved his right hand up to delicately grasp her other cheek, he staggered one step back and looked away, his face flush, stammering, “I… I have taken advantage, madam. I beg your forgiveness.”
  423.  
  424. The dragon moved her head down and forwards, so that her snout was almost pressed up against his breast-plate, her cheeks still cradled in his hands.
  425.  
  426. Her eyes were levelled straight at his, and she whispered, “You beg my forgiveness, yet still you hold me?”
  427.  
  428. “I beg your forgiveness, because I fear I have done you wrong,” he said, then turned his head back up to meet her gaze head-on once more. “I still hold you, because I pray I have done right.”
  429.  
  430. When he spoke these last works, she sighed, half-shutting her eyes in pleasure, and drew in a deep breath, nuzzling her snout against his chest-plate. The knight’s expression slowly turned from shock to curious delight, and his hands started to gently caress her face as she continued her prodding motions.
  431.  
  432. Her breathing started to accelerate, and after a few moments, her tongue slipped out past her teeth and teasingly licked at his bare fingers, while he bent down and kissed her again on the cheek as he stroked his fingers along her scales.
  433.  
  434. She was nearly panting when she abruptly withdrew her head, holding it high above her body and baring her teeth. Her fingers flexed, grasping anxiously at the treasure beneath her, and she looked him over with a hungry gaze, her body subtly writhing in anticipation, as she seductively growled, “Would you care to examine any of my other ornamentations?”
  435.  
  436. The knight, too, was breathing heavily, a determined look on his face, and he replied eagerly, “Very much so, madam.”
  437.  
  438. She turned her nose up, her teeth momentarily disappearing as she tried – and failed – to form a calm smile in place of her lusty grin, “Only, I think you are a trifle overdressed.”
  439.  
  440. His hands went instantly to his buckle, and with one quick motion the belt fell to the ground, nearly knocking over his goblet. In a flash, his tabard was over his head, and he set to work on his vambraces, undoing the straps with blinding speed, then bending over forwards to attack his boots and greaves – seizing up his wine-cup and downing the last dregs of his drink in the process.
  441.  
  442. Less than a minute had passed, and the knight was just disconnecting the cuisses from his main plate, when his mind seemed to actually catch up with the situation. “I, uh, I know a spell to enlarge myself…”
  443.  
  444. He heard the she-dragon snort with amusement, and he had to wryly laugh at his own poor choice of words, before continuing, “Heh, I mean, I know a spell which will increase my height, and the rest of me in proportion.” The man stood up, looking over his huge would-be lover with concern, and continuing, “It doubles my height, but will that be enough?”
  445.  
  446. Doubling his height would put his shoulders well above hers, when she was standing on all fours, and he would be almost as broad as she was, but the dragon would still be more than six times his size.
  447.  
  448. She looked him over as he continued to attack his armour, muttering to herself, “Doubled in all three dimensions… An eightfold increase…”
  449.  
  450. Licking her lips as she came to her conclusion, she spoke up, “Yes, that will do.”
  451.  
  452. He looked up again from his work, elated but confused, “Really? It will?”
  453.  
  454. Bending her head down close to him again, she murmured into his ear as he assaulted the final pieces of his steel casing, “It’s true that dragons grow all our lives, however, some pieces of the body do not change size past a certain age. So it is with maturity, and the implements thereof.”
  455.  
  456. She pulled her head back, smirking as he removed the last of his armour, “It is well that it is so, or else, in the absence of powerful magic, the pairing of older and younger dragons would either be very awkward… or very painful.”
  457.  
  458. At last liberated from his protective enclosure, the man stood before her, hands on his hips, wearing just his white smocked chemise and dark grey drawstring breeches, an understanding smile on his face. The sight seemed to please her, and she licked her lips as she sized him up, then asked, “Before we begin, do you know a spell to protect yourself from fire?”
  459.  
  460. The man cocked his head, faintly amused, “Fire? Why? Are you prone to energetic outbursts?”
  461.  
  462. She laughed, drawing in a deep breath, “Yes, actually,” then looked pointedly down at him, arching her brows, “but that’s not why I asked.” Bringing her left forepaw down to her lower chest, she began to sensuously caress her scales and continued, “A dragon’s flame comes from deep in their belly, and you’re going to be rather close to mine.”
  463.  
  464. The man raised his eyebrows and blew out a deep breath, then nodded his head, replying, “Well, I do know such an enchantment, but I also wore a ring today, to be sure.” He held up his right hand, and she glanced at the small gold ring with a single minuscule ruby set into it.
  465.  
  466. “That should do,” she cooed. “Now, cast your enlargement-spell, knight, and let us see how well you perform.”
  467.  
  468. “So soon to the main event, madam?” He grinned back at her, waggling a finger, “Have you no patience?” Throwing off his shirt, he strode confidently towards her and said, “There is much we can accomplish even like this.”
  469.  
  470. She watched with her head high in the air, her eyes wide and teeth bared, as he approached her legs, bent over her abdomen, and, looking up at her, gently worked his right hand underneath the thin chain that ran across her thigh.
  471.  
  472. He started to slowly run his fingers along the length of the sash, pulling it slightly off of her body as he traced its path. Bringing his left hand in to caress her underbelly, he sighed, “All dinner long, I’ve been eager to see where this leads.” A growl was all the reply he needed to tell him that she was equally eager for him to find out.
  473.  
  474. Her right leg lifted up and out of the way, exposing the intricate jewellery that had been concealed up until now, the main chains of the sash supporting a beautiful mass of dangling golden tassels intertwined with threads of red silk and glistening white pearls; it recalled the exotic costume of castanet-wielding belly-dancers the man had seen perform at night in the great city of Eravishi.
  475.  
  476. Still following one thread from the top with his right hand, he stretched his left up against her other leg and softly brushed upwards, feeling the fine metal links of the sash and the softer, flexible dragon-scales beneath. One particular spot caused her body to convulse momentarily, and while he made careful note of the location, he continued the stroke, glancing up to see that her purple-painted eyes were shut in delight.
  477.  
  478. Soon, his slower right hand ran over the same sensitive place, and her leg kicked out suddenly in anticipation. “What have we here?” he teased, running his fingers through the tassels. “A golden gate, safeguarding a hidden treasure.”
  479.  
  480. Stepping forwards so that his chest was pressed up against her belly, and standing astride her left leg, he wrapped his left arm around her right thigh and shouldered part of its considerable bulk, while his right hand continued to stroke wide circles around the sash. In response, she started to slowly gyrate her hips, pushing her body against him. He ducked underneath her leg to look at her face, and saw her lowering her head down to the ground, nibbling at her own lips. As his fingers wandered ever closer to their inevitable destination, she opened her mouth and started to grind her horns into the mass of coins and gems.
  481.  
  482. He pressed more firmly with his fingers, running them back and forth, gradually sliding the sash out of the way, then skipped across her opening once, twice, three times… When he did it again, she suddenly lifted up her head and angrily hissed like a crocodile, staring sharply at him with her mouth wide open.
  483.  
  484. Taking the hint, he placed his fingers upon her slit, and as he prised open her folds, she slowly shut her eyes and lowered her head back down onto her glittering pillow, resuming her sensuous movements.
  485.  
  486. His fingers entered into her, and it was as if he was plunging his hand into a cauldron of boiling-hot oil. The intense heat seemed to nearly overwhelm the protective power of the little magic ring, and he gasped in pain, gritting his teeth as he resisted the urge to pull right back out – instead, he pushed in further, and as time spent in the scalding inferno wore on, he was able to calm his trembling hand, acclimatizing himself to her incredible temperature.
  487.  
  488. The searing, burning sensation faded away, and he was reminded instead of the terraced outdoor hot-spring he had once visited; its swirling, salty, sulphuric waters almost terrifyingly hot at first dip, but luxuriously relaxing once he had gotten used to them.
  489.  
  490. He exhaled forcefully, as if that would somehow cool him down, then worked more of his hand into her, his fingers no longer spasming in pain, but instead gently probing her fantastically moist insides, searching for their hidden quarry.
  491.  
