Hoard Raiders

“Leo…” the voice was soft, it was almost pleading. Enough to make his hands pause over his pack, his fleece in his hands. It was worn, ragged… the very woman to called his name had knitted it. Well, it was half his name anyway. When he’d come into this home… they had named him little Leo, he was told he’d had a wild streak, and cried loud like a roar. He’d heard of lions in stories, the creatures he was supposedly named for… they might have called him Drake otherwise… but nobody was called drake, it was deemed bad luck; it invited a dragon to come and take the child. He supposed Leo was considered safe, nobody had ever seen a lion. She stood in the doorway, with the figure of a lightly squashed orange, she’d been looking after him for some time… not just him of course…

He put the fleece into his bag with a sigh “I know it’s dangerous, what they do, but maybe I can finally, you know, make something of myself. I won’t be doing anything risky early on, I’m sure”

In the corner of his eye he could see her fidget “you can find work around town, it’s honest, there’s no glory in it… but it’s safe”

He closed the flaps on his bag, and turned to face her “you know I’m not joining them because of that… I can’t get work around here, I try and it never works out” he hesitated, looking off “I’m not from here, after all…”

“Leo… you’ve lived all your life, you should feel you belong…”

“It’s not up to me” he snapped “they, they don’t feel I belong” he gestured to the window and beyond “they don’t forgive me half as much mistakes then I’m being taught, they find excuses to not take me on. These folks would hire me right now, even if it does take me away…”

She eased a little from the doorway “well… do try to come home… and, please be safe… every year there are more groups like this lot… wild on the quick rewards and overconfident… one and all they don’t come back one day… or not many come back”

“I know” he meant it too… he’d seen a group of self-professed treasure hunters come in, then come back the next week, only two of them left, and with no more laughing and drinking… “But, this Alec, the guy leading them, he’s old, or, old for the business, he’s survived, he has to know a trick or two”

“That’s what worries me” she only murmured, shaking her head “just… please, just be safe… I’ll always have a place for you”

He slung his pack onto his back, and moved to hug her for a long moment before he moved past and down the stairs. He’d lived in the shared building for all his life… it had never quite felt like home, but… he did feel a sad pang as he left the door.

Leo was still young, his normally ragged hair combed as neat as the knotted strands would allow, wearing his best, though it was a pale reflection of the men he approached. He felt like a boy by comparison. They wore fancy things, he couldn’t see much differences between his clothes and theirs, except they wore rich dyes, and it looked a less course fabric. Honestly, he knew none of that. But they looked important, and the armour on their cart and the gleaming swords at their hips spoke of competence to him. The oldest, Alec, was a giant of a man, strong and with a laugh he could hear from the opposite side of the town, a vast if well tamed beard. There were little lines of grey in his dark hair, but he retained quite a presence. It was Alec who looked his way, grinning that infectious smile he had “well then, I see you came back. Decided once and for all you’re coming along? We can’t wait any longer for more of your fence hopping”

“I’m coming” he confirmed with a light nod. His confidence just evaporated in their presence, he felt so timid confronted with the burly adventurers… it was such an emboldening job description. Little groups of them came sometimes, told stories of great beasts vanquished, lost treasures found, generous travellers saved. They’d been saying there was a vast, untapped treasure they were going after next… that was all he had needed to hear.

“Heft your pack up on the cart then, we’ll walk the first bit, try not to overtax the horse, it’s only a day’s travel to our goal, we’ll be there in no time. If it’s as rich as I think it’ll be, well, we’ll be able to get you suited up like us, eh? Make you a real part of the team”

Leo smiled weakly, nodding along… honestly, if he got a cut, he planned to run back to town with it… he was tempted, but he wanted to live to enjoy his money. He might not stay in the town, he’d already heard of cities he wanted to see, but he’d give the matron something for all her time… and maybe rub his gold in a few faces. It started to sink in though, as they started walking, eyes lifting to see them pass. Enough to make him self-conscious

“Did you say a day?”

“Aye lad” Alec chuckled “nice that it’s so close, eh? Our last new recruit ran off half way to the last haul, he lost his nerve. That was a month of travel… But you’ll never want to go back when you actually see how much you can make”

Leo frowned, that wasn’t what he’d meant. He’d been baffled a huge treasure could possibly be as close as a day… if it was that near, wouldn’t somebody have found it already? He could have found it himself. “what sort of treasure is it”

“All in good time, just focus on your feet, we’ll be walking till the sun sets, and then walking till about midday. When we get that close, I’ll tell you all the details… can’t have you spreading it around before we’re ready to snatch it, right? Just a new recruit precaution”

Much as he didn’t like it, he stopped pushing the issue, trudging along with them, and focussing on keeping pace. It got difficult a lot sooner than he expected. By the first rest he was sweating and wishing he’d stayed home, by the second, as night fell, he was just glad that the cold was deadening the pain in his feet. He could imagine two weeks of that would kill any motivation.

