The Price of Boredom

By Michael Peleh

Victor Kilo, Lord of West Porias, was utterly bored.

He leaned back in his throne and sighed, brushing a lock of his silvery hair from out of the way of his deep blue eyes. `Are there no more challenges left for this old man?' he thought to himself.

Victor was a brash and impatient man. Quick to action and even quicker to anger, he had risen through the ranks of the land's army thanks to sharp swordsmanship and an equally sharp attitude that had quickly earned him the title `Blade'.

West Porias was a Spartan, militaristic land ruled by its greatest fighter unto his death. This was not to mean it was a long rule, for ambitious youths were constantly seeking the throne, and challenges to the lord were always being made. When the ruling lord had died from old age, the armies were thrown into chaos, and a great civil war was waged to determine leadership. Victor had slain all his opponents and had commanded the attention of the others, who bowed to his superior skills.

That had been twenty years ago. As the years wore down, Victor had taken on every comer, slaying all with little effort. Seeking new experiences and challenges, he had called forth the greatest warriors of all surrounding lands to compete against him in a grand tournament. Alas, even that did not satisfy him. With every corpse that fell at his feet, he felt his boredom growing with fighting other men.

Thinking that perhaps the masters of the animal kingdoms would provide him with more sport, he had imported every dangerous creature known to man, from the lions, elephants, and rhinos of the plains, to the tigers, bears, and great serpents of the woods. Now their hides and heads decorated the floors and walls of his chamber. Nothing had impressed him.

Now he was an old man. The luster of his silver hair had faded, and his face carried the weight of his age; his cheeks were thin and deep, his forehead pocked with scars and wrinkles. He kept himself in the best of shape, yet now when he practiced with his men, he could feel the strain the activity put upon his aching muscles. Yet still, still he craved a challenge. One last bout that would put him in the annals of history.

“Lord Kilo,” said a voice from just in front and below of him, “news from the land of Banalia.”

He started, opening his eyes and pulling himself from his slouched position. Touching his forehead, he shook off the sleep that had been coming upon him. He had been drifting, thinking of old times. Straightening himself, he looked down to see a page bowed upon one knee, looking up at him.

“Something the matter, milord?”

He shook his head sternly, fixing his gaze upon the youth. “No, no. Just the tediousness of life getting to me.”

The page bowed his head before looking back up. “Perhaps this news shall revitalize you. In the land of Banalia, there has been a sighting of a dragon!”

Victor's bushy eyebrows narrowed, forming a V above his eyes. “Boy, do not jest with me, lest you seek to lose your life.”

“It is no jest milord! The locals there have been complaining of a beast they describe as something from books of legend! It has only been looting farmers' fields of small livestock, but who knows when it will start murdering the people.”

Victor tried not to let his excitement show by keeping a stern face, even though his right hand clenched upon the arm of his throne as his left raised and he ran his thumb and index finger through the silvery hair of his mustache and goatee. “A real dragon, you say. Who would have thought? Such beasts are supposed to be fancy to frighten children. What is the lord of Banalia doing about it?”

“He does nothing, my lord. He and the rest of his country are paralyzed out of superstitious fear. The rumors inside the towns have it that the dragon is a great beast 30 meters long with scales as hard as the most durable mail. None in their kingdom have the courage to oppose it.”

Victor stood with a smile and descended the steps leading up to his throne, striding past the bewildered page, who looked back over his shoulder. “My lord? What is it?

“Prepare my horse,” he commanded, shoving the double doors open and disappearing into the darkness, his cape flowing behind him. “I leave for Banalia in an hour.”

Victor could hardly believe his good fortune as he traveled the roads from his kingdom to Banalia. A dragon, in the flesh! Surely, this would be the deed that immortalized his name in history forever. He was so preoccupied with this sort of thinking that he did not notice the other passenger along the dusty track of dirt until he had nearly passed him by.