  492. As he felt around the edge of her deep cavity, he started to become a little embarrassed at his inability to find what he was looking for. The she-dragon didn’t seem to mind, however; to his right, her tail was contentedly swishing coins back and forth, while above him, her left wing seemed to have extended itself almost involuntarily.
  493.  
  494. Embarrassment grew into frustration as time wore on, and the movements of his hand became less tender – and this, she did notice. With her head still firmly against the ground, she gasped out to him, “Deeper. It’s deeper and higher up.”
  495.  
  496. He hadn’t expected it to be there, but she was hardly human, after all, and she was surely an expert on her own anatomy, so he pushed in more, burying almost half his forearm until his grasping fingers at last touched a small, firm protrusion – and if the sudden beating of her wing or the forceful slap of her tail wasn’t enough to indicate that he was in the right place, her gasp of delight made it absolutely crystal-clear.
  497.  
  498. Now having something to play with again, he set to work, stroking and caressing her most tender spot. She growled with pleasure in response, her fingers and toes splaying outwards and grasping aimlessly at either treasure or air. As his manipulations grew in intensity, her gyrations matched suit, and she rested more and more of her leg’s weight onto his shoulder. It got to the point that he was starting to have difficulty managing the heavy load, and struggling to stand up straight while being buffeted by her forceful pelvic thrusts.
  499.  
  500. But rather than tire him out, her excitement invigorated him, driving him to an even quicker pace, and he grew stiff with the prospect of her bringing this same enthusiasm to the rest of the evening’s activities. Arching his head back, he closed his eyes, focusing on pleasing her with his fingers even as he looked ahead to the next step. “Such a healthy appetite!” he softly exclaimed. “Only a fool would abandon so vigorous a lover.”
  501.  
  502. To his left, he heard her squeak with ecstasy, and the force of her next impact nearly knocked him over – but then she suddenly tucked in her leg, twisted away out of his grasp, and delivered a swift kick to his chest that sent him hurtling backwards into a coin-pile.
  503.  
  504. Shaking his head to recover from the daze, he started to sit up, incredulous, only to find her snarling at him, her head less than a foot away.
  505.  
  506. He scarcely had time to realize his predicament – within biting range of a dragon, practically naked, and flat on his back – when she growled out, clearly intoning every word, “Don’t cheat, knight.”
  507.  
  508. Pulling back her head slightly, she continued, “Earn your victory without resorting to underhanded methods.”
  509.  
  510. He cocked an eyebrow, comprehension dawning, “So it’s a fight after all, then? And you’d even deny yourself pleasure in order to win?”
  511.  
  512. “I’ll take pleasure from defeating you,” she grinned, pulling her head back even more. “Now, make haste with your magic, for I am impatient to begin.”
  513.  
  514. There was a hungry, almost feral look in her eyes, and she was panting heavily, hot steam blowing out from her nostrils. The man wasted no time in getting to his feet, keen to feel the forceful thrusts of her hips against his. Adjusting his stance, he prepared to cast the enlargement-spell, but suddenly noticed a disconcerting sight on his right hand.
  515.  
  516. The little golden ring was glowing red-hot, like an iron ingot fresh from the forge.
  517.  
  518. He paused and studied it for a moment; wondering if its enchantment would hold up to further abuse, but soon enough it lost its crimson shimmer, returning to the pale yellow of normal. Clearly, it should suffice for the task at hand – if only just barely.
  519.  
  520. Lowering his hand, he pulled on the drawstring of his pants, letting them drop to the floor before kicking them off to one side. The dragon was watching him very closely, but said nothing, so he filled his lungs with air and focused his energy on the enlargement-spell.
  521.  
  522. It was a simple incantation, easy-to-remember, reliable, and quite potent, but it was crude and unrefined, the product of a witch’s intuitive hedge magic rather than a wizard’s arcane research, and it had a serious, albeit temporary drawback: it hurt. The subject’s flesh and bone, rather than expanding consistently under the spell’s effects, grew in sudden, disjointed spurts, and the discontinuity resulted in painful stretching and twisting.
  523.  
  524. The pain would quickly subside, and the quick utility it provided made the spell indispensible, however, so he’d learned to manage the few seconds of agony with a simple, but effective ploy: by screaming, he focused the pain into fury.
  525.  
  526. With a few hand gestures, some whispered arcane words, and the subtle magical creep of mental exhaustion, the change was upon him, and he doubled over, howling and roaring as his arms, then his legs, head and torso each separately and sequentially octupled in volume.
  527.  
  528. He stood back up, some twelve feet tall, throwing his head back and his arms into the air, still shouting down the spell’s miserable aftertaste, only to find his own cries echoed back at him: the she-dragon before him was roaring herself, almost in admiration of and respect for his apparent ferocity.
  529.  
  530. The pain subsided, and he wiped the sweat from his brow, staring into her lusty eyes as her gaze shifted downwards, and her fearsome roar softened into more of an excited purr. He grinned and looked over at her wide, powerful hips, clasping his hands together as he stretched his neck, intoning, “And now, madam, I am very eager to get a closer look at your elegant ebonstone ring.”
  531.  
  532. Teasing her rear appendage to and fro, she tilted her head back and licked her teeth, then stretched her forearms out in front of her, planting her hind feet down and twisting her belly onto the ground. The man approached her once again, running his hand along her thigh – now at chest level and a much more manageable size, though each of her legs was still nearly half as large as he was.
  533.  
  534. The loud clap as he spanked her left rear cheek seemed to reverberate around the room, but it was accompanied by an open-mouthed hiss from the dragon, who followed him with her gaze – though whether she was angry or aroused he found it difficult to tell; with her, there didn’t seem to be much difference.
  535.  
  536. He placed his right hand underneath the base of her heavy tail and pushed it out of the way, and the whole thing followed upwards as the dragon shifted her hips, adjusting her position. Stepping up behind her, he shouldered the load, working his right hand in-between the scales and the heavy golden tail-ring. Rubbing and squeezing, he felt her muscles tense and flex in anticipation – then he turned his head and kissed her tail, and was rewarded with that same purring growl as before. His left hand wandered down below and went to caress her underneath, but her heat had spread beyond her insides, and he now felt like he was running his fingers over a hot stove. After recoiling once from the unexpected sensation, he soldiered on, trusting in his ring.
  537.  
  538. She shut her eyes in delight, and he felt her tail start to curl downwards and to the left, until its thick, muscular base was pressing into his back, pushing him closer to her.
  539.  
  540. Sensing her eagerness, he stopped the tender strokes with his left hand, using it instead to make sure that the golden sash with all its dangling tassels was safely out of the way, and then he seized his member and guided himself in.
  541.  
  542. His tip breached her opening, and he grimaced in discomfort, clenching his teeth as so sensitive a part of him pushed into so hot an oven – but then he felt the juicy embrace of her soaked interior, and he arched his head back, moaning aloud as the pleasure started to overcome the pain. He released his grip, and removed his right hand from her tail, instead planting them both securely on her thighs, holding on tightly as he gradually pulled himself the rest of the way in.
  543.  
  544. Ahead, she had been slowly drawing in breath, eyes closed and mouth open, but when he had buried himself completely in her, their hips pressed firmly together at last, her eyes shot open and she suddenly exhaled, blowing a small burst of flame that crashed up into the stone roof, spreading in a small circle above them.
  545.  
  546. Then she twisted her neck and looked hungrily back at the man – the man, who was hunched over, still just barely coming to terms with the incredible heat enveloping him.
  547.  
  548. She bumped her body backwards, and he groaned loudly, unready for the sudden motion.
  549.  
  550. Then she did it again, and his head shot up, staring back at her, panting, but with a determined look in his eyes. He pulled out once, and then quickly thrust back into her. It seemed to hurt him to do so, though she did feel his grip tighten, and after a brief pause, he recoiled out of her and did it again, gradually building up to a taking up a steady, slow pace.
  551.  
  552. Beyond the delightful pleasure of feeling the knight inside her, she couldn’t help but notice that he was much faster going out than coming in; at the full length of each stroke, she could see his eyes roll back into his head and hear him stifle back a moan – but he clenched shut his jaw and hissed each time he started to push in once more.
