The inn was quiet when Trevan entered. Heather, the barmaid, was talking to a couple of travelers seated at a table near the entrance. There were three shady looking characters laughing over drinks at the bar. There was no one else there. Trevan made his way to a table in the far corner near the fireplace. Heather started over to him and he called out to her that he only wanted a flagon of mead. She nodded, quickly fetched it and set it on the table in front of him. He asked if she could sit and talk to him for a couple of minutes. She glanced around and said, “Sure.” She set down and said, “Did you get signed up to go fight Abraxas?”
“Yes I did. They needed another scout.”
“I really wish you wouldn’t go with them,” she said. “I was beginning to like you.”
“I’ll be back.”
“You will be dead. And so will the rest of them. You don’t stand a chance against an ancient dragon.”
Trevan looked into her eyes. He hadn’t noticed before that they contained silver specks. In his best draconian he said, “I guess that you would know all about dragons, being a silver dragon yourself.”
Her eyes got wide and her mouth fell open. She grasped the table with both hands and looked quickly around to see if anybody was close enough to hear. Trembling slightly, she leaned closer and, in a near whisper, said, “How did you find out?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“What do you want?”
“Like I said, I just want to talk to you for a few minutes.”
She relaxed a little, looked around the room again, and said, “Okay. What do you want to talk about?”
Trevan smiled and said, “Dragons.”
“I can’t tell you where Abraxas’s lair is, or how to defeat him. I wouldn’t tell you if I could.”
“Let’s talk about you then. Why do you live here, as a human?”
She looked up at the ceiling while collecting her thoughts. How could she explain this in a way he could understand? Finally she asked, “How old do you think I am?”
“You look to be about 26 to me.”
“I’m 789 years old. I find it quite pleasant to spend 15 to 20 years in human form from time to time. I will usually be someone inconspicuous and unimportant and work somewhere that I can hear about all the events and activities in an area. When I heard that the city was rebuilt and Abraxas was active again, I came here out of curiosity.”
“How old is Abraxas?”
“I’m not exactly sure. I believe he is close to 1,000 years old.”
Trevan didn’t know what to ask. He never dreamed that he would actually be talking to a dragon. He just knew that he couldn’t let this opportunity pass without learning more about them. He was sure that the more he knew the better prepared he would be when he faced one in battle.
“When you are in human form, what about your dragon body do you miss the most? I would guess it would be flying.”
“What a wonderful question,” she said. “In all of my years, I have never been asked that.” She thought for a second, and then said, “It’s not the flying. I love to fly, of course, but what I miss the most is not being able to hear well. You may not realize this, but compared to dragons you humans are nearly deaf. Elves are quite a bit better, but even they can’t hear as well as we can. In my natural form I could not only hear all the conversations in here, but those in the street outside as well.”
“How do your other senses compare to ours?”
“As far as your sense of sight is concerned, there is no comparison. The first time I transformed to a Human, I thought I had done it wrong. I felt like I was going blind. The human eyeball simply can’t absorb enough light. Not only can I see in total darkness, I can identify individual human faces over a mile away.
“And humans have almost no sense of smell. You can’t distinguish one person from another by smell alone. You can’t follow a sent trail, even a fresh one. Much less one that is several days old. About all your sense of smell is good for is smelling your food before you eat it.
“Your sense of taste is, well … different. You can taste subtle differences in cooked food and have an appreciation for things that taste sweet. We dragons, in our natural form, can taste those things too but they taste different to us. Sweet things have hardly any taste at all. Even in human form I have never acquired a taste for sweet things. But in dragon form I can taste things that you can’t. If you have ever put a copper piece in your mouth, you know the taste of copper. You probably didn’t like the taste. Most humans don’t. I like that taste myself. A dragon can taste the difference in all of the different metals as well as all of the different types of stones, gems and earth. We can eat them as well. As a mater of fact, we can eat nearly anything and over 90 percent of what we eat is converted to energy. We can also taste the air which is not the same as smelling it.”
“So all of your natural senses are better than ours?”
“No. Your sense of touch is much better than ours. Imagine always being in full metal armor. In human form, I enjoy bubble baths and sleeping on feather pillows. In my natural form, I can be just as comfortable laying on sharp rocks.”
“We have one other sense that you just don’t have,” said Heather. “Some call it tremor sense, but it is more than that. If you are standing on a wooden floor and someone wearing heavy boots jumps up and down on the floor, you will feel the floor vibrate. That is similar to our tremor sense. Even when standing on solid rock, we can feel the vibrations of creatures moving about, and can tell in which direction and how far away they are. If they are close, say about 200 feet or so, we can also feel the vibrations they make when moving through the air and can locate them that way. It is a favorite tactic of some dragons, when set upon in their lair by would be robbers, to cast a darkness spell that affects the entire area. Even dragons can’t see in magical darkness, but neither can their opponents. With their tremor sense and their other superior senses they quickly defeat the intruders.”