“Hai, Windrunner.” He pulled up on the reins to his steed and slowed it until he was opposite the newcomer. It was a man of middle age, pulling behind him a smallish cart filled with exotic baubles and silks. As the rider pulled up to him, he set the handles of the cart down and looked up to Victor.

The elderly lord nodded, looking him over. “Good day, merchant. Have you come from Banalia?”

The man nodded, looking back the way he had come. “Aye, and no sorrier would I be if I never laid eyes upon the accursed place again. All the talk flying about of this dragon has been simply dreadful for my business.”

Victor nodded somberly. “I wish you good tidings elsewhere then. Do you know where this dragon they speak of nests?”

The merchant turned to look up at the rider in confusion. “Aye…it is said to have been spotted near a plateau, five miles off to the east.” To help, he pointed along the way toward where he spoke of. “But why do you seek it? You cannot wish to slay it good sir, for it is…”

Victor nodded, waving the rest of it off. “Yes, I know. A great scaled beast 30 meters long with plates as hard as the most durable armor. But let it be known that Victor Kilo never backs down from a challenge.”

The merchant's eyes widened in astonishment. “Lord Blade? Is it you?”

Victor's eyebrows came together at the title he had not heard in some time. “Yes…”

The man fell to his knees and clasped his hands together, looking up at the lord as if he were the Savior himself. “Oh, praise the Lord! Surely, if there were any man fit to slay this beast, it would be you! Please, destroy this monstrosity and bring peace and prosperity back to this land!”

Victor nodded, a bit astonished himself at the display. “Of course. You have my solemn promise that this dragon shall be dead by day's end. Spread the word throughout the towns you visit. Lord Blade shall slay the beast!” With that, he kicked up his stallion and sped off down the road.

A little over a half-hour later, Victor arrived at the spot. He had tethered his horse to a tree a mile back, not wanting the scent of its flesh to let the beast know of his arrival. As he stared at the lair's entrance, he found himself thinking, `How does a beast so large fit through such a tiny thing?'

The hole was a semi-circular opening, though the sides were so thin it seemed to tender a more oval shape. Victor stood at a good six feet, and yet his eyeline was just at the top of the curve. If he would have to stoop some to get inside, how would a beast as large as a dragon ever fit through?

He looked about, perplexed. This was the plateau the merchant had said it nested near, but he saw nothing that gave away the presence of a carnivorous beast. Kneeling down, he ran a hand over the inside of the curving arch. The rock was smooth and worn, with hardly a mark on it; too perfect to have been dug out by the dragon's claws.

There were a few dark spots no larger than coins scattered about in the dirt by the hole, but he could not tell if they were bloodstains. Perhaps this was nothing more than a hole in the structure, and the dragon entered its lair via some other passage. Still, that meant this would be unguarded and an unnoticed entryway, all the better to strike from.

Wiping the sweat from his brow, he stood and unsheathed the broadsword strapped to his side. Shifting the heavy blade to a double-handed grip, he bent over, ducking inside. The tunnel was black and deep, the late afternoon light from outside fading after a couple meters in.

That last bit of light glimmered over his steel blade and armor, before he was lost into the darkness, the black armor he wore helping him to stay nearly invisible in the tunnel. As he proceeded slowly and cautiously, he could hear his boots crunch over the pebbles lining the floor along with the sound of his own breathing.

Soon, the cavern widened a bit, and he could stand more fully, though it was still an enclosed space he would not like to be trapped in. With a few steps more into the tunnel, he could pick up the odor of the reptile, a dry and alien scent. Overlapping his own breath was the deep, rhythmic breathing of some vast pair of lungs.

Reddish light was drifting in ahead of him, making out the walls of the tunnel. Some three meters ahead he could see that it opened into some large chamber, lit from above with the same light. `Of course!' he thought. There must be an opening in the top of the rock that the dragon flied through. No wonder it didn't use that other hole.

