October 24

Fictober, Prompt 24 – “Is this supposed to impress me?”

Original fiction, fantasy.

Warnings: none.

Uzela turned her great, scaled head this way and that, surveying the vault. She paced forward through the wealth we had amassed so far, her steps more careful than I would have supposed possible for a creature of her size. I paced alongside her, not liking to go far.

Not that there was anything I could do now if this went awry. I knew the risk I was taking.

“Is this supposed to impress me?” she rumbled after a few more minutes. “The halls of your ancestors—”

“Best to leave the halls of my ancestors out of this conversation, don’t you think?” I interrupted, my own eyes narrowing.

Uzela turned just enough to pin me with a golden, slit-pupiled eye. “I have little first-hand knowledge,” she said. “The hoards of others are often known to us, at least in general scope.” I wasn’t sure if I could believe that or not, but took a deep breath and let the anger over past thefts pass.

I was trying to prevent that very thing happening to us, after all.

Returning to her original question, I said, “Whether you are impressed or not is irrelevant. All I want to know is: will you do the job?”

She looked away from me again, and was quiet for long moments.

“If I were to say no, what would you do?” The golden eye turned to me again, just barely.

I made sure my face was as hard as the mountain stone around us. “Did you think I brought you in here with no preparation or contingency plans?” That they were half guesswork was something she did not need to know.

A deep rumble in her chest, possibly laughter. “No.” Another pause. “Were I to say no, but turned and left now, what would you do?”

I held that golden gaze, feeling the pressure of her power, even though I did not think that she was actively trying to influence my mind. Not this time. “As long as you truly left, and posed no continuing threat…I would let you.”

This rumble seemed thoughtful. “Interestingly, I believe you.”

She surveyed the stacked treasures again. The vault was a little empty looking, I had to admit, but we had only been mining here for a few years. The mountains here were rich with many things, and our wealth would grow.

It would grow all the better and more surely if I could convince Uzela that the bargain I had offered was to both our benefit.

“That you have bargained in good faith intrigues me,” she said at last. “And as unimpressive as your hoard might be at present, it is clear that you and your people are industrious.” She shifted, maneuvering herself gracefully around and lowered her neck until her head was practically on the floor, level with my own.

To stand so close and unprotected so near to her large, sharp-fanged caused my heartbeat to quicken involuntarily, but I stood my ground. If she had really wanted to devour me, the time to do it had been out on the mountainside.

Her gaze was even more intense like this, both gold eyes focused on me. “I accept your bargain, on the terms you gave me on the mountain.”

“And I hold to those, on the terms that you gave in turn at that time, and by the mountain I swear it,” I told her, scarcely daring to believe this was really happening, however hard I had worked for it. “I will have a proper contract drawn immediately.”

This rumble was satisfied, and she lifted her head again. “Very well. Where shall be my place?”

“The front of the vault would likely be less convenient for both us and you,” I admitted, “but you should choose an area that suits you.”

With that, she paced off again to better inspect the space and make a decision, an absent rumble acknowledging me when I called that I would return shortly with the contract.

Part of me was still reluctant to leave her alone in the vault…but we had already achieved a certain amount of mutual trust, and to hold to that going forward was the only way this could possibly work. And I wanted it to work, so I headed out of the vault.

For too long, our treasures had been at the mercy of those who would raid our mountains for wealth they had not worked for. Though far from alone, dragons had often been among the perpetrators.

I did not think anyone had ever thought to try hiring one as a guard instead. Uzela would be an expensive guard to be sure, she would also be nigh unassailable. The mere strength of her reputation alone might save us from nearly all threats.

Whether this experiment would work or not, I did not know. But we were going to try it, and more now than ever before, I was sure it was worth the attempt.

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