Baited

“Just a nice plump virgin taking a walk in this ill lit cavern!” I called out, probably a tad too loud as I walked between the mounds of bones. It looked as if hundreds of creatures had died down here throughout the years. This was one badass dragon. The whisper spell came to life in my ear, just as I was about to call out again.    “You do realize this dragon is highly intelligent? It understands sarcasm and bait. Jesus Lilan, you’re gonna scare it away.” Captain’s guttural tone rumbled in my ear.

    “Yeah, well, I’m getting bored. Why the hell isn’t it out here? We’re literally one room away from it’s treasure. Doesn’t it have a sixth sense or something about thieves?” Without seeing him, I knew the silence indicated a strong eye roll from our grizzled leader.

    “Well, technically, it will have placed a rudimentary ward in the entrance to it’s trove, I’m sure as a last resort we can trip it to summon it.” Thompson’s dry measured voice jumped in. I imagined he was pushing up his glasses as he said it. Although Thompson was an amazing wizard, he was smug as hell.

    “That’s what I’m doing then. We’ve been down here for at least two hours without sight of tooth or scale. I wanna kill this thing, then get back to the castle for the reward. There was a damn fine maiden back there giving me bedroom eyes. I intend to accept.” Casually I turned to where the treasure had been in the map drawn up by Thompson, and crossed my fingers for some action.

    “You’re not the one killing it Lilan, you’re the bait. And we like you alive, so don’t be too much of a pig headed moron.” Sterling, our bowman, had a voice like liquid silver. Even his insults sounded sexy, so I just snorted a laugh in response.

    The cave’s ceiling drew close as I approached the treasure room, almost as if the cavern had ended at this point, only to be dug out further by the dragon. Large deep scores in the walls gave credence to my imaginings. This part of the grotto had obviously been clawed by our resident pest himself.

    I looked back one last time before going into the area, making sure that the dragon wasn’t hanging from the ceiling, waiting till I was trapped in close quarters to be able to roast me alive. I had a death wish, but I still wanted glory. Not seeing anything, I entered the area with the riches. My first sight of the room brought a curse from deep within me.

    “God damnit guys. Dragons dead.” Before me, the large red dragon lay defeated upon it’s hoard. Multitudes of cuts and punctures covered its body, black ichor flowing freely from the wounds still. “That explains the lack of adventure so far, I guess. Did they contract anyone else on this? Guild’s gonna be pissed if they did.”

    “No they said we were the first. That’s super weird. We’re coming in,” Captain stated disgruntledly. As I waited I walked up to the still monster and kicked it out of mild frustration. I hadn’t gotten to bait a dragon yet, and now I probably wouldn’t. 

    “They didn’t take the treasure at all.” I turned in time to see Thompson push up his glasses. The obvious tic made me smirk. “Was it another creature? I mean look at the marks on it. Either someone with great strength, almost magical defeated it, or something stronger.” He started flipping through a book he produced from his pack, muttering to himself as he read.

    “Nah, he smelled Lilan’s breath, and decided his own death was a better option.” Sterling smirked at me over his shoulder as he bent down to start filling his pockets with coins from the floor. “You should consider us all heroes of legend for putting up with him Cap’.”

    “You’re sure taking a legendary heroes share for doing nothing so far today.” Captain scowled at Sterling, who immediately stopped filling his pockets and stood up nonchalantly. “If it was some beast that killed it, we need to figure out what and kill it. I won’t consider this job done till then.” Sterling sighed exaggeratedly at the decree, but it made me excited. Something more deadly than a dragon, that would be incredible to bait.

    “Perhaps a Gristlemuncher Sir?” Thompson looked up from his book at the captain. “They’re known to kill dragons who nest too deeply underground.”

    “No, they don’t come anywhere near this close to the surface. If it is though, we should retreat. You don’t screw with those things.” Captain was carefully cutting through the chest area of the dragon as he responded, pulling its heart out triumphantly, and sealing it within a sheep’s gut.

    Absentmindedly, I wiped the ichor off of the dragons hind leg scales, investigating the ruby reflection of myself it gave. My reflection was much more gaunt than I remembered, and my eyes were incredibly deep set now, giving me appearance of raccoon eyes. I almost didn’t catch the small flicker of movement behind us, I was so frustrated with how far my sickness had developed.

    Spinning around, I saw the creature begin it’s fall. It’s path would land it right on top of Thompson, who would be dead in a second if caught unaware. There was no time to call out. I leapt forward, pushing Thompson out of the way. I felt the claws sink deep into my back and I cried out involuntarily.

    “Shit, Gristlemuncher!” Sterling yelled out, his bow already in his hand, as he fired two shots at its head. The creature tried to pull it’s claws from me to block, but it had snagged on my intestines somehow. It’s screams from taking two arrows to the face drowned out my own at feeling my insides forcibly rearranged. 

    Captain responded with enough speed that for a moment I doubted he didn’t see this coming. His blade cut deep into the forearm of the Gristlemuncher, but stuck in the bone. Finally pulling his claws from me, the creature batted Captain away with ease.

    “Thompson, magic now!” Captain roared as he pulled out his short blade, hammering it against his shield to try to draw the monster away. “Heal Bait second, power up Sterling first.” 

    The next two arrows blinded the Gristlemuncher, and with a screech it tried to remove them, but it’s large claws were too clumsy, and it hurt itself even more. Then, darkness for me. Blood loss is a bitch.

    I woke up to Thompson’s face hovering way to closely, muttering quietly to himself about priorities, and battlefield healing. Sitting up, I found the Gristlemuncher dead on the floor, at least a dozen arrows protruding from its head. Momentarily, my vision swam, and Thompson steadied me.

    “You should take some time. I put a spell on you that helps level out the blood amounts, but it won’t hold up to too much strain. You lost a lot of blood. Also, why didn’t you tell us you had Witch’s Heart Rot?” His eyes held concern, but I pushed him away weakly. No one else had heard him, and I didn’t want them to.

    “Listen,” I whispered to him. “It’s incurable, and I wasted most of my life before I found out I had it. I’ve got a three year old son at home, and even though he may never hear of what I did for him, I’m gonna make as much money as possible so he’s got it easy once I’m gone. The guild wouldn’t accept anyone without training, so I made up a skill so get in, make the big adventuring bucks.”

    Understanding flooded Thompson’s face and he nodded his agreement, patting me on the shoulder. He helped me rise, and I stood to see Captains approving nod, a slight smile on his face.

    “Glad to have you up again. Would be a pain in the ass to find another Bait. In fact, I don’t think there’s anyone as stupid as you out there.” Captain wrenched his longsword from the arm of the Gristlemuncher, wiping it with a cloth to ensure it was clean. “But onto business. Something obviously drove that beast from it’s lower lair, as there’s no sign of it of it having lived here. Time to go deeper, find out what’s on.”

    “Where’s my torch?” Wearily, I grabbed the torch from Sterling and stretched my shoulders. With a false sense of bravado I continued, “I’ll lead the way.”

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