From the sound of it, the beast was sleeping. That would give him an advantage, but Victor wanted a challenge. He wanted the beast awake to give him its full fury. Nearing the edge of the tunnel, he pressed himself up against the wall and tightened his grip upon the sword. Taking a last deep breath, he whirled and stepped into the chamber to face the hideous beast.

It lay curled up in the middle of the cavern, the whip-like point of its tail resting just atop its long snout. Jagged fangs poked out of the sides of its snaggle-toothed maw. Bony ridges jutted over its closed eyes, and delicate, leathery fins protruded just behind its head. Two whitish nubs poked out of the top of its skull.

Its neck was long and fairly thin, leading in to shoulders that perhaps doubled its width, but still left it a rather thin beast. Leathery wings jutted from just behind the bony shoulders, and though folded up, they looked rather weak and scrawny. Its body was lean and muscular, though it looked almost emaciated near its middle.

Four strong limbs were resting curled up along its underside, also bony and scrawny looking. Its claws seemed too large for the limbs, and the black talons upon them were deadly and sharp, but clumsy looking. Its tail was long and thin as well, built like the rest of the creature. In the fading light, he could see that its scales were a light emerald green. Though curled up at the moment, Victor estimated that it had an overall length of 16 feet, with over a third of that being its tail.

This is a dragon?!?”

What had happened to the horrific 30-meter beast with impenetrable armor for a hide? This…this was a laughingstock of a beast, no more than a glorified lizard! He would gain no glory from this. Clenching his fingers around his sword's hilt, he turned and spat into the dust, brow furrowing in anger.

A low rumble made him pause and look back, an uncharacteristic fear taking hold of him. The dragon's tail tip twitched and two cloudy gray eyes opened. Victor nearly hit himself at his stupidity; he had accidentally woken the beast with his shout. As soon as the reptile had spotted him, it uncurled wings, tail, and neck, standing slowly and cocking its head at him, great eyes blinking.

Even when standing, its head did not even stand a foot taller than his own, yet Victor did not wish to take any chances. He settled his weight back on his right foot, holding his sword out, hands near his hips. If this was a dragon, it should not be taken lightly, even at such a paltry size.

He started to slowly circle to the right, never taking his eyes off the beast. The dragon, meanwhile, seemed especially taken by the gleaming metal of his sword and the light that played off it. Its eyes tracked its movement as if it were the most intriguing object in the world.

He tensed his muscles and charged the dragon, swinging his sword upward and cleaving it in a downward slash aimed at the creature's neck, but the reptile had already skittered back with a speed belying its small stature. As Victor's blade bit into the dusty floor of the cavern, the sharp-pointed muzzle darted forward and the beast clamped onto the sword, trying to pull it back toward itself.

It had a good deal of strength in that lithe body of its as well, and though Victor pulled with all his might, he could feel his boots slipping along the rock, until he could hold on no longer, and the dragon brought its shiny prize back near its chest. To Victor's astonishment, the beast actually settled back down and started gnawing on the sword, clutching it awkwardly in one taloned claw while looking at it curiously.

Not one to let such a chance go by so easily, the armored lord reached down and drew his boot knife, flipping it up to catch its blade and letting the small weapon fly at the dragon's shoulder. The blade buried itself up to the hilt in the dragon's flesh, and Victor smiled as he saw red blood flow from the wound.

The dragon reacted in horror, dropping the sword with an ear-piercing screech. It looked at the knife in confusion and pain, before turning its attention to Victor. Then, in a high-pitched voice, it yelled at him, “You…You hurt me!”

Victor was so absolutely shocked that he never saw the tail come up and strike him on the head, sending him hurtling into darkness.

He slowly came to, a ringing in his ears and a throbbing pain in his head. As his eyes opened, he saw the open hole in the top of the cave, bright moonlight shining through onto him. With a low groan, he lifted a hand to rub gently at his forehead, wincing and hissing in pain.