The group rested, and they talked. Of past adventures, laughing. One of them, a guy called George had apparently managed to walk into a lake in the dark, another had gotten lost and ended up in the wrong city. An endless stream of little escapades that meant nothing to him… He sat on the edge as their fire blazed and meat cooked, and was jealous. They had a good relationship, but he felt no more at home here than in town. In the end, he turned in to sleep early, partially wanting to be truly ready for even more walking, but equally wanting to get away from the lonely feeling that came from being so completely useless to a conversation… maybe after tomorrow he’d have stories of his own, or so he hoped… maybe this sort of life would be alright, if he was part of the group, and got used to the walking… such thoughts distracted him, as he finally dozed off.

He woke as he did every morning, with the valley’s alarm clock. That was what the town called it anyway, and he had the smug satisfaction of seeing a couple of the group startled… Alec wasn’t though. The roar that echoed out over the valley was deep and wild, the giant reptile that had lived in this region for… who knew how long always greeted the day with a roar. Same time every day.

While the more startled pair looked around in the skies he quickly packed his blankets away, hoping he could at least give a more professional impression today.

“you never see it” he spoke to one of his startled companions, finally knowing more than them “not this early, it dives down into the woods, goes hunting, sometimes it had flown overhead I’m told… never seen it”

“Which is what we were told in the village” Alec noted “but, that story only applies to your village… recently the wild red reptile has been seen quite a bit… on the roads”

Leo shrugged, a little miffed his town was being called village… and the dragon was supposed to be purple, not red… but he kept his mouth shut.

Yet, shock drove it open again, when they started to guide their cart into the woods “Hold on… we’re going in there?”

Alec shot him back a smile… a condescending smile that irked him to his core “kid, your people don’t go in here, and treasure hides where people don’t go”

He hid his scowl but kept up with them… to his mind this trip had just gotten a lot more dangerous.

They just kept going, and soon he was hot and struggling again… they did stop, and put him on the cart, but while that eased his feet it rankled his pride. There was nothing he could do though, and so he admired the scenery… or admired it as much as he could, given that every tree looked the same to him. Though there were less and less of those. The ground getting rockier. A dark foreboding feeling crept into him, as a shadow enveloped the cart. It was nothing living… the shadow was from the cold, hard mounds of stone that made up the hills below the mountain… he’d never been here before… to his knowledge humans didn’t survive coming here… for it was the home of the dragon.

The light had faded away, half a day they’d been hiding against the mountain, while Alec laid out the insane plan.

“Now… once upon a time people thought dragons hoarded gold” Alec lectured, tapping at a crude drawing he’d made on a rock with a smaller rock “I guess they ‘stole’ cattle so people started thinking they were thieves instead of hungry predators. Anyway, dragon slayers went out of fashion when, ironically, they realised there was nothing for them to steal… so generally people leave dragons alone, and dragons only eat people who wander into their hunting zones… but…” he grinned “the dragon here, is a little different… it really does have a hoard, it spooked some traders off their cart, and took everything… not the cart of the horse, but all the goods… and I doubt that’s the first time. Up there, is treasure, hiding away in its cave. And that, is our haul”

Another of the adventurers, Leo thought he was called John, spoke up “do you intend we fight this thing…?”

“Shouldn’t need to, we’re going in late, with luck it will be sleeping… might be best to push a blade through it though, accounts say it’s quite a young one, not too much trouble if we’re clever. Worst case, it’s awake, but then we just distract it, and some of us go around to take what we want”

Leo really wished he’d stayed at home, there were no dragons at home… he liked treasure, but taking it from under the muzzle of the deadliest creature in the world seemed like a bad idea… even if it was a young dragon. Still, he felt safer with the group than on his own, deep in these forbidden woods, so when they donned their gear and started up the hill he hurried to follow, hefting his pack along on his back, now filled with more of their things than his own. In the end, only Alec had a full set of armour, the others wore pieces… it had looked more impressive in the back of the cart in his little town… he was practically trembling.