“What else can I tell you about dragons?” she asked.
“Tell me more about dragons magical spells,” said Trevan.
“We dragons are magical by nature. We can all cast spells. The older the dragon is, the more powerful its spells can be. Each individual dragon chooses which spells to learn.”
“What spells does Abraxas know?”
Just then a group of 5 people came in the front door. They appeared to be local merchants and seated themselves around one of the larger tables. Heather said that she would be right back and went to take care of her diners. Trevan sat with his mead while she fetched food and drink for them and saw to the needs of the others in the room. Before she returned another group cane in and she took care of them as well. Eventually she returned to Trevan with a fresh flagon of mead and sat back down.
Heather continued as if they had not been interrupted, “I don’t know exactly which spells he knows. I am sure that he could defeat the group that is going after him using his magic alone, should he choose to do so. He can cause you to see things that aren’t there. He can twist your mind into believing that he is your friend even to the point that you will fight others that would do him harm. He can put magical barriers in your way. He can attack you with magic missals or cause walls and ceilings to fall on you. He can add magical protections to his already near-impenetrable body. He might make himself invisible or, if you are lucky, simply teleport away. So now you see why I don’t want you to go. You don’t stand a chance against him.”
“We are going to find his lair and fight him there,” said Trevan. “That way he won’t be able to fly and will be more restricted in his movements.”
“That is insane. A dragon knows his lair like the back of his hand. He will have it guarded with deadly traps and monsters. I don’t know where his lair is, but a red dragon will most likely lair in caves and caverns in or near a volcano. They don’t normally modify the natural caves much, but he will surely have a large lair so he can fly in and out. And it will have more than one entrance, so he can always get out if someone tries to trap him inside. There may be rivers and pools of lava to cross, false entrances and dead end passages. Confronting a red dragon in his own lair is suicide. If you find his lair when he is away, and you can get past any creatures or traps, be careful not to remove any of his treasure. Red dragons are notorious for knowing the exact contents of their horde, down to the last copper piece, and they can magically locate any missing items. He will not rest until the thief is dead and he has retrieved his stolen treasure.
“But you don’t have to worry about any of that. Even if you could, some how, fine his lair, you will all be dead before you ever get that far. He can attack you from the air and …”
They heard screaming outside. Everyone jumped from their seats. Those near the door raced outside. Someone yelled, “Dragon!” Trevan drew and loaded his crossbow as he headed towards the door. There was a loud crash. The front wall exploded. Stones and debris flew. Heather grabbed Trevan and dragged him behind a table. There was a blinding flash of light. A great billowing fire belched into the room. The heat was tremendous. It was over as quickly as it began. Trevan stood and looked around. Everything was scorched. There was the strong lingering odor of sulfur. Everything in the room that could burn was on fire except for the floor, tables, heavy timbers and thick wood. These were smoldering, but the blast didn’t last long enough for them to catch fire. If all if the smaller fires weren’t put out quickly, it wouldn’t be long before everything would be burning. Trevan ran outside. He saw people that were wounded, lame, dead and dying. Women were crying. People were running in every direction. The fog was thicker than before. He looked for the dragon, but it was gone.
Heather walked up to Trevan, “I’ll be going now. You found my secret. It won’t be long before others do as well. I see that I can’t stop you from going after him, but I want to give you something that might help you survive.” She reached up as if she were opening a small wall safe. A small door opened in the air. She reached into the extradimensional space, pulled out a small item and handed it to Trevan. It was a glass bottle made of cheap brown glass with a wooden stopper tied down with thin twine, the type you would fine in the front of an apothecary’s shop, usually filled with a liniment or snake oil – that you could purchase for a couple of copper pieces. “This once belonged to a human thief. Pour the oil it contains on your chest, over your clothes or armor for the magic to take effect. It is the equivalent of two different spells, invisibility and pass without a trace. You and all that you carry will vanish and you can move through any type of terrain and leave neither footprints nor scent. The effect last for about 10 minutes. I call it my ‘run away and hide’ oil. If you find yourself in the midst of a battle, and those around you are dying, use this and run away. With a little luck Abraxas won’t notice your disappearance and you can escape with your life. “
Before Trevan could say anything, she looked to the sky, spoke some magical words and made some hand movements into the air. A warm breeze began to circle around them. The entire town square quickly cleared of fog and blue sky appeared overhead. Then Heather transformed from a young human to a large silver dragon.
Trevan couldn’t beleave that she considered him to be such a coward. He started to protest, but all he said was, “Thank you, Heather.”
“My name is Starling.”
“Thank you Starling.”
With that, the silver dragon stretched out her wings and flew into the air. She headed south, away from the town, away from the mountains and away from Abraxas.