  553.  
  554. He was overwhelmed, and it was taking all of his concentration just to hold on. She was frighteningly hot, fantastically wet, and, though it was hard to feel anything while so numbed by the heat, her folds and muscles were squeezing him wonderfully closely. Rather than being afraid of her incredible temperature, he found himself pulling out more to temper his growing, feverish desire to erupt inside her.
  555.  
  556. The thought crossed his mind that he was actually glad she wasn’t eagerly thrusting her ample hips the way he had previously hoped – otherwise, he would surely have been ‘defeated’.
  557.  
  558. It was around the time of this realization that she decided to once again bump back into him.
  559.  
  560. He emitted an audible groan, and tried to retreat – but her tail, wrapped tightly behind his back, was now snugly holding him in, and he felt it press him ever more closely towards her.
  561.  
  562. As his pace slowed, hers accelerated, and with every forceful thrust he was clenching his eyes shut, half-pushing against her to break himself free, and half-holding on out of eagerness for the rapidly-approaching blissful release.
  563.  
  564. Her hips assailed him with incredible energy and commanding vigour, making demands of his body surpassing even deadly battle. Eventually, his eyes opened wide, his mouth hung open, and he held his breath. She was staring straight back at him, a triumphant grin on her face – and then she suddenly stopped her motions, holding him tight, and he knew he’d been soundly beaten.
  565.  
  566. Bellowing like a madman, he exploded into her. His climax seemed to go on forever, and he doubled over forwards, collapsing onto her back, tears in his eyes as he struggled to find his breath.
  567.  
  568. She lifted her tail off of him and gently bumped him backwards, ejecting the spent man onto the treasure-pile behind her – but, to his credit, he managed to quickly stagger to his feet.
  569.  
  570. Bending over with his hands on his knees, the knight loudly cleared his throat and shook his head to clear the haze from his mind. Still noisily catching his breath, he looked up at her.
  571.  
  572. She was wearing that same, delicate smile – except now it was smug, wordlessly boasting ‘I won’ to him.
  573.  
  574. But he wasn’t about to be so easily beaten, and he stood up straight, took a deep breath, planted his hands on his hips, and looked her over.
  575.  
  576. Not since a tender young age had he been so masterfully outmanoeuvred in bed. He would be able to manage a second round soon enough, and with the first shot already fired he would be less quick to finish, certainly, but he was worried that simply having more time wouldn’t be enough – he had to find a way to stimulate her as much as she was stimulating him.
  577.  
  578. Ordinarily, that would mean making use of his fingers – but her legs were too large to reach around, and he couldn’t wedge his hand in behind her with the way she was slamming those wonderful hips of hers into him.
  579.  
  580. His gaze wandered over her ample bottom, and he felt his stiffness quickly return – then he noticed the golden chain around her waist.
  581.  
  582. Was it strong enough to serve his purpose? And would it have the desired effect? There was only one way to find out – but first, though she was likely still scalding-hot to the touch, he would have to ‘warm’ her up again.
  583.  
  584. “Well,” he said, “you are a fearsome wyrm indeed, madam. I wonder if you would have been so difficult to best in battle as well?”
  585.  
  586. She smirked back at him, “Don’t bemoan your loss, knight. You put up an amusing fight.”
  587.  
  588. The man theatrically arched his eyebrows, “My ‘loss’, madam? Do dragons only keep score based on the first to finish?” She remained silent, watching curiously as he continued, “I don’t count a victory just because I landed the first blow, especially not if my opponent is still standing. A victory must be complete and total.” He stretched his arms and shook his legs to limber up, then explained, “A victory is when my foe lies down on the ground, her eyes shut, her body completely limp, her breathing lethargic.”
  589.  
  590. He started slowly towards her, eyeing her behind. “A victory is when she’s numb to the world around her, when she can’t even think straight, when all she can feel is the heat in her belly, and the fizzing, popping noises in her own head.” Now, he was beside her, and as he reached out to squeeze her cheeks, they clenched in anticipation.
  591.  
  592. Running his fingers along the scales of her generously curved thighs aroused him almost as much as it was exciting her, and he could see her start to pant in anticipation, his words having the desired effect. Now it was time for the finishing touch, as much a boast of tantalizing delights to come for her, as it was a motivational speech for himself.
  593.  
  594. “You are a terrifyingly magnificent beast, she-dragon,” he pronounced, eliciting an aroused growl in return, then he firmly grabbed her tail and roughly shoved it up and out of the way, looking her in the eyes and slowly nodding, “But I will tame you.”
  595.  
  596. With that, he saddled up behind her, and spanked her right cheek with one hand, while the other reached down and grabbed the chain sash – except, instead of moving it out of the way, now he adjusted it back, positioning at the far edge of her opening, as close to where he’d found her ‘spot’ as he could fathom. Unaware of his intentions, she was growling and snarling from the delay, writhing in anticipation – and from a second forceful slap – when he finally seized himself and firmly pushed in.
  597.  
  598. If she had been an oven before, now she was a roaring inferno, but this time he was already adjusted to the heat – and mentally ready for the illusory burning sensation – so he pressed on, heedless to what his body was trying to tell him. He wanted to shut his eyes from the mixture of pleasure and pain, but he forced himself to keep them open, unwilling to show any sign of weakness in this second round of ‘combat’.
  599.  
  600. The knight began a steady rhythm, pumping into her with just enough force and just enough speed that she refrained from forcing herself upon him – instead, pleased with his attentions, she merely matched his own movements, playfully bouncing herself back, and occasionally emitting a satisfied growl.
  601.  
  602. As their two bodies collided, the man slowly and stealthily worked his fingers underneath the chain around her back; staring up at her the whole time.
  603.  
  604. Her head was turned sideways, her mouth hanging open just enough to expose her teeth. In-between bumps, her eyes would lazily open and then half-close again – she was clearly enjoying this, and the blissful expression on her face energized him.
  605.  
  606. He gathered up the slack in the sash, wrapping the chain around his fists.
  607.  
  608. Everything was ready now, but he waited patiently for the right moment to strike. Once he sprung the ‘trap’ – such as it was – she would surely respond with an escalation of her own, and this he could not survive, for the wonderful feeling of her hot, moist, tight insides already threatened to end him even before the right moment could come.
  609.  
  610. And there was another problem, as well: the spell would be wearing off very soon…
  611.  
  612. The man quickened his pace, pulling forcefully on her hips as he vigorously thrust himself into her. This seemed to please her even more, and she replied by increasing her own intensity – but also, he noted, turning her head forwards, facing away from him. Her wings were by now half-extended, and her tail was pushing more forcefully against him.
  613.  
  614. As she tightened around him, embracing him with high pressure and intense heat, he felt his hold on the situation start to slip; he could delay no longer. Leaning back, he pulled sharply on the chains as if they were the reigns of a thundering loose steed, and in the blink of an eye everything changed.
  615.  
  616. Her thrusts suddenly stopped. Her wings popped fully open with a loud ‘fwoop’. Her tail slapped loudly against the coins. And she roared, her head rearing back and turning sideways to stare at him with a mixture of terrifying fury and on frenzied bliss her face.
  617.  
  618. The man, however, hadn’t wavered in his pace, and, with a loud grunt, he pulled even more tightly on the sash. Before she could react in earnest, the combination of his vigorous assault and the intense pressure on her most sensitive spot made her start to lose composure. She fought the feeling every step of the way, but her eyelids inevitably wavered shut, her gyrations almost instinctively resumed, and her growl was silenced by the panting that grew in volume and intensity as she began to let herself go. Soon, she was beating back against him far more quickly, more forcefully, and more noisily than she had done so before.
  619.  
  620. He had her now – or he would have, except that on the one hand he felt his own peak rapidly approaching, fuelled by her now unshackled lust, and on the hand, he heard the tell-tale ‘pop’ in his head as his inner ears started to shrink back down to their normal size. The rest of him would soon follow, and although he could tell from her heat and her pace that she was nearing the edge of her own climax, he needed to hasten things along if he expected to live up to his earlier boast.