The group made slow progress, pausing whenever a sound came, following Alec and his burning torch. The hills cast shadows all around, shadows big enough to hide a dragon, Leo thought. He felt so out in the open, in fact the torch was the opposite of a comfort… it lit the way and surroundings, but it surely stood out under the light of the crescent moon.

Finding the cavern was almost a relief. Until the flickering fire was thrust at him “me?”

Alec nodded, and reluctantly Leo grasped near the base. The fat stick would probably keep burning for a while, he thought, but it flicked little embers all over the place.

“See it this way kid, we all need to have free hands, to protect in case something goes wrong… so, you just go on first, and we’ll be right behind you”

“First?” he hissed a whisper

“The torch needs to be at the front, or else one of us could blunder into something, we’re wearing armour, and as I said, we need to be able to fight off anything that troubles us… it only makes sense”

He saw the logic in that, but it didn’t make it any easier to swallow. But with all eyes on him, he couldn’t deny them. He staggered into the cave, tripping for a moment on a deep groove in the ground, next to a pair that matched it… claw marks. He shuddered, and tried to watch his feet as he moved along. Even the meagre clink of muffled metal sounded like the gong of a bell.

He became vaguely aware the uneven passage was opening up into something wider, but had barely thought that before it happened. From the dark shot a muzzle, gleaming red in the torchlight, bright amber eyes widening before contracting. A head nearly as large as he was. Long but blunt, nostrils flaring a gust on his face, back of the head adorned with horns and frills. His first thought was lion, his second, much more accurate thought was dragon. He shrieked, staggering back, the torch thudding to ground where it continued to burn, lighting up the fore body of the beast. She… for he felt sure it was a she, was beautiful… she looked hard as a rock, scales gleaming. Her shape was elegant and smooth, her proportions perfect, her muzzle had a sharp beauty to it, red as fresh berries with a belly blue as the sky. She was some otherworldly beast beyond anything he had ever seen, with large bright eyes.

Her head cocked as her muzzle followed him a little, before retreating as two of Alec’s men strode forward. She didn’t seem afraid though “you fell over… did it hurt? Sorry I spooked you, what are you doing here?” it took him a moment to realise she was talking… talking to him, her voice was as high as birdsong and wove beautifully as if it were the lyrics to some sweet melody he’d love to hear. He was broken out of his trance by the sound of metal on leather, a sword drawn and pointed at her. It hung, heavy and deadly, hovering directly before her muzzle, her voice stopping, her eyes crossing to view it.

“ooh… shiny…” the men exchanged a glance, unsure how to react, but when talons equally matching that blade rose from the gloom to grab at it, they shifted a bit back. Out of the corner of his eye, Leo saw that George sneaking around the edge, out of her field of view… going behind her.

“Want…” she said with the edge of a giggle in her voice, her claws dancing little circles around the blade that constantly moved just a little out of her grip “can I have it? Please? It’s so pretty… what is it for?”

Leo felt his scruff grabbed, Alec lifting him to his feet with something like a chuckle and whispered words “well you got her attention… calm down, stay calm… we keep her placid, George gets the goods…”

Leo nodded a bit, watching her, her head was swaying back and forth as she gently chanted “want the shiny… give the shiny” she was… playing… it was a humbling thought, she didn’t even see them as a threat… certainly, in stories dragons could be bigger than her, once he stood, he just about reached her shoulder it looked like.

Suddenly the man cried out, blowing at his hands, his sword lifted away with a triumphant sound like some massive cat purr from her throat, held deftly between two talons as she held it closer to her muzzle, looking at it “so you hold it there…”

He hadn’t seen, and apparently neither had she… nobody had seen the other adventurer panic, and mere moments after his companion cried out from his suddenly chafed hands the other sword was in motion, where it struck to her wrist. She yelped, her prize dropped, her mouth closing at her wrist as she seemed to stagger back in the chamber… their eyes had slowly been adjusting to the gloom, enough to see her shape as she stumbled down onto her rump. The thud echoed through their feet, but what was worse was the more notable crunch of a sound as her backside hit the ground. A grating, splintering crunch, far too wet a sound to be anything else…

Flame erupted, lighting a clear view of her spread muzzle, though it wasn’t aimed at the doorway, it struck a wall, or, a crevice in the wall, light flaring and staying, before another burst hit the opposite wall, firelight illuminating the cavern. Beneath the sat scales of her sizable rump they could just about see a hand… holding something golden.

