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Teal stared at the dragon, and the great beast stared straight back at her, its huge yellow eyes examining her dispassionately. She chewed determinedly on the unleavened bread she had cooked that afternoon, swallowing it down and feeling it come to rest like lead at the bottom of her belly. Teal had made it with the last of the flour from the now empty barrels at the back of the cave. Barrels that sat next to empty crates, once filled with dried meat and fish.

Oh, yes, and with those barrels and boxes had been a small chest of money. It now lay carefully stacked with the other tons of treasure the great beast had collected. Money that had belonged to some poor farmer, now a blackened corpse, or months ago consumed as a brief meal.

Play for me, Bard, the dragon commanded. Its voice, though deliberately muted, still rang loudly in her mind. Its scales, blood red in the light of day, sparkled black in the dimness of Teal’s cook fire.

“No,” Teal said softly. She swallowed a gulp of water, drawn from the spring at the back of the cave.

Then tell me a tale.

“No,” she said again.

The dragon’s eyes, big as serving platters, blinked once. Three years you have lived with me, Bard Teal. Will you not speak? Will you not sing?

“No.” Her meal done, Teal sat up from the cavern’s uneven stone floor, and made her way towards its dark recesses. She passed the small wooden hut, constructed by another of the dragon’s prisoners a century before, that served as her home. Continuing on, she came to a dark, cramped tunnel, angling upward. A rickety ladder had been built here, perhaps by the same prisoner that had constructed the hut. She clambered upward, around claustrophobic turns and recesses, until she felt the cool breeze reaching down towards her. Pulling herself up the final few feet, Teal emerged from the tunnel, and found herself at the top of the mountain.

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