An Espresso Tale
Accipiter G. Goshawk
Here is Part VII! Follow the link to read Part VI!
“I…I…,” she stuttered, taking half a step backwards.
“Come come, my dear,” purred Rijax, striding over to a large onyx throne sticking out of a pile of coins. “You are being a little impolite. I just swore to leave you unharmed, remember? You wouldn’t want to insult me now, would you?”
The last words were menacing enough to force Hala forward and closer to the now-seated dragon. She trembled as he looked down at her, his milky white scars crisscrossing over the whole surface of his exposed flesh.
“Well assassin, shall I repeat my question, or were you paying attention?”
The tone was mocking and did very little to calm the bard’s nerves. She thought as quickly as she could, the long drawn-out silence becoming more oppressive with each passing moment. She cringed as she noticed Rijax beginning to look bored, his eyes shifting to the remaining members of her party.
Luckily, for Jorn and Fiasha, Hela found her answer just as the dragon’s mouth had begun to curl into a sinister grin.
“Great Rijax! There is very little a humble person can offer someone such as yourself. You are beyond my understanding; you are undefeatable and unfathomable.”
The dragon smiled benevolently.
“I do appreciate flattery, assassin. But I’m afraid you are going to have to do much better than that if you wish to retain the use of all of your limbs.”
“Of course, my lord,” she reassured him. “My flattery is but a prelude. In truth, I think I have managed to perceive the thing that you lordship most desires, the one thing that is missing amongst your endless hoard. The itch that no amount of riches or battles can alleviate.”
“Enlighten me then,” Rijax growled.
“You are bored, my lord,” Hala said, praying that her instincts had served her well.
There was silence, and the dragon burst out laughing.
“Well done! Well done indeed! Truly, you are right, assassin: I am impossibly bored. Now, the question is: how do you propose to solve my conundrum?”
Hala hesitated as she noted the eager look in the twisted being’s eyes, but steeled herself and continued.
“Well, my lord, it just so happens that I am a bard of some skill and renown. I could-”
“Boring. Tedious, even. I abhor music, songs and tales of daring. Banal and tiresome droning about far-away lands may impress some, but are far less interesting to those who have visited and destroyed most of them. No, dear assassin, I prefer games to songs.”
“G-games?” she stuttered, forcing herself to remain still as Rijax vacated the throne and trotted over to where she was standing.
“Yes. I particularly like contests…so much to gain, and so much to lose.”
His tone was covetous and she couldn’t help noticing his pupils contract as they met her gaze.
“A- a wager then, my lord. What is to be your challenge?”
The dragon paced around her, apparently lost in thought.
“Hm. Yes, I see it now: you are crippled, aren’t you, little assassin? You have no faith in your abilities, nor do you believe that you will ever amount to anything. You see yourself as a lesser hero, only fit to clean the boots of greater personages. Am I correct?”
The offhand statement caught her by surprise and she faltered, losing her concentration.
The dragon chuckled.
“It’s as I thought. Very well then. I challenge you to a duel, and to make it a fair one, I will deliver to you the only spell that is capable of defeating me.”
His voice grew more thunderous with each syllable he uttered. Hala could feel the displacement of air as behind her, he regained his true form.
“However, there is one caveat. For the spell to work, the caster must have absolute faith in their ability and in themselves. I will give you one chance to utter the spell. Should you succeed, you will have won our little game and you will be free to leave my cavern with your friends and any riches you desire.”
“And if I lose?” she whispered, not daring to face the dark shadow at her back.
“Then I will eat your companions and send you out into the world an empty husk, devoid of magic, music or joy. I will twist your mind to make you a thing of mischief, hell-bent on creating chaos wherever you roam. That way, I will be entertained for a few decades, at least.”
She shivered at the thought of such an existence, but her determination was stronger.
The dragon towered above her, one massive claw outstretched and glowing with magic.
“Do we have a deal?” he rumbled eagerly.
Without hesitation, she grasped his oversized digit with both hands.