  621.  
  622. There was only one thing left to do: he would have to cheat.
  623.  
  624. “He called you old, the fool,” the knight gasped, scarcely able to hold a coherent thought, and her ears pricked up at the unexpected words, “but you are full of youthful vigour.”
  625.  
  626. A loud growl in-between laboured breaths was all she managed in reply, but the next thrust of her hips would have shattered a lesser man’s bones, and the subsequent hits would have pounded such a fellow to dust.
  627.  
  628. Wrapping the sash chain a second time around his palms, he freed his fingers and squeezed her cheeks. “He called you ugly,” he began, then continued with clenched teeth, “but your beauty drives me mad with desire.”
  629.  
  630. She roared, eyes clenched tight, and slammed her head into the treasure pile, her shoulders quivering, her talons clenching tightly.
  631.  
  632. The man took a pained breath, fighting with every ounce of his strength to delay his release just a little longer, groaning out, “And as for his third, outrageous, abominable, villainous accusation…”
  633.  
  634. It hurt to continue his strokes, but he pressed on, gasping out, “… win or lose…”
  635.  
  636. He could restrain himself no longer. With a final thrust, he screamed out, “… you are unsurpassed!” As he felt himself pump into her, she stopped as well, and he felt his seed forcefully squeezed out as her insides clamped tightly down on him.
  637.  
  638. The room was suddenly filled with blinding-red light as the she-dragon poured out an enormous, thundering pillar of fire into the cavern wall ahead. A wave of hot air reflected back towards them as the flames flooded the ceiling and floor, and the knight was knocked backwards down to the ground not only by the instantaneous firestorm-gale, but also by the crippling pain of his enlargement-spell’s expiry.
  639.  
  640. Fire flooded the room as the she-dragon continued her forceful exhalation. Sprawled out on the floor, the dragon-slayer lifted his head up in disbelief; he had never seen a wyrm sustain such an attack for so long.
  641.  
  642. Finally, with the cave wall glowing bright red, the air thick with steam, and lingering flames spread all around the room, the dragon ran out of breath, and the man had to swiftly roll away as her legs gave out and she crumpled down onto her side.
  643.  
  644. Lying on his belly, he took a minute to catch his breath, then struggled to his feet and surveyed his quarry.
  645.  
  646. She was lying on her left side, facing away from his ‘seat’, completely limp, her legs and arms gathered up tightly. Her tail was inert, and her wings seemed to have simply flopped onto the ground, instead of being properly folded-up. Besides the crackle of flame where she’d ignited – but not completely incinerated – patches of moss inside the cavern, the only sound in the room was that of her deep, slow, relaxed breaths.
  647.  
  648. As for himself, he was absolutely covered in sweat, his head was pounding, his knees were sore, he had red marks on his hands from where he’d been pulling on her chain sash, and his pelvis was in tremendous agony from the battering it had endured – but he was standing – barely – and that was good enough.
  649.  
  650. Slowly and hesitantly, he shambled over towards the little treasure-pile that served as his chair. His clothes were here, but the thought of dressing himself didn’t even enter his mind; what he need more than anything else was a drink. He had to brace one arm against his knee to prevent himself from toppling over as he painfully bent down and reached for his wine goblet. Raising it up, he took a swig, but was dismayed to find it was still empty, and angrily fumbled around for the bottle instead.
  651.  
  652. When he managed to get both the goblet and the bottle in his hands, he reflected that the time for proper decorum seemed to be now rather distant, and so he casually tossed the goblet to the floor, choosing instead to uncork the bottle and drink straight from it.
  653.  
  654. The wine soothed his parched throat, though he really needed water more than anything else. The prospect of stumbling all the way over to the little water-pool was not particularly appealing, however. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he turned around.
  655.  
  656. She was still as a stone but for the steady rise and fall of her chest. From this angle, he could now see that her neck was curved inwards towards her belly, her head obscured behind the bulk of her torso.
  657.  
  658. His gaze wandered down her long body – how she’d managed to breathe with that heavy yoke-like necklace on, he couldn’t fathom – and when he reached her lower portions, he had to stop and stare.
  659.  
  660. Those wonderful wide hips of her could murder a man in more ways than one, but the instant he saw them, he knew exactly what he wanted them to do again. To his own disbelief, he felt a throbbing sensation deep down below as his body struggled to reawaken parts that were exhausted and worn out.
  661.  
  662. He shut his eyes and tried to think of something else, but when he eventually reopened them, the same feeling of desire washed over him.
  663.  
  664. Sex with a dragon. A ludicrous prospect for someone who had helped kill eight and personally slain another seven, yet here he was, already having taken two sips of that forbidden nectar, and pining for a third.
  665.  
  666. The knight took another draught from the bottle of wine.
  667.  
  668. His lust remained, but there was nothing he could do in this state. Whatever happened next, first, he’d need to revive his drained body, and then he’d need to clear his weary mind. A few slow stretching exercises would help with the first, and some meditation would soothe the latter. It would be half an hour, perhaps, before he was completely refreshed. Dragons could certainly sleep for days at a time, but he doubted that she would be out so long.
  669.  
  670. And Erebosan Reds could be fickle, vicious beasts… As much as he was interested in a third go with the incredible creature, and as much as she seemed to enjoy herself as well, there was always the possibility that she would try to do something nasty. He would have to be ready.
  671.  
  672. ***
  673.  
  674. The dragon opened her eyes some twenty minutes later. She hadn’t been asleep, not exactly – just resting at a blissful midway point between wakefulness and slumber, in a serene state of relaxation and satisfaction.
  675.  
  676. It had been years since a lover had made her feel this way. A dull tingling sensation still ran all up and down her body, and she found it difficult to even tell where her limbs were, let alone move them. Not that she was much interested in moving at the moment, for she found herself confronted with a strange mixture of emotions.
  677.  
  678. Partly, she was embarrassed; dragons did occasionally mate with humans, it was true, but only with a select elite – and even then, only when either dragon or human was under the effects of a powerful shape-changing spell. Bedding a minor landless noble-born of no title and little worldly renown, and with the aid of but trivial magic, was a far cry from seducing a great warlord or courting a grand wizard.
  679.  
  680. Her embarrassment over the apparently meagre choice of mate was augmented by her irritation that even his awkward effort to please her had succeeded so tremendously. She’d craved the feeling of another scaly body on top of her own, of wings wrapping around her, of growling teeth teasing at her neck, and claws eagerly gripping her shoulders – and the man had none of that, but even so, he’d managed to bring her to a wonderful climax. Though she had to admit he was possessed of some skill and not a little charm, his success in spite of his feeble form made it painfully clear to her just how utterly starved she had become with her former lover.
  681.  
  682. But both of these negative emotions were far outweighed by the deep, overwhelming, exhilarating pleasure she felt.
  683.  
  684. Regardless of the quality of her present company, she’d desperately needed this, and his previous reassuring words earlier hadn’t hurt, either. All things considered, she could have done much worse than the knight, and, she had to admit, his second go was much better than his first. His bold eagerness had been energizing, and the thought of what he might be capable of in a tantalizing third round nibbled at her mind, though she was certain he would be far too worn out to try it again, and she had to admit that she felt a bit winded herself.
  685.  
  686. The dragon’s ears pricked up when she heard coins shifting behind her, and she sensed that the man was standing not far from the little coin-pile she’d fashioned for him.
  687.  
  688. He was still awake! Perhaps there was even more to him that she’d suspected.
  689.  
  690. With a sly, satisfied smirk on her face, she lethargically raised her head up from behind her body to look at him – yet what she saw made her heart sink.
  691.  
  692. The man was indeed standing; his back was to her, and he was still naked, but what she noticed most of all was that his hands were clasped to his face, as if he were weeping.
  693.  
  694. Of course. How silly of her. If she herself harboured regrets about bedding a man in this way, what might he be thinking, a dragon-slayer seduced by a dragon?
  695.  
  696. Her smile faded into a disappointed scowl.
  697.  
