Dragon's PrizeShannon Tripp / Fantasy
Cover art by Shane Slayer copyright 2012
Copyright July 2012 Shannon Tripp
This book is a work of fiction
The characters are productions
of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
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Jacob stared in dismay at what was left of his ceiling. The gaping hole rained rocks and dirt down on his head and he sneezed at the dust raised in the original falling. Treasure Hunters, again, he thought in disgust as he wrapped his arms tighter around his hoard. Flipping his wings along his spine, he rolled over and tucked his nose under the tip of his tail. Tomorrow, I’ll deal with it tomorrow.
He burped softly and tasted a bit of his dinner in the back of his throat. Shifting slightly he tried to find a more comfortable position while the cow he’d eaten decided if it wanted to stay put. He shifted again, stretching his legs out and arching his tail over his back. Rolling back over, he squeezed his eyes shut, determined to get some sleep tonight.
He slowed his breathing and listened to the relative silence of the forest night. A frog’s croak joined the symphony of insect buzzes and cricket song. He’d just about drifted off to sleep when a buzzing slid into his ear and echoed around in his head. He twitched his ear and huffed in annoyance, hoping whatever bug it was would just go away. The buzzing increased so he squeezed his eyes tighter and growled. He was going to hold onto sleep with his talons if he had to.
“Determined, aren’t you? Come on you little bugger, open your eyes.”
He didn’t know which startled him more: a voice where there shouldn’t be or the light tapping on his muzzle that accompanied the words. He snapped his eyes opened and stared in surprise at the lone figure standing in his fire zone.
He inhaled, intending to wipe the vermin, aka intruder, out but swallowed his flames when the man held up his hand.
“Please hold off on that thought, Dragon. Not only would I appreciate not being barbequed, but if you would look around, I don’t think you’ll like what you see. If you fry me, you’ll be stuck here.”
What’s wrong with here? It is home, after all. Jacob looked around; sure he would see the dark, damp walls he’d grown up around. He still saw dark rock walls, but the slightly glowing moss was missing. He glanced up sharply to assure himself the hole was still there, but the rock met seamlessly over his head.
Giving in to the panic threading up from his stomach, he reared back on his legs while inhaling. He would burn this nightmare away. He opened his mouth to release the flames and rammed his head into the rock ceiling. Stars exploded behind his eyes punctuated by a starburst as his head hit the floor. He lay stunned, wondering what had hit him when the figure he’d almost squashed moved into his line of sight.
“I know this is a big surprise for you, but I need your help.” He paused, not sure if the dragon was listening. “Maybe you should get some sleep and we can talk in the morning.” He turned to go, pulling something out of the side of his pants. “I’ll make sure you’re not disturbed until then.”
Jacob heard the door close and the lock snick into place. He was trapped in a place he didn’t know and couldn’t summon enough energy to care. The pain in his head held him still. He’d care in the morning. Letting his eyes slide shut, he finally found the sleep that had been eluding him.
* * *
He woke to silence early the next morning. Enjoying the quiet for a change, he rolled over and stretched. He glanced up thinking he needed to get started on fixing his ceiling. He blinked and rubbed his claw over his eyes before he remembered he wasn’t at home anymore. Eventually it occurred to him that he shouldn’t have woken to silence, enjoyable or otherwise. There should have been at least birdsong.
He vaguely recalled a voice telling him to open his eyes. Swinging his head around, he glared at the wall willing the stranger to appear. He reached a scaled claw toward the door and scrapped a talon against the wood. He grinned in amusement at the groove he’d left in the wooden slab and he reached out again intending another round of destruction when the portal opened and the stranger stepped through.
Eyeing the claw held at eye level, the man sighed before turning to look at the back of the door. “A little restless today? Did you not have a good sleep?”
Jacob didn’t know how to respond to that. Who talked that way anyways? He’d knocked himself silly in last night’s nightmare and he wasn’t so sure he’d awakened. He stared at the man, hoping he’d just disappear.
A slow blink later, Jacob was still staring at the man. If he could outstare a cat, this was nothing. Staring did not change what he saw in front of him. The man was skinny. Not just skinny but skin and bones skinny. He looked like he hadn’t eaten in about three weeks. If it wasn’t for the fuzzy caterpillars over his eyes, he’d look like a skeleton. His clothing at least looked clean if not rich. An open robe hung from his shoulders to his ankles and was belted at the waist with a rope. His pants hung off his hips and his shirt barely reached his wrists.
“I’m called Trevor. I brought you here because I desperately need your help.” He watched the dragon closely looking for any sign the beast understood him.
Trevor swallowed; he didn’t know if he could get through to the large lizard, but he had to try. “I have a treasure that needs to be protected. And everyone knows the best guardians in all of Mythgarn are dragons.”
Jacob unbent enough to answer this upstart, “We guard what we want and if we guard it, it belongs to us.”
Trevor jumped at the gravelly voice that filled the room and boomed in his ears. He’d been expecting a world-weary, mature voice, not a voice filled with pebbles. “But…but this treasure can’t belong to any one man,” he sputtered.
“First, I am not a man and second, why the need for guards if you cannot or will not claim it?”
“This statue needs guards or someone will try to steal it; hide it away for their own personal use.”
Jacob could tell Trevor was getting frustrated. He idly wondered if the man knew how much information he’d given away. “So, it’s a statue? What’s so special about a statue?”
Trevor sighed. The dragon was getting the best of him. He hadn’t meant to tell the beast what the treasure was until after they’d reached an agreement. He shrugged mentally, gave up trying to hide anything, and decided to tell the dragon everything. “This statue is special because of what she can do. She heals; people, animals, everything. It doesn’t even matter how old the injury was. She needs to remain available to the people that need her the most.”
Jacob snaked his neck out and lowered his nose so he was looking at Trevor out of the top of his eyes. “And you want me to guard her? You’re inviting anyone to just waltz in and be healed, but you don’t want her leaving? Are you crazy? There is no way anyone could guard something like that? It would be suicide, asking for every knight in shining armor and a few in rusted tin to try and rescue her. Why did you think a dragon, any dragon, would agree to this?”
“I didn’t ask the spirits for just any dragon. I asked for the best; the only one who might stand a chance of protecting her. Of course, if you can’t handle it, I’ll just have to try again. I’m sure there’s someone out there who would love to prove they’re better than you.” Trevor turned around to face the door, hiding the smile on his face. Protection wasn’t the only thing dragons were known for. Pride and vanity warred for second place on the list of dragon traits.
“Oh sure. Try to appeal to my pride. I’ve got news for you, idiot. I’m old enough not to care if you try to prick my pride.” Jacob could imagine the smile fall from Trevor’s face and he had to suppress his own smile. He waited for the human to turn back around before continuing, “I’m big enough to know that if you try to spread lies about me, I can solve the problem by eating you.” He grinned, showing all his teeth.
Trevor knew that arguing with the giant lizard was probably a bad idea, but as he looked at the teeth hovering over his head, he grinned, knowing his reckless streak was showing. The dragon seemed to be in a good mood so he shrugged it off with a laugh and opened his mouth. “If you eat me, I’ll give you indigestion.”
Jacob raked his gaze over Trevor, as he pulled his lip up in a sneer. “It’s not worth the effort. You’re just skin and bones. Probably get stuck in my teeth, anyway.”
Thinking this conversation was going to get him eaten, Trevor decided that they’d wandered far enough off topic. “Anyway, about the statue...”
“Ah, yes. I think I’ll pass.” He stretched his neck out until he could touch the door with his nose. He realized in dismay that the portal was the same size as his nose. He wasn’t leaving through there. He flipped his wings along his spine and snaked his head around, trying to