Her head looked around to where she’d fallen, and she saw it too. Everything changed. In a moment, Leo saw every muscle under her scales tighten, the hide over her whole body rippling as she tensed up, her head looked up to them, and he could swear her irises had gotten darker, the amber was no longer the warm glow of a summer evening, it was fire…

A roar tore from her throat, it staggered his head as rung in his ears, but he didn’t have a moment to spare. From her position she rose, and her legs kicked against the ground, giving them a clear view, for one precious moment, of the vast heap of shining oddities that surrounded her cavern before her vast and terrible bulk was upon them… she was elegant because her body was all muscle, a predator, nothing wasted, and now this behemoth heavy enough to flatten a human under herself was coming for them. Leo ran, and he wasn’t alone. He heard a cry from the one who had struck her, he had been the most startled… perhaps spending his last moment realising what he’d done, but Alec and his one remaining companion bolted for the door.

It happened over the space of only a few heartbeats, he saw Alec, looking back, all his bravado lost, but, Alec’s eyes fell upon him. The vast man’s hand came back for him, and he moved to take it, but it wasn’t offered. The hand struck at his chest, the air driven out of him as his momentum halted and he fell back with the weight of his pack, and he saw Alec look back for the exit, before a long toed, taloned paw rose above and cut off his view.

Alec burst out of the cave, panting, he didn’t hear a pursuit, but continued down the hillside… only one left, he cursed under his breath… this hadn’t worked… at least the kid had been useful… the thought had barely crossed his mind before something impacted his torso, the impact crushed his lungs, his breath choking out of him before something pressed together around his back. He heard a second, similar wheeze before a gusting beat. The ground fell away and the sky beckoned, leaving him and his companion to dangle as they were carried away.

Leo was dazed, the claws around his shoulders and body were firm but didn’t hurt, the dragging did a bit though as the dragoness tugged him back into the main chamber of her cavern, keeping him pinned under her paw. She was panting, though her eyes looked back to normal again, she squinted down at him for a moment before looking a little away, snorting. He tried to follow her look, but only saw her other forelimb… realising, the other catch must be pinned like he was.

“That really hurt you know… I was being nice” she shook her head “little thieves… I should have known… pity”

The weight on him increased, her paw pressing down on his chest. He saw from his spot, head between two of her long talons, as her other paw rose, the adventurer held with her talons around his belly. They looked a lot tighter… he was struggling, but didn’t seem able to do much. That pretty muzzle opened… wide, and the legs slid in. Leo shuddered, horrified, as the man slowly disappeared. Her muzzle bobbing up as her paw fed him in, the scales of her neck showing a slight swell. Soon she began to swallow. In the silence he could hear it, the wet glurk of a sound when her throat pulsed, drawing the human down into her jaws. He heard the man beg in the few moments between her paw removing itself from him, and her jaws clacking shut behind him. He didn’t have time for a full argument. She swallowed again, it seemed harder, she winced slightly, and wove her neck, the lump sank…

Briefly his show was interrupted as her eyes fell on him, but then they turned away. The paw dragged him closer to her body as she stretched her head around. He heard long, rasping sounds, small cracks, wet slurps before her muzzle came back into view, licking her chops. She swallowed again, and the lump he’d been watching merged at her chest, sinking below the powerful muscles there.

“Not bad… and now you”

He shivered, the claws curled behind his back, and he started to rise, getting a good view of her belly plates, her wide chest, smooth neck, passing her muzzle which angled to keep in line with him, her claws slackening a bit, holding only to his tunic, dangling him above her snout. Her jaws parted, hot wet air breezing up his trousers as he saw a string of saliva snap between the parting jaws. Her teeth looked lethal… but he knew she wouldn’t use them… he could see his destiny, it pulsed at the back, in the dark gloom… she was planning to swallow him… alive. He shuddered, wriggling despite the pressing hopelessness. He would be trapped in a small, fleshy pouch till he died… how had his life ended like this?

A thud broke the dark silence, and her teeth clacked shut, one instant and the doom pit was gone, her head lowering to the ground. Her paw drooped a little. He could hear her sniffing. He realised something had fallen out of his bag… He wiggled again, and a flask of water slid out, he felt it briefly, cold against his lower back before it hit the floor… his ratty old backpack… had her dragging him torn a hole open?