  698. She’d come on too strong. Inviting him to stay for dinner, and then the jewellery, the make-up, the playful compliments. Her provocative enticement had pushed him to go beyond his reasonable limits, and now his deeds had caught up to him. The dragon, who wouldn’t have shed a tear if she’d killed the man in a fight, did feel bad – a little – to know that she had now caused him the same kind of emotional pain that had so recently been inflicted on her.
  699.  
  700. But if he was upset about what they’d done together, why hadn’t he simply left? Though he’d been confident of defeating her in combat, perhaps his manners had gotten the better of him, and he was afraid of offending her by exiting without saying goodbye. If that was the case, then it was time to invite him to leave, and let him know that there would be no hard feelings on her part. Whatever his reasons for crying or for staying, one thing was sure: it distressed her to have him weeping beside her, and if that was how he was going to be, she didn’t want him around any longer.
  701.  
  702. With her neck still coiled around and her head just barely peeking up over her back, she swiftly folded her wings and intoned, “You’ve done your duty here, knight. You may depart, with my compliments.”
  703.  
  704. The instant he heard her voice, he lifted his head up out of his hands and turned his neck to look at her. His forehead was damp with sweat, but his cheeks were dry, though she scarcely noticed this as she continued, morose, “I’ll not bother Kyne again, nor remain nearby.”
  705.  
  706. The man was genuinely confused. She sounded upset; did she feel he’d taken advantage of her, after all? Yet, she seemed to have been eager, and in control of herself, and to have very much enjoyed their romp together.
  707.  
  708. “Depart?” he asked quizzically, “I hope I have not offended my generous hostess in some unknown manner.”
  709.  
  710. Her eyes narrowed. “You were crying, knight. My home has enough regrets to deal with already, and I only ask that you not add to them.”
  711.  
  712. “Crying!” the man exclaimed, then softly chuckled, shaking his head. “I was performing a relaxation technique… A way of meditating to recover spent stamina.” She continued to stare grimly at him, apparently not quite believing his words, until he cocked his head sideways, arched his eyebrows, poked his tongue through his lips and, with a mischievous smirk, said, “After my exercises, I could probably manage to cast that spell again… If that interests you, I mean.”
  713.  
  714. Instantly, her eyes opened wide, and, after a brief pause, she coiled her head down and rolled herself onto her belly.
  715.  
  716. Her head reappeared, pressed firmly into the treasure pile, gently bobbing left and right , and slithering along the ground with her neck trailing behind like some enormous snake. The knight’s playful expression turned to concern as she approached, and he was strongly tempted to take a step back – but what good would it do? He was naked, defenceless, his magical powers not yet recovered. If she was going to strike him, there was nothing he could do to stop her.
  717.  
  718. She stopped her snout barely one step away, and lifted her head up so that she was level with his eyes, staring straight into him.
  719.  
  720. As she’d done during their embrace, she inhaled deeply, her nostrils flaring open, taking in his scent, but instead of blowing out hot steam when her lungs were full, her jaws suddenly sprung open and she tilted her head sideways. The man gritted his teeth, shut his eyes, and turned his head away, certain that his end had come – but then he felt her warm breath upon him, and he felt her enormous, slimy tongue slowly lick him from his legs, around his crotch, up his chest, and all the way up his face.
  721.  
  722. When he dared to look out again, her head was on the ground once more, and her golden eyes stared up at him with the gaze of a hungry crocodile.
  723.  
  724. “I’ll take that as a yes?” he asked, delicately wiping some of the slobber off his cheek.
  725.  
  726. Her only reply was to growl, deeply and slowly.
  727.  
  728. The man adjusted his posture, stretching his neck, rolling his shoulders, and shaking his hands and feet to limber them up. “It may take me a few moments more to manage the spell,” he said, and then he closed his eyes, took a series of deep breaths, and tried to clear his mind, until he felt focused and ready.
  729.  
  730. With a flick of his wrist, he muttered out the arcane words, and then erupted into a great howl, anticipating the pain – but nothing happened. In his head, he felt the spell shatter and fail, let down by a lack of mental balance on his part.
  731.  
  732. From ahead of him, he heard a deep chuckle.
  733.  
  734. “Having trouble getting your ‘magic’ up?” she asked teasingly, and he opened his eyes to see her head playfully shifting to and fro against the treasure-hoard, pushing the coins around aimlessly even as she stared up at him.
  735.  
  736. “I will manage it, madam,” he replied, amused by her casual goading, “if you’ll but give me a moment.”
  737.  
  738. She said nothing, so he shut his eyes again, and repeated his breathing exercise as before, but he also brought one hand up to his face. Sensitive fingertips probed for the Five Points of spiritual energy, and, when found, he deliberately and firmly planted his fingers upon them– focusing his mind on his hand in order to take hold of his own arcane powers, just as the old crone had taught him so many years ago.
  739.  
  740. The knight became so absorbed by this task of meditation that he noticed neither the warmth that seemed to gradually envelop his torso, nor the back-and-forth movement of air that started to whistle by his left side, nor the subtle change in sound from the treasure-hoard which signalled that the dragon’s head was no longer on the floor in front of him.
  741.  
  742. What he certainly did notice, albeit quite a few seconds after it had begun, was a warm, slimy muscle trying to wrap itself around his member.
  743.  
  744. The unexpected stimulation yanked him out of his introspective trance, and he gasped, opening his eyes to look down. To a mixture of horror and arousal, he found himself between her sideways-tilted jaws, her stiletto-like teeth scarcely an inch away from his kidneys. With her head turned over this way, her nostrils were blowing air past his left arm, and she was looking up at him with her left eye.
  745.  
  746. Down below, she was performing inconceivably wondrous feats with her tongue, squeezing and licking in ways possible only to an elongated, agile muscle. He groaned, and his body flooded more blood to his sensitive, sore, and already half-engorged shaft. Though she wasn’t able to suck on him – not without biting him in half – her firm, twisting, rolling, motions promised to wring everything that was left out of him in a matter of seconds. The man tilted his head back, teeth clenched, and she continued her eager ministrations, coiling her tongue around him, gripping him tightly, and pumping him, eliciting ever more satisfied sounds from the man.
  747.  
  748. At last, huffing in and out, he ventured to put his hands down on her lips, and tried to push her away, breathlessly moaning out, “That isn’t helping.” She gave one last lick, then withdrew her head, closing her mouth even as she pulled back, her teeth passing so close that one of them dragged out a red scratch-mark across his skin.
  749.  
  750. Righting her head, she looked over her ‘prey’ – he was breathing heavily, covered in cold sweat, and very fully erect. “Part of you would beg to differ,” she grinned.
  751.  
  752. The knight got himself under control and had to smile awkwardly back, for he did indeed feel focused after all – focused on pleasing her once more. Shaking his head, he planted his feet, closed his eyes, and stretched out his arms, determined to try the spell once more. He was seconds away from launching into the arcane gestures and words when the dragon called out in a breathy voice, “Wait!”
  753.  
  754. Poised to begin casting, his eyes snapped open and he saw her head once again mischievously swaying back and forth on top of her treasure. “Put your armour on, first,” she purred. He furrowed his brow and squinted at her in confusion, and she lifted her head up high above him – then he noticed her hips start to squirm seductively.
  755.  
  756. “I want to be on top.”
  757.  
  758. The man went white as a sheet.
  759.  
  760. Take an eight-ton dragon on top of him? He’d be lucky to come out with any of his bones intact.
  761.  
  762. Although… the enlargement-spell would strengthen him, the treasure-pile had some give, his armour should let her sit more on the ground than on his body, and, in exchange for the dangerous risk, he would get to experience the full impact – literally and figuratively – of those wonderful hips of hers.
  763.  
  764. He had to think about it for a moment, but the outcome was never in doubt. She had him hooked, at least for now, and there was little he wouldn’t venture to do – especially at her own request.
  765.  
  766. Nervously biting his lip, he nodded in agreement, then turned and walked over to his pile of armour pieces and clothing, considering what to wear – he’d want his shirt and his woollen hose pieces to prevent chafing, and he could wear just about all of his armour save for the waist faulds, thigh cuisses, and pointed sabatons.
