LairMature

An cave expedition turns horribly wrong for a group of bandits.

            Armour shuffled and clinked, chests heaved and panted, and dust sprang up from boots scraping against stone as the group of bandits made their way deeper into the cave. Their calling, an ancient tomb supposedly holding vast riches, lay deeper in.

            “How much further, Roland?” one of the bandits asked.

            “The first chamber should be just up ahead,” said Roland. “Won’t be long now.”

            “You got the liquor in your pack, right Bryce?” another asked.

            “Sure do,” Bryce answered, patting the worn leather sack that hung over his shoulder. “Vernon has the food.”

            “Keep moving,” urged Roland. The tunnel was uncomfortably narrow, musty-smelling and poorly lit by the lanterns Berwick, Valus and Roland held. In contrast to its width, however, the tunnel stretched upwards at least twenty feet, cobwebs and dust decorating the dark ceiling.

             Further the bandits progressed into the cavern, until a few minutes later, they emerged into an overwhelmingly large chamber. A dirt floor spanned out before them, with a ceiling so high its limit disappeared into the darkness. Orange light from the setting sun poured in through a large gaping hole in the side of the mountain high above. The floor dropped off into a sinkhole, with a narrow pathway winding down the side of the mountain, leading into its depths. The bandits stood in awe of the place, taking in all of its features.

            “Shit!” Vernon proclaimed, jumping in fear.

            “What?” asked Roland.Vernon gestured toward the edge of the plateau. There, lying nestled against the wall, was the large, dust-coated form of a dragon. Bryce calmly walked up to the thing, examining it closely.

            “It’s a statue, you lout!” he said. “Nothing to be pissin’ yourself about.”

            “Odd place for a statue,” said Roland.

            “Maybe its sculptor thought it would ward off those who try to enter the tomb?” Berwick suggested.

            “Ah, I don’t believe any o’ that magical fairytale horseshit!” said Valus.

            “Fair enough,” said Roland. “Alright boys, let’s set up camp.”

                                                              *

            Long after the sun had set, and its light no longer streamed in from the hole in the side of the mountain, the bandits continued to enjoy themselves around the campfire.

            “And so they found the guy a week later, covered in blood and poorly buried in his wife’s backyard,” said Valus as he recounted a story from a few years back. “She said she was tired of his ‘unsatisfactory performance’.” The bandits all howled with laughter at the story.

            “So she just killed him?” asked Bryce. “Just like that?”

            “She sure did, for that and other reasons,” said Valus. “Guess now that he’s dead, and considering why she killed him, it puts a whole new spin on the term, limp prick!” Again they howled with laughter, both at the nature of the joke and at how drunk they were from the rye that had been brought along.Vernon was feeling especially drunk, and especially bold. He looked to his right at the statue that had frightened him a mere few hours ago. An idea formed in is head.

            “Ya know,” he said in a slurred speech. “I don’t like that statue.”

            “What, ya still frightened of it?” teased Bryce.

            “Nah, I just don’t like it…” Vernon continued. “I think I’ll smash the thing.”

            “What?!” said Berwick in pleasant surprise, stunned by Vernon’s sudden spontaneity.

            “You heard me,” said Vernon, reaching for his hammer. “I’ll smash it to bits!” As the other bandits cheered him on,Vernon half-stumbled towards the statue, dropping his hammer on the way. When he was up close to it, he struggled to position his hammer. Finally, with a great deal of effort, he brought it above his head. Just as he was about to bring it down upon the head of the statue, the thing shifted. To his bewilderment, the eyelid opened, revealing a sky blue eye the size of his fist, staring at him, directly into his own eyes. Its gaze was terribly enthralling, as if the creature were attempting to bore into his very soul.Vernon stood paralyzed in fear as the creature lifted its massive head, opened its jaws, and swiped at him from the side. The other bandits jumped out of their seats in horror as they watched the dragon grab Vernon by his waist, then bite down with a force greater than any hammer.Vernon screamed in pain, then went limp as his torso and legs separated and fell to the floor, blood splattered in pools, his entrails spilled about like carcasses the vultures had abandoned.

            The dragon stood up on all fours, perched on the ground in a manner resembling that of a bat. Shaking its neck, shoulders, back, and tail, the thick coating of dust fell away to reveal black scales, which contrasted sharply with its sky blue eyes. Its full, terrifying form now stood before the bandits, and it stared at them with the same hypnotizing glare it gave Vernon. Only Roland was able to gather his wits to turn around and run. The other three remained standing stock still, helplessly frozen in fear as the dragon raised its head, gave an ear-splitting roar which shook the cavern, and brought it down, a torrent of white and yellow flame spraying from its open maw. The three were set ablaze, their skin burning and their blood boiling as they flailed about in excruciating pain.

            Despite having the wits to run away, Roland did not get very far. He was looking back over his shoulder, about to re-enter the passageway when he slammed into something that felt like a pillar, causing him to stumble backwards and fall flat on his back. Standing above him was a man, somehow equally as frightening as the dragon. He stood well over six feet tall, wore a black robe with various pieces of steel armour attached, a cowl pulled over his head, with a few red lines running up and down the robe. Upon his face was a shining steel mask, one with straight, symmetrical lines engraved into its surface, giving it a simple yet menacing form. The warrior twitched his head slightly, as if examining Roland curiously, and reached for his belt. His right hand withdrew a sword, one with a cylindrical hilt lined with leather strips for a grip. In place of the regular cross guard was a circular piece of metal, out of which extended an ever-so-slightly curved blade. It was a design that Roland had never seen before.

            Knowing it was the end, he decided to merely take in the exquisiteness of the blade as the warrior raised it over his head, and then brought it downwards upon Roland’s face.

                                                           *

            Satisfied, the warrior withdrew his katana from the bandit's head, a sound of stretching tendrils being made as the blade was freed from the grip of the flesh it had been impaled in. He stooped over to take a kerchief off the dead bandit, wiping the blood from the blade, his mask giving the illusion of a stoic facial expression. He sheathed the blade and walked toward the dragon.

            “Pillaging scum,” the dragon said in a deep voice. “Greed is unbecoming.”

            “Quite,” the warrior commented, his voice slightly muffled by the mask. “They’d been troubling villages in the area for quite some time.”

            “Your elf-woman did quite the job of reinforcing such a rumour as this ‘ancient treasure’.”

            “That she did.” The warrior examined the camp, looking at the now-blackened, still searing bodies of the bandits. He looked up at the dragon. “You can get us out again?” The dragon shifted his massive head toward the hole in the side of the mountain.

            “’Twill be a bit of a squeeze, but we’ll manage,” he said.

            “Fair enough,” said the warrior. “Let us be off.” He climbed on the dragon’s back, and the dragon turned himself around to face the hole in the mountain. Spreading his wings, he leaped upward, flapping and pushing himself and the warrior toward the hole. Narrowing himself, he exited the mountain and was propelled into the night sky, steadily climbing high above the land.

            From where the warrior sat on the dragon’s back, he was taken in by a small display of twinkling lights as the moonlight ever-so-subtly reflected off of the dragon’s black scales. From the ground, however, he would be near-impossible to spot to the naked or untrained eye. The warrior and dragon took in the spectacular nature of the land stretching before them as they continued soaring, going wherever the wind would carry them.

The End

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