How had he…the dragon! His eyes and senses became as alert as he could make them, the ringing in his ears fading to be replaced with an occasional scrape and clatter of metal. He lifted his head slowly, and as he looked down over his prone body he saw he was wearing nothing but his woolen undergarments, and that several meters away the dragon lay curled up, prodding with its oversized talons at his black armor.

It had spoken! What he had thought to be a dumb beast was, in fact, a creature of intelligence, as crafty as any natural predator but with the higher capabilities of a man. It had also seemed surprised to be wounded so, and as Victor tried to get up without drawing attention to himself, he could see it had plucked his knife from its shoulder, the blood-coated blade lying amidst his other belongings.

His tactical mind tried to come up with a plan to get his sword back while the beast was paying so much attention to it. He certainly couldn't fight as he was now, and he saw no other weapons in the dragon's lair. He had managed to get to one bare foot, leaning heavily on his other knee, when the dragon's long-muzzled head turned about to face him.

“Oh, you're awake!” it said to him in that same high-pitched voice as before, as if its screeching penetrated each word. It left the black armor, which he saw now gleamed with the slick sheen of its saliva, and padded somewhat awkwardly over to his kneeling form, Victor keeping his muscles tense should he need to fight.

The green-scaled beast tilted its head, seeming unsure about his posture. “You're a strange one, you know? You're nothing like the other things I brought here. They all played our game the right way, but not you! You cheated!”

Victor tried to understand what the dragon was saying as its speech grew more high-pitched, ending in what was almost a petulant whine with that last accusation. Game? Cheating? He tried to put these together with what he could already tell of this strange creature. For several seconds the two stared at each other, Victor's eyes narrow and flinty, while the dragon looked on in curious wonder, picking over each detail. “What…game?”

The dragon once more tilted its head and looked at him strangely, as if it was confused by his own confusion. “The game where I run around and chase you! The fluffy things and the noisy, furry thing all played it right. They didn't cheat and try to hurt me when I went to eat them.”

Victor's eyes widened as comprehension dawned. This…this was a child! No wonder it spoke in such a high screech, or thought of their battle as a game! Too late, however, the lord realized what the dragon was saying. Already, the beast crouched down, bony shoulders rolling like a hunting feline's before the pounce.

He pushed off to his feet, but the dragon was already in flight, its long, scrawny body crashing atop his own and pinning him beneath it on his back. Victor's arms tensed as he tried to lift them from beneath the beast's claws, but it was no use. Weak as the creature looked, its muscles nevertheless held him down tightly, and he could only watch in horror as its jaws gaped wide.

The supple, curved neck held that slick, drooling maw high above his own, and Victor cried out as the head suddenly snapped down, expecting that long, jagged line of teeth to pierce his flesh and tear away at him. But instead the dragon's jaws wrapped about his head, the sharp points of those fangs scraping over his bare flesh but never puncturing very far.

What was it doing? The dragon's jaws seemed stretched about his head, almost as if it possessed a serpent's impossible gape. Darkness shrouded his vision, and he only got glimpses of the saliva-coated fangs and dark-colored flesh before a rippling, undulating motion of muscle about him dragged his head into a tighter darkness.

Victor struggled against the constricting hold of muscle and flesh surrounding him, his lungs working feverishly to provide air in the claustrophobic space. The creature above him seemed relaxed, and another rippling sensation tugged on his slick skin, drawing him deeper into the humid, wet abyss.

The prickling sensation of those fangs slid lower, and now, as his shoulders somehow fit inside the slick warmth, it came to him. The dragon was eating him as a snake might devour its prey, intact and whole. There would be no crushing pain or ripping of his flesh, but merely a slow, horrifying trip down its throat, the tunnel he was already sliding down.

He kicked at the dragon's body, hitting the muscled, lean form while he panted and grunted in the tight space. It seemed futile, however, as another swallowing motion tugged at his form and drew him in further. Now he could feel the slick saliva from the dragon's maw soaking into his garments, plastering them to his sweat-covered chest.