Her head rose back before him again, and he realised she had, something like a smile on her lips… it had been there at the beginning, he’d not realised it was a smile, till it had disappeared…

“Well you’re full of surprises”

He didn’t have anything to lose “yeah… yeah I am, and you can have them, all of them, a gift to you, if you don’t eat me…” he grimaced, expecting her mood to darken, expecting her to bite off his head or something, but she shrugged, and suddenly her grip was gone, letting him fall to his feet before her sat form “alright, I’m pretty full anyway”

“Uh… thanks” he murmured, brushing himself down a bit, easing his pack off… her pack now he supposed

“You’re not going to try and steal anything are you?”

“No, never, I would never want to” he said quickly, pushing the pack towards her for good measure. She gave him a long look, up and down, before rumbling “good” her claws came to his bag, and with barely a poke it was torn. Her sizable muzzle nosing through his things. Flicking things around with the very tip of her claws… separating them into two piles. He began to hear a rhythmic thud, and realised her tail was beating.

He was just beginning to relax when she looked up at him sharply “so… what’s that thing, that fell”

“A flask” he lifted it cautiously, terrified she might think he meant to steal it… but she didn’t react, so he opened it, pouring a little water onto the stone “it keeps the water inside, so we can carry it around”

He noticed how sharp her ears were as they perked, leaning a little closer. It was, surreal how fascinated she was in something so simple, her huge eyes going wide, each larger than the object of her interest “wow… that’s smart… so… the water fell out there… it’s that top bit?”

“Um… well it’s waterproof inside… the cap too” he pushed it back on, and turned the flask upside down “but we can remove that so there is a place for the water to come out”

She made that rumbling purr again, it was a nice sound really, it put him at ease, knowing she was happy… or interested at least.

“That’s fun…” she eased away, sitting back, gesturing a taloned paw at her collection “please, put it over… there, yes… I find it hard to handle the little pieces…”

He nodded, and stood, holding the flask with more care than he ever had before, moving past her slowly. Not making any sudden movements. He seemed on her good side right now… but he’d seen her eat a man, alive… he walked past the settled forepaws that had held him helplessly so recently. Sat as she was, her belly was on display. He wasn’t sure he saw much to indicate her meal… maybe the scales looked a little rounded? He wasn’t sure… her stomach was only a part of her after all, not the whole region. As he moved past her other forelimb he heard a low gurgle, shuddering… she was digesting a human… she would have eaten him too… that could have been him dying in her stomach… dinner. He focussed on the flask… yes, he was holding it very carefully. He moved to where she’d gestured, the back of the cave was more, rocky, forming shelves of a sort… he placed the flask in a way that seemed, safe, and paused to look around. A lot of what was here shone, yes… but it became clear most of it wasn’t gold, as he’d first thought. The firelight was misleading in that. He saw several wagon wheels… a whole wagon frame propped up in one corner. Chests and crates, he saw what looked like the gears of a windmill, and a whole stack of weathervanes, each adorned with a different animal, some bend beyond recognition. There were also less shiny things, but those that shone came to the fore.

He heard and felt her take a few steps towards him, and backed away from the objects, looking to her with his hands raised and flat “I was just looking”

She nodded, her head coming past him a little, peering at the flask in its spot “I know. Do you like my collection?”

“What… is all this?” he asked, curiosity overwhelming his nerves. One eye rolled to view him, and the edges of her smile curled up a little “they’re human things” she spoke the admission in a hushed whisper, leading him to believe it was a guilty pleasure of hers… “They fascinate me…” her head turned enough for her to focus both eyes on him “do you… know what all these do?”


She nodded “sure… do. Everything humans make do something…” she flopped to her belly with a huff, a rattle shuddering through her collection, somewhere there was a clang as something metal fell from its spot “but I can’t figure out what they do… some of them, or how they do it… and some of them just, don’t work anymore…” she gestured a paw at the heaped weathervanes, the back of her hand almost swatting him. She withdrew it quickly, seeming to have realised that… “they danced around when I saw them, I thought they liked me, they went all dancy when I got close, so I took them… but they don’t dance anymore”

He took a step closer, then hesitated “may I… I want to show you”

She rumbled, and a hot, wet sensation rolled firmly up his back, staggering him a couple of steps closer… his tunic stuck to his back, and quickly felt cold… had she just, licked him? “Please do”

He tried to ignore the sensation and looked over the heap of metal, picking out quite an intact one with a chicken on it, placing it upright… it still had a bit of roof attached “these don’t dance… they’re not alive, it’s the wind that moves them” he looked to her, she was nodding lightly, her head uncomfortably close, but he went on, pushing it around “we look up at them, and it tells us what direction the wind is blowing, because depending what direction it is blowing, it moves this differently…”

