So, this weekend I had a little idea for a short story that I wanted to write. Mostly, it was just to have some fun. I hope you enjoy a very short story break!
Dust descended from the rafters of the tavern as the mountain to the west rumbled. Throughout the common room, hands drifted over the tops of mugs, protecting the precious liquid within as worried faces turned to the windows. One patron threw his coin on the table and hurried out the door.
Eleric paid neither the dust nor the rumbling any mind as he held his half-full mug high in the air. He stretched his arms out wide. “It was bigger than a house, and its tentacles were thicker around than my chest. Our ship groaned as the monster fought to pull us into a watery grave!”
“Sure thing, old man,” the bartender said. “Finish your drink quick. I’m closing early tonight.”
“It’s true!” Eleric protested. “It had teeth like swords and a tongue that could snatch a human from the deck of a ship in a heartbeat. Tell them, Velor! You were there.”
The thin man sitting beside Eleric grunted, his attention fully on the ale in his hand.
Eleric stopped, the bartender’s words finally penetrating his dense skull and alcohol-addled thoughts. “Closing early? But why? Your ale is the best in town!”
The bartender growled. “It’s the only ale in town. The last tavern closed months ago, thanks to our new friend, and you damn well know it.” He stabbed a thumb toward the mountain that loomed over the village. “Agnath is upset tonight. It’s best we all hurry home and keep the streets clear until his anger burns out.”
Eleric waved his hand dismissively. “It’s only one dragon, and a youngling at that.”
One of the patrons stood up from his table. He was a broad-chested man who stood a head taller than Eleric, if Eleric stood on his toes. He smelled like sawdust and his grip was so tight on his mug it threatened to crumple in his hand. “True enough,” he growled, “but that dragon’s still older than everyone here, possibly excepting your wrinkled corpse. And one pass from Agnath would burn this town down as though we’d never built here. So, you shut your trap before someone shuts it for you.”
Eleric stared at the man for a long moment, then blinked. “Have I ever told you about the time I rode a dragon so I could make it to a wedding in time?”
The giant’s eyes went wide as his fist tightened.
“No need for trouble tonight, Garth,” the barkeep warned. “Enough of that with Agnath agitated. Suspect some foolish soul tried to steal his diamond today. It’s happened before, it’ll happen again. We keep quiet and there’s nothing to fear. But when you get rowdy, I get nervous.”
“He’s right, you know,” Eleric said as he swayed on his stool. “Despite all the stories, dragons are usually very peaceful. Have I told you the story of the time we encountered the dragon who swore off eating humans?”
“Twice tonight,” the barkeep muttered. “Your drink is on the house, Garth. Get home and keep Beth and the kids safe. These two are fools, but they mean no harm.”
Garth stepped away. “Appreciate that. But if they cause any actual trouble, kindly let me know. I’d be delighted to kick them out of town.”
The giant left the tavern, and a few others followed suit. Two townspeople lingered, looking like they had nowhere else they wanted to be.
The mountain rumbled again, this time so violently that anyone with more than a half-full mug of ale found some of their drink splashed on the table. That was enough to convince the last two to seek safer shelter. Only Eleric and Velor remained, and neither were in any hurry to finish their drinks, much to the barkeep’s consternation.
The barkeep quickly swept the floors and turned chairs upside down on top of tables. “You two staying at Martha’s place tonight?”
Eleric shrugged. “Hadn’t gotten around to deciding where we’d stay. Was planning on just passing through, but your ale kept us here longer than we expected. Might still try to make the next town over.”
The barkeep shook his head. “I’d not recommend it. This is about as angry as I’ve ever felt Agnath. He’ll be flying tonight, and if he sees people moving around, well, I wouldn’t put much money on them living to see the sunrise.”
Eleric gestured around the empty room. “That why everyone left?”