  767.  
  768. The dragon watched attentively as the knight busied himself putting his armour back on – a task made somewhat more awkward by the stiffness of his rod. Though she craved the attentions of a fellow scaled beast, there was one, special itch that this man could scratch. Denied the opportunity to explore this particular fantasy by all of her previous mates, she’d never before done what she was about to do, but she had often enough dreamed about it, and any embarrassment she’d felt about bedding this little man was evaporating, consumed in the flames of her lust. It was wonder enough that he was ready for a third round so quickly, but the fact that he had actually been eager for it bolstered her self-confidence and inflamed her passion.
  769.  
  770. Her eyes had glossed over, and she was half-lost in her own reverie, when the knight broke out in an angry cry, his spell successfully cast for the second time today. He doubled in height once again, but this time his armour followed with him, a gently-pointed steel breastplate and flatter backplate, interlocking arm and leg covers, gauntlets, boots, and his visored helmet, still open. Conspicuously absent from the ensemble was any protection around the crotch.
  771.  
  772. Getting to her feet, the dragon started to kick up the pile of treasure with all four limbs, quickly building a large raised plateau of coins and gems, just big enough for her own body to rest upon. This done, she stepped away, allowing the man to approach as she circled around the ‘bed’. Under her hungry gaze, he stepped up onto the platform, positioned himself towards one end, and laid down, legs straight and arms splayed out.
  773.  
  774. Having come around him, she sat at the foot of the bed, sizing up the ‘meal’ lying there, almost hesitant to indulge herself. As if sensing her delay, the man craned his neck up, looked her in the eyes for a moment, then slammed shut his visor with one hand, calling out, “Come, then, she-dragon. Your stallion eagerly awaits.”
  775.  
  776. The saccharine invitation seemed to work, and he soon found himself staring up at her amber-clad belly. Slowly, deliberately, she lowered herself down onto him; with one hand he pushed her sash’s tassels out of the way, while with the other he guided himself in. Her heat had subsided somewhat since their previous coupling, but the intensity was still so far beyond normal experience that the man grunted in pain again – yet whereas before she was happy to exploit his discomfort for her own pleasure, now she seemed be to taking care, letting herself down as slowly and delicately as possible. For whatever reason, her challenge seemed to be over, and she was actually accommodating his deficiencies.
  777.  
  778. At last, he felt her body press down upon him, and shortly afterwards, she was seated, her forepaws to either side of him, with much of her weight sitting on her own limbs, but enough of it laying on top of him that his legs were completely immobilized.
  779.  
  780. She sat up and leaned back, revealing her shapely underside in all its armoured glory – and she also took the opportunity to inspect the knight, making sure he seemed able and willing to go on.
  781.  
  782. That he was both was made very clear when he stretched out his arms and firmly grabbed on to her thighs.
  783.  
  784. Slowly, she lifted herself up, gauging his maximum extent. When she found it, she held the position for a moment, then came gently bouncing back down.
  785.  
  786. The knight didn’t flinch, and his grasp didn’t waver. She did it again, slightly quicker and more violently this time, still carefully observing his reaction. He let out a grunt, but it was as much one of pleasure as it was of pain, and, when she seemed hesitant to make the motion a third time, he quickly slapped her right thigh to spur her on.
  787.  
  788. Grinning, she bounced once more, almost dropping herself onto him, but still the man – and his armour – held fast, so she shut her eyes and ceased her hesitant testing, settling in to a confident, sensuous rhythm.
  789.  
  790. Coins clattered and metal thudded as she pounded downwards, and when it had been going on for long enough that the man managed to stop worrying about meeting a fatal end, he found himself staring forwards at her intricate sash and up at her enormous neck ring, mesmerized by the way their chains swayed, jangled, and shook with every wonderful blow.
  791.  
  792. Though he couldn’t help but groan from the fantastic sensation of being inside her, he was still much too sore and far too tired to enjoy the experience completely, taking most of his pleasure instead from watching – and feeling – the dragon indulge herself atop of him. She was riding him with such abandon that it was almost a shame there was little he seemed able to do to further her enjoyment; she had nothing for him to play with at the front, her thighs were far too firm and thick to squeeze, and he doubted she could feel a tender caress through her scales. For now, it seemed that all he could do was hold on.
  793.  
  794. Soon enough, her fervour reached a lofty plateau, and, to the knight’s apprehension, she started to walk her forepaws forwards, gradually lowering herself down, until she was almost horizontal, her belly hanging only a few feet away from his face.
  795.  
  796. Blinded by his constrictive helmet, he couldn’t see what she was doing – but he could hear the swishing as treasure shifted around him; when he saw her abdomen start to get closer, he knew what she was planning, and turned his head to one side to avoid being suffocated.
  797.  
  798. In a few seconds, she had finished lowering herself down, and he was almost completely buried underneath her, sandwiched between her jasmine belly-scales and the golden treasure beneath him. With his legs still smothered underneath her bottom and tail, only his arms were free, his shoulders just barely tucked in underneath her abdomen.
  799.  
  800. The change in posture didn’t seem to have reduced her intensity; instead, it had been heightened, and though he could no longer watch the delicate jewellery bounce along to her rhythmic motions, his vision was filled with scales that flexed and fluctuated with every laboured breath she took. Above the din of shifting coins and clanking metal, he could hear her pant and occasionally spit out some little burst of flame, and, being so close to her lungs, he could feel the reverberations of her excited growls.
  801.  
  802. Suddenly, she wrenched her left leg free from his grasp, then quickly folded it back in, drawing in a pile of treasure with it. When she did it again with the other leg, and then he heard it happening with her arms, it started to dawn on the man that this act wasn’t about him at all – far from it. This was something else, and her hesitation, her delicate handling of him earlier, was all just to make sure he would suit her needs.
  803.  
  804. The treasure-hoard! So much for the intimate act of sleeping on it, now she must be imagining herself making love to it! Well, if that was what she wanted, perhaps he could find some way to contribute to her fantasy.
  805.  
  806. Up above, the she-dragon was indeed going wild with the thrill of this long-sought dream finally being fulfilled. Encased in his armour, the enlarged man beneath her seemed like nothing more than another shiny bauble in the enormous pile of treasure – *her* enormous pile of treasure. No longer quite in control of her own actions, her tail was freely slapping and swishing the coins, her wings were flapping in uncontrolled spasms, and she was grinding her head and horns into the treasure-pile.
  807.  
  808. She couldn’t have imagined a more perfect realization of her deep erotic desire – and then she felt something crash into her flank.
  809.  
  810. Barely able to force open her eyes in the face of the coming storm of ecstasy, she looked back and saw the man scooping up mounds of the treasure in his hands and flinging it at her body. It barely crossed her mind that he might be in pain and struggling to get her attention, before her personal fantasy took over, and she decided instead that her treasure-hoard was somehow making love back to her.
  811.  
  812. A flaming, high-pitch shriek of delight erupted from her toothy maw, and she shut her eyes again, the better to allow fiction to supplant reality.
  813.  
  814. She continued her enthusiastic gyrations, and felt her treasure not just fling itself at her, but rub and caress her, smearing itself over her sides, pouring down her hips, trickling down her toes. As she neared her own zenith, the hoard’s motions became even more aggressive; treasure rained down onto her back, leaped up at her wings, and crashed into her shoulders.
  815.  
  816. Every rapid, palpitating breath she took in came back out as a fiery howl, until the cave was so bathed in flame that even underneath her, the knight could see the added light – but what was truly incredible to him was that she was able to sustain this peak for so long without culminating. His arms were becoming tired from struggling against her bulk to animate the treasure-hoard, though with her flame-breath running loose, her belly-scales sizzling hot and her insides practically melting, he considered his efforts amply rewarded.
  817.  
  818. He couldn’t keep up the puppeteering, but she still needed something to complete the experience. Perhaps some firmer encouragement would do? She might be numb to feeling his fingers on her scales, but she would certainly notice the steel claws of his gauntlets.