She nodded faster “oh… so, oh…” she hummed, and he swore she looked sheepish “my wings… it was my wings… that made wind to blow them around…”

“I guess so” he mused, she seemed to have a good understanding…

She sighed, looking over her collection “that sounds really useful though… maybe I should try and put these on trees and rocks around here… they might fall off though…”

While she mused he looked past her settled body to the exit… surely, he had done his part now. He moved along her side, glancing to her flank, but found her tail swept in close, pushing him fluidly back to her head. She glanced to him as if he’d never left “and what are those for? I keep finding them, everywhere…” her tail, now settled close, rose, the sharp tip pointing towards… coins. Sacks of them, all secluded in a little corner, poorly lit, out of the way… “that is… money, it’s very important to people”

“I guessed… that human, you know, before” she nodded towards a spot on the floor… he noticed it was… red “had taken some of those, and humans always seem to have them… at first I didn’t think they were important, because every time I met a human they’d practically throw them at me. They’d say to take them all so long as I didn’t eat them… I mean, I hadn’t planned to eat them anyway, but I appreciated the gift… they never liked being licked though…”

He looked to her… surreal, it sounded like robbery, but only because her victims had, misunderstood? It did offer a rather hopeful line of thought “you didn’t eat them…? You didn’t, want to eat them?”

She shook her head “oh goodness no, I love humans” her tail thudded heavily beside him “so interesting… all they do… I love all the weird things they do, so cute”

“Cute…” he murmured, looking around to her scaly flanks again… she hadn’t found them cute… she’d eaten them, without hesitation

“Oh…” he looked around to find she’d been following his gaze. She rolled to her side, exposing her belly. Her tail stroked down her chest, pausing at a spot he assumed was her stomach… the belly plates were more solid than at the flanks, but he felt he could just about see where two of them rose at a corner… a bulge beneath them, a full stomach “them… well, one of them was already dead… I didn’t mean to squish him… I mean, for taking me things I might have… but since he was dead, it would be wrong to waste food… and the other one hurt me” she looked to him pointedly “nobody steals my things, not even humans”

A frown took his lips, and he looked over the collection, gesturing to a pair of locked boxes “those though, you stole those”

She snorted, the gust billowing at his chest “what do you mean, I did not”

“I heard about it… traders had them taken by a red dragon…”

She huffed a little “well… I came to say hello and they just, ran off… I thought it was a gift, you know… they brought it, and left it. I know humans are scared of me… now… but they had a dragon on their… um…” she looked over her collection, hooking her claw into it, drawing out a rectangular piece of cloth, letting it dangle from a claw, it was striped with alternating colours, a broad chested dragon shooting fire in the middle “it had one of these, you see, with a dragon on it… so I thought it was asking me to come, see, all red and everything”

“Ah…” he looked over the flag a bit dismally… it was unfortunate the city trading guild had chosen that flag… it was based on the old hoarding dragon legends, it symbolised how protected they considered their goods… the irony was palpable… on several levels “that isn’t an invitation, it’s… um, a claim to anyone who would steal it that they’ll defend their things with the ferocity of a dragon”

She hummed “oh… oops” she discarded the flag back into her collection “If I see them again I’ll give it back… I don’t want to be a thief” she looked over her collections “my collection is things I find, lost or discarded things, things humans leave lying around, or things given to me. I love human things”

He looked her over, she did terrify him but she was… sweet, mostly… was it possible he’d misjudged her… she had been attacked, and they had been trying to steal from her. These things, weren’t originally hers… she seemed a little naïve, but… honest too. If he tried to forget that she’d eaten someone… he, had always been told that was the dragon way… he was finding it increasingly hard to hold it against her… she looked at him with such eager, big eyes… “Look… I, gave you my things… although… I was terrified, you were going to eat me and… well, that’s everything I have… all my food, all my water… I really want to go home… but I’ll never make it without them…”

She looked down, her ears drooping a little “oh… you want to go?”

For a moment he considered it, and… a crazy idea began to, slowly dawn… what did he have if he went back right now. Right in the corner were coins… meaningless pieces of metal to her… “you’d like me to stay…?”

She nodded, head bobbing so, enthusiastically “oh I do, I do” she gestured along her collection “I have so many things, some of them might need a human to work, so many I want to understand…”

“How about a deal...” her head cocked in answer, so he drew a breath and continued “a trade… those coins… they don’t mean much to you… right? If you have a few as examples… maybe the rest don’t mean so much” her eyes narrowed a little, but she nodded slowly “uh, huh…”

“Well…” he continued “do you know how we get those normally?”