“Better to be home and safe for the night. Agnath hordes a diamond up on the mountain they say is as big as a man’s hand. Draws thieves and adventurers from all over the land. He always kills ‘em before they can get close, but it puts him in a mighty foul mood.”
“Then why stay? Plenty of mountains around without a dragon nest.”
“Eh, I was here before Agnath, and like you say, he’s peaceable enough. We know to lie low on nights like tonight, and he keeps out of our hair. Having a dragon in the area does tend to keep other trouble at bay.”
“Fair enough,” Eleric said.
The words were barely past his lips when every hair on his arms and neck stood on end. The air filled with power, and a moment later, the tavern shook like it was trying to pull up skirts and run away. A shadow, darker than night, passed overhead.
The barkeep paled and swore. “That’s enough. You two need to go to Martha’s right now. Not sure if she’ll let you in if she isn’t expecting you, but it’s your only chance.”
“Why can’t we just stay here? You do have the best ale in town.”
“I’m closing and going home. The quieter this place is, the more likely it’ll be standing tomorrow. Now get!”
“But we haven’t even paid,” Eleric argued.
“On the house. If you’re feeling particularly generous and are still alive, come back tomorrow morning and settle your bill. Something really pissed that dragon off today.”
Before Eleric could mount another argument, the barkeep had pushed both him and Velor out the door and locked it behind them.
Eleric looked up and saw the dragon flying overhead, circling for another pass. He whispered words long forgotten by most, a flowing, gentle language that had little in common with the conversations he’d just had with the barkeep.
The wrinkles in his skin didn’t disappear, but they grew less pronounced as years fell from his shoulders. Both he and Velor stood taller and their gazes sharper.
“It means to attack,” Velor said.
Eleric saw Agnath’s chest cavity expand as the dragon sucked in air. He’d seen that often enough to know what followed. It would drop on the village, unleashing a raging inferno that would consume every life within.
“Temperamental youngling, isn’t he?” Eleric observed.
“Firela expected as much,” Velor said.
Eleric sighed. It was a shame, really. It was a majestic creature.
“The usual?” Velor asked.
“No reason not to.”
Agnath banked and dropped toward the village, picking up speed as he finished his long inhale. Velor stepped forward to meet the dragon, drawing two long daggers that were as dark as obsidian. It looked for all the world like a foolish last stand, but Velor had always had a penchant for the dramatic. It was probably the flaw that would kill him some day.
Eleric whispered again, weaving power before him in increasingly complicated patterns. A moment later, a thin beam of pulsing power erupted from the palm of his hand, passing inches over Velor’s head to strike Agnath in the chest.
The dragon faltered and lost altitude. The blow hadn’t been strong enough to pierce the youngling’s armor, but it had never been meant to.
Shadows appeared out of nowhere and enveloped Velor, and the old assassin stepped deeper into them and disappeared.
Velor’s next step was onto Agnath’s back. He ran up the dragon’s spine, easily shifting his weight and balance as Agnath fought to recover from Eleric’s attack. By the time Agnath realized something was on his back and was flying well enough to throw it off, it was too late. Agnath twisted in the air, but Velor was already wrapped around his neck. He calmly drove one dagger into the back of the dragon’s neck, sliding it between armored scales and severing the spinal column.
Shadows once again enveloped Velor, who reappeared beside Eleric. He wasn’t even breathing hard.
Agnath crashed in front of them, tearing up the main road that ran through the village. The dragon came to a rest no more than a dozen paces ahead of them.
Eleric shrugged. “Suppose we should go tell Firela she was right, and that the job’s done. Her little village is safe.”
“You going to tell her about the diamond?”
Eleric grinned and pulled a diamond the size of his hand out of a pocket. “I was considering giving it to the barkeep for the drinks, but then he told us they were on the house. Figure we might as well keep it, right?"
Velor shook his head, but didn’t dispute the point.
The two old friends turned and left the town before a crowd gathered, leaving nothing but a dead dragon and a story behind.