  819.  
  820. The she-dragon was utterly lost in her euphoria, so close to a climax but so delirious with the continuous pleasure that she would almost wish for the end to be delayed – if she could think anything at all, for a torrent of wonderful sensations was rampaging through her mind, hurtling her madly towards a certain blissful end at an uncertain future time.
  821.  
  822. The relentless flood of desire was finally punctuated with a sharp, distinct pain in her thighs. Metal talons bit into her scales, and in that moment, the only remaining reality – that it was a human dragon-slayer underneath her – was obliterated, replaced with the ideal fantasy that it had been a dragon indulging her fetish all along.
  823.  
  824. That was the final, joyful piece of the puzzle, and it pushed the she-dragon over the edge.
  825.  
  826. She shrieked; again and again, her body shuddered and convulsed, and the man felt boiling-hot fluids pour out on top of him. He tried to twist out from underneath her, but struggling was pointless, for he’d been pounded into a depression in the hoard, and as her legs collapsed, she lay fully on top of him.
  827.  
  828. He was worried he would become trapped underneath her slumbering form, but this final, tremendous orgasm turned out to be different from the previous one; instead of curling up and passing out, she continued to pant, spasm, and stammer for so long that he actually felt his enlargement spell start to wear off – and he welcomed its painful end, for he’d more easily be able to wriggle his way free.
  829.  
  830. Sure enough, when returned to his normal size, he found himself with some room to move around in the giant man-shaped impression he’d left in the treasure-pile. Pushing through the coins and struggling under her bulk, gasping for air all the way, he at last managed to extricate himself from underneath her.
  831.  
  832. Not even bothering to try standing up, knowing that his legs were utterly useless at this moment, the man simply rolled over onto his back, tearing at the straps of his gauntlets. He only managed to get one of them off, but one free hand was all he needed to assault his helmet. It was only when that most constrictive piece of armour was removed that he at last felt he could breathe again. With a supreme struggle and effort, he managed to push himself up into a seating position, and as soon as his head was up in the air, it began to spin and throb.
  833.  
  834. He needed a drink. Ahead of him sat the crate of wine-bottles, but the thirty feet between him and the refreshments might as well have been thirty miles, for all the movement his legs could manage. Instead, he stretched out his right hand and barked an arcane word of command at the crate.
  835.  
  836. In the blink of an eye, one of the bottles came whipping out towards him, and the price for catching it was being knocked flat on his back once again as he barely managed to stop it from simply exploding in his hand. Still on the ground, he brought the bottle up to his face and bit into the plump cork, clumsily tugging it out with a loud ‘pop’ and spilling some of the precious contents before he could bring the spout up to his lips.
  837.  
  838. The man drank greedily, scarcely pausing to breathe, and only when he felt the pulsing in his head had been numbed did he start to take in his surroundings once more.
  839.  
  840. A step behind him, the dragon was still lying on her belly, and he heaved himself backwards to use her as a support, grasping at a scaly protrusion and hauling himself up so he was sitting up straight against her left flank, clutching the wine bottle.
  841.  
  842. To his left, her leg was still quivering, her toes twitching between curled up and spread out. Her breathing was quick and heavy; he looked over to his right and saw her head on the ground, her eyes partially obscured as her milky, translucent third eyelids were constantly blinking involuntarily.
  843.  
  844. She looked in worse shape than he was, so he held up the bottle, gesturing at her head with it.
  845.  
  846. The dragon took the hint, and slowly inched her head towards him. He held out his left hand and barked the same magic word at the wine-crate, receiving another forcefully hurled bottle in return. Ordinarily, he could muster nearly as much telekinetic control as his host had earlier demonstrated, but this was no ordinary situation. In this state of total exhaustion, roughly tossing things around was the best he could do.
  847.  
  848. By the time he’d managed to wring the stubborn cork out of the second bottle, she’d reached him, her mouth open. He strained to lean forwards, then upended both bottles into her waiting maw.
  849.  
  850. She, too, drank greedily, gasping for breath the whole time. When both bottles were empty, his arms collapsed to the ground, and he felt utterly spent. The feeling was not helped when the dragon took the liberty of roughly laying her head down on his legs.
  851.  
  852. Out of nowhere, he started to laugh.
  853.  
  854. “You know, we’ve done all this, and we don’t even know each others’ names,” he chuckled, tears of exhaustion in his eyes.
  855.  
  856. A great deep sniffle brought her closer to finally catching her breath. “Anonymity,” she huffed out in between laboured puffs, “has served us well, so far.”
  857.  
  858. “True enough,” said the man, as a sly smile started to form on his face, “but I bet your name is as beautiful as you are.”
  859.  
  860. She suddenly lifted her head up and stopped panting, staring him sharply in the eye for a few moments before proclaiming, “You are a flirt!”
  861.  
  862. “Is that a complaint?” the man wearily grinned back, and now it was her turn to emit a chuckle. “No,” she began, sarcastically, “but I should have realized that a wandering, dragon-slaying, landless nobleman would be a philanderer.”
  863.  
  864. “A philanderer!” he exclaimed, bringing one hand up to his breastplate, which was now so pitted, scratched, flattened that it looked like a team of men had set upon it with iron hammers. “You wound me, madam! I am but a humble romantic,” he said, feigning injury, but then stretched out his left hand towards her waist, “easily seduced by the sumptuous charms of a handsome feminine creature.”
  865.  
  866. He felt her body shudder behind him when he wriggled his still-armoured left hand underneath her chain sash and gently scratched at her scales.
  867.  
  868. The spasm was transient, however, and she soon became calm again. Slowly she turned her head and brought her snout in front of his face, even closer than she had been when he had kissed her – and she was wearing that same, tender, endearing smile again.
  869.  
  870. “What happened to the hesitant, ‘I fear that I have done you wrong’, hmm?” she asked. “And how much of what I did – the food, the jewellery, the make-up – was really necessary to get you into bed with me?”
  871.  
  872. He swallowed, and it was a moment before he could summon up the energy to reply. “I may have been party to more than a few trysts in my time,” he said, speaking slowly, “but they were all with human women.”
  873.  
  874. The man craned his head to look around; to his left, her tail was playfully flopping to and fro. Above him, she was only just now managing to properly re-fold her wings. And before him, golden eyes bored into him from a spiked, horned, and armoured head almost as big as his whole body.
  875.  
  876. “I’ve never wanted this before,” he admitted. “I didn’t even know that I could want this.”
  877.  
  878. She said nothing, so he nodded his head to one side and asked, “That was new for you as well just now, wasn’t it?” Something in the way he posed the question made it clear to her he wasn’t referring to the coupling of dragon and man, and she replied in confusion, “What?”
  879.  
  880. “This last one. It was about the treasure for you, wasn’t it?”
  881.  
  882. Again, she was silent, but then he saw the same thin line of grey smoke filter up from her nostrils, and his curiosity about this strange emanation got the better of him. “And what’s that mean, anyways?” he asked, barely managing to lift one hand to point at her snout.
  883.  
  884. “What?” she asked again, her confusion doubled.
  885.  
  886. “That thin wisp of smoke,” he explained. “I’ve never seen vapours waft up from a dragon’s nostrils like that before.”
  887.  
  888. She tensed up, grumbling, “You noticed that, did you?”
  889.  
  890. Perhaps it was his exhausted state, but he mistook frustration and embarrassment for her trying to play games with him, and he became a little annoyed – and perhaps a little foolish. “Yes,” he replied sternly. “Just as I noticed that you’d picked your body clean of gems and coins not long in the past.”
  891.  
  892. “How perceptive of you,” she spat out, growing angry.
  893.  
  894. “I have to be, in my profession,” he said, and instantly he realized his mistake, “but I also noticed that you regretted the act.” The anger in her eyes was suddenly replaced with shock, and he continued, “During our conversation, I saw that you were grinding yourself into your treasure-hoard, trying to undo the damage.”
  895.  
  896. The dragon took a deep breath, realizing that she had gotten angry for nothing. It was embarrassing for him to have noticed such secret details, but considering what they had just done together, it hardly mattered. The memory of just why she had scratched and scraped herself for those many hours tugged at the back of her mind; thankfully, it was mostly held in check by the recent delights.