Below him, he could hear the dragon's lungs working to rush air past his body, continuing the beast's meal as he disappeared into it. The dragon's claws left his arms and slid down to his hips, where it gripped his flesh with those wicked talons and shoved him upward into its maw, Victor shuddering at how his body seemed to slip easily into its stretching, elastic jaws.

Another rippling gulp pulled him further down through the gullet, until he could feel the squeezing muscles constrict over his chest, his lungs barely able to inflate with the stale, nauseating air he inhaled. He was unable to do anything but squirm and kick, and as the talons slid to hold his legs, he was left without any means of fighting back, the claws squeezing about his shins and pushing upwards once more, the jaws descending as his hips slid into the bulging maw.

Here the dragon seemed to pause, as if its gullet was too full to continue onward, the muscles that held Victor tightly now straining to push him onward down towards the beast's stomach. The lord's tears mixed in with the sticky saliva as those muscles crushed about his chest, trying to push him onward.

Finally, after several seconds of excruciating pain and the endless burning of his lungs, his body was lifted, his bare feet scraping along the stone floor and planted firmly upon it. Pebbles cut into his soles as the dragon now pressed its jaws down upon his lower body, forcing his hips to pass down along into the gullet.

Victor gasped and cried out once more as his body was shoved down into the beast, the top of his skull pressing past a constricting noose of muscle and into a foul-smelling, caustic chamber his frenzied mind surmised to be its stomach. His eyes began to burn as the acidic fumes smoked up to his slick face, and his legs gave a spastic kick as they were lifted from the ground, his body streamlined as the dragon began to snap up his lower portions.

Even as his head slid further into the dark, dank chamber, he could feel the gullet muscles around his torso bunching up and then straightening out as the dragon lunged its head, jaws closing about his sweat-drenched legs and gulping them down as its throat pushed him into its stomach.

Soon enough he could feel the walls around him pressing outward, stretching as the muscles and flesh in the dragon's jaws and gullet had. His weight caused the tingling, stinging bottom to hang down, even as his legs continued to disappear, until at last only his clenching toes remained out, blood running down his saliva-soaked legs from places where the jagged fangs had scraped his flesh.

With a last, echoing snap, the dragon closed its jaws around his form and a tense, powerful swallow pressed his legs into the gullet, where its muscles forced him down through that crushing tunnel until Victor lay inside its gut, knees pressed to his chin and arms held impossibly tight to his sides, the muscular opening sealing behind him.

The lord squirmed and wriggled to no end, but it did nothing but press out the tight, stretched walls a slight amount as more of the burning fumes filled his nostrils and burned at his olfactories. He did not wish to think of what would happen to him, and was spared further torment by the dragon's rattling belch.

Jerconas ran his long, forked tongue over his lips and hiccuped, wobbling a bit at the heavy mass inside his normally lean middle. With a slightly pained groan, he looked back at himself as he settled upon his haunches, his painfully full stomach pressing to the cool stone.

The strange, cheating thing had been a very large meal, stretching his sides out far past their normal limits and squeezing his bloated gut up to the insides of his thighs. He didn't want to move right now, but the ground here wasn't as warm as his sleeping place was, and so he achingly dragged himself over to his sleeping spot, belly dragging along the pebble-lined floor, and flopped on his side, so that his stomach wouldn't hurt so much.

Another powerful belch rained spittle on the stone as he groaned and clutched his stretched belly plates and the pink flesh that showed between them. Perhaps he shouldn't eat this sort of creature in the future. It tasted a lot like the fluffy white things, which was good, but it made his stomach hurt from how big it was.

He laid his head upon the warm stone and groaned once more, trying to soothe his poor stomach by rubbing over it. As much as his stomach ached right now, the strange creature had at least provided him some entertainment, cheater though it was. Now, with nothing to do but wait until his belly took care of it, he felt terribly, utterly bored.

The End