The dragon listened to Maebhe's short tale first with quiet interest. When the elf was done, she was deposited once again on the dragon's feathery back, this time holding the little red fox. Subito went next, followed by Drummer. Finally, Vivace found the spotlight on him, a feeling not unfamiliar in the slightest.
"I'm here for the same reason they are," he said lightly, taking a seat on a small pile of coins. "But if it's entertainment you would like, I live to please! Would you be interested in a musical performance? A bit of comedy? Or a more interesting tale than the one we have spun so far?"
The dragon's tail twitched as she thought.
"Perhaps you could tell us your name?" Maebhe interrupted quietly.
"I am Cirrus," the beast said, her elegant head stretching toward the cave ceiling. "I would like to hear music."
Vivace bowed and grinned as he pulled out a small set of reed pipes. "Would you three like to join me? We could play the River Nymph's Tale with this ensemble."
"I remember the words," Subito said as he cleared his throat.
Drummer found a thin wooden box full of gold. "Care if I empty this?" The dragon nodded as Maebhe slid from her back and let the kit free as she lifted her fiddle from her pack and tuned it to Vivace's pipe.
"In the original A flat locrian? I think E locrian would work better with your pipe's range," the girl suggested.
"I couldn't agree more," Vivace said with his player's bow. "I'll start!"
The dragon, faeries, and fox settled and listened as the pipes began a bittersweet melody. The violin and make-shift drum followed shortly after only to be joined by a low silky voice. Subito sang the first verse through before Maebhe nudged him.
"Beautiful," she said softly as she played her line. "I know you're a bass, but can you bring it up an octave?"
He raised an eyebrow at her. His range was extensive, but he had always preferred singing low- for her though, an exception must be made. He sang the next verse in a honey-sweet tenor and glanced at her for approval. She smiled at him and played on. When they were all finished, Vivace bowed with a flourish and thanked the dragon, faeries, and kit for being such a glorious audience.
"Maybe now we could have breakfast?" Vivace asked the dragon.
Cirrus snorted, almost singing the elves and their instruments. "You eat often, I hear. Do you wish to bake bread in my beak? Roast a deer in my breath?"
"We have no need of fire, not for breakfast," Maebhe assured her as Drummer wrestled the guffawing Vivace into a respectful silence.
"Maybe for lunch we can collect some wild mushrooms to roast in her beak-holes!" he said, cracking up again. Cirrus snorted a bit of fire at the wiry elf, shutting him up.
"Since you do not need to cook, I will extinguish my inner flame for your comfort," the dragon said, noticing that her favourite elf was wiping her sweating brow excessively.
"We appreciate your hospitality," Subito said, adding on a few apologies. They sat down together and pulled out what fare their parents had insisted on them packing. Together they had fresh and dried fruit, deer jerky, bread, leftover pheasant, and raw carrots. They shared what they had and repacked what they didn't consume before settling down for a nap beside the already dozing dragon. Since Cirrus had been kind enough to douse her flame, the temperature had dropped to something more comfortable and they all fell asleep quickly.
Subito awoke first, refreshed. He stood and stretched, his long creamy gold arms pointing at the ceiling as he yawned himself awake. The dragon was gone, he noticed, flown out the mouth of the cave after some distant prey. He looked around at the treasures filling the room and ambled about curiously. He saw weapons and jewelry as well as dinner plates and decorative boxes. He even discovered a mound of multicolored shining pebbles in a niche, but something else caught his eye.
A large pile of swords, both battered and immaculate, was to the right of the stones. Peeking out amid all that mass was a hilt that seemed to shimmer. He touched a finger to the ruby on the end of the pommel and jerked back. There was a presence, a consciousness, that touched his mind when he touched the sword, and now a swirling mist was visible in the ruby. Cautiously, he reached for the sword again and was overcome by darkness.
"Greetings, Elf," a whispering voice spoke into his mind.
"Who are you?" Subito demanded with his thoughts.
The voice let out a hiss of laughter. "Who are you? I know..." it continued in a sing-song voice. "Subito! Doesn't that mean 'suddenly' in the elves old tongue?"
"Who are you?" the elf demanded again.
The whispering voice let out a gurgling snarl. "But your kind knows me as Bloedrecht, the poison of shadows, the blood boiler, the crimson scourge...the Scarlet King of Adenwrough."
"I have never heard of you or your kingdom," Subito replied, trying to pull his hand from the sword.
"Well...it has been almost four thousand years since I walked the earth," the voice hummed. "You can stop trying to let go- I have you until I do not wish to anymore...this is going to be a beautiful friendship."
"Wouldn't you be if you had been trapped in a ruby for millennia? But I digress...open your mouth!"
Subito's jaw unhinged without his consent and the mist spun out of the jeweled pommel and into his gaping mouth. He jerked back and fell, the sword's grip clenched tightly in his hand.
"Subito?" Maebhe and the other elves had woken up, though the faeries were still snoozing in a pile with the fox. She searched the stacks of treasure and finally happened upon him. "There you are- why are you sleeping over here?"
"Oh, um, I like swords," he said, gesturing toward the blade in his hand. "Found one!"
"I don't think we should be taking Cirrus's things," she said with a frown. "Maybe you should put it back."
"Maybe you should learn to bite your tongue when things don't concern you," he snapped, standing up.
Maebhe turned and walked away. "Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the pallet," she mumbled, hurt.
Vivace had heard him and turned toward them with a frown. "Hey, that was mean."
Subito winced at him and walked over to Maebhe, laying a hand on her small shoulder. "I'm sorry," he said smoothly. "I've just decided I really like this sword- I'm sure the dragon won't mind. I'll ask her if it makes you feel better."
Drummer twirled a drumstick on his fingers with idle skill. "Good luck. Dragons are a lot like, well, dragons. I doubt she'll give you a gift from her hoard- they usually only gift those they have a strong liking for. Plus, you just got a sword from the queen- how many do you need?"
"Then I'll propose a trade," the vocalist said. "My sword for hers."
Maebhe looked at him, her brow creasing. "But she just gave you that sword! And it was blessed by her personally- do you really think that sword is worth it?"
His eyebrows snapped together and he opened his mouth to tell her what for when Vivace stepped in. "Why don't we have a snack? And when Cirrus gets back, we can talk about it."
Drummer smirked. "I still think he'd have a better chance of getting a sword in her than out of her."
"If I must," Subito murmured to himself with grin. "Then I must."