  897.  
  898. “It was the night he left,” she said morosely, looking down, “I thought I’d never find love again.”
  899.  
  900. “And the smoke?” he asked, still curious.
  901.  
  902. “Slow smoke from the nostrils,” she began, slowly but firmly, looking him in the eye, “is from debris and saliva smouldering inside the mouth”.
  903.  
  904. That didn’t answer anything, but before the man could speak up, she continued, somewhat more quickly, “Things are smouldering inside the mouth, because the cheeks have become hot. The cheeks have become hot, because they are flush with blood.”
  905.  
  906. The wine and the exertion of the last hour made the wheels inside the knight’s head turn slowly indeed, and he spent quite some time with his face scrunched up in confusion, until at last his jaw dropped open. “You were blushing!” he blurted out, flabbergasted.
  907.  
  908. She said nothing, which just confirmed his conclusion.
  909.  
  910. If that was what dragons did when they blushed, well, it was no surprise that she could be angry or embarrassed for him to have noticed it. After all, she’d just had her heart broken; perhaps in desperation, she’d then bedded the noble man sent to kill her, and now he’d revealed that he was actually a rather loose individual, when it came to women. Why shouldn’t she be worried that he would stomp on the broken shards for his own gain?
  911.  
  912. The knight swallowed, feeling guilty.
  913.  
  914. “I have the vice of being an incorrigible flirt,” he began, remorseful, “but at least I have the virtue of being an honest one. Everything I’ve said, I’ve meant.”
  915.  
  916. The dragon was again silent, but, after a moment, she lowered her head back down onto his legs. As the two looked at each other, smiles formed on their respective faces, until hers had grown back into the expression that had enchanted him in the first place, and he wore a tender smile in return.
  917.  
  918. Hesitantly, he reached out his mailed left hand and laid it on her snout. Her eyes shut in delight, and this, more than the crackling flames still burning around the room, or the sweet wine in his belly, or the hot scales behind him, warmed his heart.
  919.  
  920. “So… what happens next?” he asked.
  921.  
  922. She opened her eyes and drew in a deep breath. He wanted her; that much, she could tell just from the way he looked at her. But the fact that he had asked a question instead of making a proposal said that he didn’t really know where his desire would take him – or, perhaps, he had chosen his objective, but was uncertain about her own position on the matter.
  923.  
  924. To a degree, she wanted him as well. He seemed intelligent and confident, he was handsome – for a human – and, as a noble-born who made a living of hunting the mightiest creatures to walk the earth, he would hardly be a pauper. It was true that she still harboured reservations about bedding someone below her station, though it was debatable how far beneath her an accomplished dragon-slayer truly was, and he’d more than made up for any drawbacks with how he’d satisfied her deepest desires today. Whether that would be enough to last or not… Well, that remained to be seen.
  925.  
  926. “I suggest,” she replied, slowly, “that we take things one day at a time.”
  927.  
  928. “Suits me,” he nodded, “I’m worn out for today anyways.”
  929.  
  930. “Oh? Is the dragon-slayer so quickly spent?” she asked, teasing. “It’s been scarcely three hours since we first met.”
  931.  
  932. He started to laugh, “For a moment, I thought you were a blushing maiden. Now I see you’re a ravenous devil, and you’re making me wonder if I have enough in me to keep you fed.”
  933.  
  934. His hand was still on her snout, and she opened her mouth to lick at it with her tongue, whispering, “You’ve sated me for today, dragon-slayer, but I am looking forward to tomorrow.”
  935.  
  936. ***
  937.  
  938. “How disappointing,” said a deep, masculine voice. A clawed, scaly red hand turned over, and the crystal ball it was holding thudded heavily onto the floor.
  939.  
  940. “What’s that, my love?” another voice asked from behind, breathy and sibilant. “In spite of her wretched state, did the vile witch defeat the dragon-slayer after all?”
  941.  
  942. “Not exactly,” replied the first, and he drew in a deep breath through large red nostrils.
  943.  
  944. “No?” asked the second, her head slithering forwards. “A tie, perhaps? Both injured, but neither beaten?
  945.  
  946. The first voice flatly intoned, “Closer than you think,” and he crossed his paws, staring down into the hazy glass orb which had given him a window into that cave not ten miles away. “She bedded him,” he pronounced, his golden eyes shimmering in the dim light as he arched his brow.
  947.  
  948. “She bedded him!” whispered the second, before bursting into a torrent of shrill laughter, “Hahahaha! How pathetic; abasing herself with a little nobody like that.”
  949.  
  950. Scales rubbed against scales as the second creature clambered up on the first one’s back, gliding her head along until she reached his ear, her neck entwined with her lover’s. “Did you watch, my treat?” she whispered.
  951.  
  952. “Hmmm,” came the noncommittal reply as the first dragon still stared off, detached.
  953.  
  954. “And?” she purred seductively, her tongue reaching into his ear.
  955.  
  956. Her mate was unfazed by the aggressive act. “She appeared to be satisfied.”
  957.  
  958. The female emitted a dismissive snort. “Pfffft. ‘Satisfied’ with a mere human…” She writhed atop her lover, rubbing her neck against his, clawing at his shoulders, slithering her belly across his back, her wing-fingers gently grasping at his flanks. “She doesn’t know the meaning of satisfaction.”
  959.  
  960. Once again, her actions failed to provoke the male, who remained stoic, but this did not seem to deter her even in the slightest. Looking down at the crystal ball herself, she hissed out, almost gleeful, “So what now, then, my darling? How shall we take what is rightfully yours?”
  961.  
  962. The male dragon was silent, already deep in contemplation as he considered his next move.
  963.  
  964. In the gloomy darkness of the cave, his fresh, new mate, watched him with a sinister grin, then leaned slowly over until her snout was almost inside of his ear. “Let me kill her for you,” she whispered, breathless and excited. As he continued to reflect, she opened her mouth and started to nibble her way downwards. “My teeth yearn to tear at her neck,” she squealed, as her pearly-white daggers dragged along his scales. “My claws ache to rip into her flesh,” she growled, as her talons dug in to his shoulders, slicing in-between scales and almost going deep enough to draw blood.
  965.  
  966. When she had reached his chest, she stopped, and brought her head back up behind his, whispering, “You could watch…” Again, her forked tongue teased at his ear. “…You like to watch.”
  967.  
  968. “Hrm,” came the utterly disinterested reply.
  969.  
  970. His apparent lack of arousal amused her rather than frustrated her, but she decided to leave him be for a moment, instead glancing down at the scrying orb. “I don’t know why you bothered with arranging for a dragon-slayer in the first place. A vile wretch like her deserves to die in a filthy gutter.”
  971.  
  972. His head swivelled to face her, and the stern frown he wore made her back down; she was outwardly repentant, but inside she was secretly delighted that she’d gotten a rise out of him. “No,” he pronounced. “She deserved a clean death, an honourable death. Kyne’s mercenary ought to have given her that.” His statement given, he turned away again, muttering, “Now, things are complicated.”
  973.  
  974. Without hesitation, the male reached out his clawed fingers and grasped for the crystal ball once more, intoning “For now, we will watch, and wait.”
  975.  
  976. This was her chance, and she stretched out her own clawed hand, pushing his back down to the ground, “No, my sweet, no…” She started to tease at his neck once more, kissing and nibbling at his scales. “If you won’t let me take her blood, at least let me sate my cravings in some other way.”
  977.  
  978. He turned his head slightly, and hungry golden eyes stared into each other. In a moment, teeth are bared, growls are emitted, and claws are extended.
  979.  
  980. As the scuffling, grunting, and scratching of violent intercourse begins, the crystal ball starts to go blurry, deprived of the arcane power that kept the scrying-spell active. Its final image, unseen by the two red dragons too busy with each other to notice it, was of the knight and the broken-hearted wyrm, sleeping, his back up against her side, and her head in his lap.
  981.  
  982.  
  983. ** To Be Continued **
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