“I don’t” interest crept back into her tone… good

“We work together, but a human who makes… human things, doesn’t gather food or water… they’d go hungry or thirsty… so we use these. Everyone gets them for doing other people’s share… one human gathers food for many humans… so they get this for what they don’t eat… and they give these to humans who make, human things… who can then use them to get food, or drink, or different things…”

“Oh…” she mused slowly “they are… a trading thing… I did wonder how humans made that work…” suddenly she grinned “oh, oh, I understand. So, when humans gave me these… asking I not eat them… they were making a trade… because I guess the moment I found them, their lives were kinda mine to do what I wanted with so… oh” her ears drooped again “they thought they had to trade for their lives… that’s sad… I didn’t want that… at least they got what they wanted I guess…” she looked to the bags “I feel worse for having them now…”

“Well…” he began again “if I helped someone make their… things, they’d then trade them, but give me some of the coins they got, for my work… it’s called, employment… you, could employ me, you give me some of your coins, in return for me staying and, telling you what all these things do. I could maybe, even go, trade coins for some new items for your collection”

She grinned “oh… so, yeah, I can trade those shiny things, for new things…”

“Or I could do it for you” he added quickly “you might scare humans… but if you want to do it yourself… maybe I could, introduce you, as a nice dragon”

She nodded eagerly “that sounds good, really good… but, how many will you want…”

He sensed a dangerous note to the question, and so thought about it hard… she had all sorts… a copper piece would be poor compensation, a silver, pretty good, and a gold… but could she tell the difference? Would she, get suspicious if he pointed out the difference… He sighed… he had to be fair, or it might cost him later “they all have different values to humans… I’d like one of the silver ones every day, or a gold one for a whole week”

“A week?”

He frowned “how do you judge time?”

She shrugged “day I understand, but I count in moons”

“About… half a moon then, two of the golden ones per moon would do”

She nodded slowly “this is getting so complicated… I want a friend”

That caught him off guard “a friend…?”

Her muzzle came closer and bumped against him, it was so gentle. He found himself resting his hands to it, as her breath gusted “I liked humans, I like keeping a human when I can, they tell me so much, I’d like to keep you… but I want to be friends…” she looked over her collection for a long moment “if you want some of those to stay, I can do that though”

He hesitated before trying to relax, rubbing a hand along her muzzle… hearing her purr “How about a coin for everything I can explain to you… I’ll be your friend, I could, just use some to get some new things for you, and for myself… if you… really want me to stay, maybe I could. You, would promise not to eat me though, never ever…?”

She nudged up at his arm, she was strong “of course, I never eat my friends”

“And other people? Could you not eat them…”?

She looked down herself “I don’t normally… this is only the… third time I’ve eaten humans. I want humans to like me… took me a couple of meals to realise how much it bothers you… one of my previous friends told me all about how humans feel about each other, I understand now, it makes sense”

He let a hand ease under her jaw… he might as well trust her; his life was forfeit if she was lying. Her tail beat when he scratched, he found a smile “well alright then… as a sign of good faith, I’ll stay, and look at anything you want me too, maybe then I can take some coins, I’ll go to town, get some things I need, make a little home for myself in here? Human comforts… I’ll gladly explain them all to you, and I can buy you some new things too, I’m sure I can find something you don’t have, once I see what you do have”

She giggled, it was so, bubbly, the sound bouncing through his chest. Her muzzle pushed forwards, knocking him down, a pair of claws holding his leg in place as she licked, wide wet tongue rolling along his body from knee to chin “oh yes, yes, yes, it sounds so good”

He smiled a bit nervously but then her tongue started catching at his armpit, and he had to laugh as she tickled. This huge creature would take a lot of getting used to, but she wanted him around, he had never felt so, wanted, so needed. How bizarre his home would be with a dragon “alright, alright, let me up…” he pushed the muzzle away with difficulty, and stood once more, looking around the heaped objects she had collected. Such a collection was no whim, she was obsessed with humans. He trusted it would last a lifetime, a human lifetime anyway.

“Well then, I guess we’ll get started” he picked up a vase… it was in remarkably good condition, all things considered “what became of your other friends anyway… I guess, you outlived them?”

“Oh… they wandered off” she mused quietly behind him, her breath on his back as she peered over his shoulder “I think my sister ate them…”

Alec had only just started to recover when he was dropped, armour clanking against cold stone. The night was dark, but he could make out the forest off the edge of a rocky ledge he and his companion had been dropped on… it was so small, he wondered how high they were.

The beast landed, he heard a cry, but he only cared about survival. Shakily he got to his feet, stumbling away, he had to hope it would be busy eating the other one. His hoped were dashed, as almost gently, something wrapped around his middle, lifting his feet from the ground and carrying him back. He hammered his armoured hands onto the tail around his middle, but for his efforts was shaken, violently, his helmet flying off, somewhere, his head spinning.

The creature was a dragon, no doubt about it, even bigger than the other one, scales a brilliant amethyst even in the pale light, her eyes practically glowed an entrancing violet. She was sprawled on her side, his dazed companion dangling from two of her scaled digits, her tongue licking along him… it reminded him of a child with a candied treat. It took him a moment to realise his companion’s armour was gone, scattered around the ground.

“So…” her voice was velvet smooth, but pushed into his head, drowning out anything else. Her tail drew him a bit closer to her muzzle, till he could hear every smooth lick as she drenched his companion, bit by bit “you are the leader of this little, band…”

He considered lying, but she shrugged “I don’t really care, but it seems like it…” her smirk took a decidedly dark note, and her tail wove from her muzzle “just a moment” he got a good view, as she curled around herself, her vast high thighs parting a little… he could see two, partings in the scales, and to the lower one his companion was brought. From being dazed and barely moving, he started to thrash, as elegant but huge digits pushed, and worked him past the scales, inch by inch. A soft, warm sigh escaping her lips before she worked him down as far as his legs, removing her paw and weaving her tail closer to her muzzle again. In the brief moments before her hips were lost from his view, he got to see the entrance pulse, and the twitching legs sink a few inches. “Most dragoness’s find using humans for help unsanitary… but I doubt that little game will dirty up my insides significantly…”

“Now… onto you”

“Look… you have to understand, I just” he was silenced as a huge claw drifted close, the digit pushing at his face… he thought his neck might snap as she applied pressure against his face, but it ended quickly “shush now”

Her claws moved over his back, he could hear them clacking, assumed she was looking for a way in, till he felt it starting to feel slack… and realised she was a step ahead… she was cutting it open. Her tail slackened and rippled, turning him this way and that, letting each piece individually fall off, continuing to deftly cut the leather straps. It sent a tinge of dread, to know she was so practiced at removing armour.

When she was finished and the last piece thudded to ground, at last her head wove dangerously close, her breath enveloping him, till he felt he might choke breathing it “see… the little dragoness down the hill… she’s my sister, finally moved out of the nest… not far I’ll admit, but it’s a spot of her own… she put it in human reach for… her own reasons...” she rolled her eyes “regardless, I love my sister, and you hurt her”

“it wasn’t”

“Quiet” her jaws clacked in front of him, the snap making him flinch from volume and the threat it carried “you work together… whether you struck her… or only meant to steal from her… you, and your little friends, have earnt my ire… you especially for leading them”

She rumbled, her tail drifting from her muzzle “but don’t fret, I’m not going to kill you… today…”

His eyes trailed down her body, he could hear the rustle, of scales against scales, thighs larger than horses rubbing together before they parted, higher than last time. He saw a longer break in her scales, the stretch parted it a little, showing off a pink, pulsating world… a world of flesh and heat, that she was bringing him to.
He cried out, but she didn’t respond, he placed his hands to either side of the scaly portal, but it didn’t stop his approach. Her tail lined him up, bringing his head towards her loins. Heat and potent dragon scent dizzied him, and finally, after a desperate look to her casual, smirking muzzle, his head sank into the dark. A squeeze gripped it, a wet pop at they rolled against his ears briefly deafening him… all he could hear, feel, was the heartbeat in the engorged loins, and the grip of her tail, that continued to feed him in. It was uncomfortably tight, and his struggling only served to part the depths, making it easier for her to continue. The heat and pressure slid over his body, down his legs, and with some horror, he felt her tail release before even his feet felt, wet, and warm. He was trapped he realised… would be ever get out…

Zorian rolled onto her belly, murring with a wiggle of her hips, she felt pleasantly full. And she had breakfast sorted for tomorrow, all in all, not a bad night. The wiggle under her tail had intensified not long ago, she imagined all the struggling must have stirred something loose. Indulgently, she stretched a hind leg back, clenching with a squeeze till she felt the struggles stop as the firm shape yielded with a soft pop. She relaxed again, flicking her tail, and laying down her head and licking her chops. Invading humans weren’t the worst problem in her day… had its perks…