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Fantasy Adventure Suspense

The Warlock. The Dragon. The Bargain.


Godwick Emberfoot emerged from a burst of supernatural fire. A rain of sparks and cinder followed him as he was violently cast into the dark.

“Hahk!” Godwick gasped, gripping his side and winded by the impact. Wherever he was, it was blacker than a coal mine, and Godwick could see nothing.

Bobbing his head into his hands, Godwick sobbed, mumbled, and rocked on his knees. Unkempt, greasy black hair fell over the iron shackles at his wrists. Godwick mumbled, reassuring himself that he would survive. 

After a sudden moment of realization, Godwick silenced himself and blindly crawled on a hardwood floor until he reached a stone wall. The clanking and dragging sound of an iron chain followed Godwick as he moved. When he arrived, he leaned against the wall, partially whimpering and chuckling in despair. Godwick was breathing rapidly, and his grimy clothes were soaked with sweat.

D-Dragon?” he whispered in a raspy, terrified voice. Godwick’s swollen, bloodshot eyes anxiously tried to pierce the darkness. The musty and damp air retained the scent of brimstone captured upon his arrival.

Godwick fearfully waited in the dark. His chest heaved. He expected to be devoured or incinerated at any moment.

“Hullo?” he cried, louder this time. 

Movement and a guttural clicking noise emanated from within the darkness.

“G-Great Drake,” Godwick breathed. “M-My apologies for intruding upon your lair. Aurusel sent me.”

As Godwick heard a slither and a flap of a wing nearby, he recoiled in fear, instinctively putting his chained arms over his head to feebly defend against an attack.

“Aurusel? The Gardener?” asked the dragon. It was a grainy, languid voice that Godwick heard mostly in his head and not in his ears.

“The same,” Godwick assured, staring into the dark. “Aurusel s-sends his love. His warm, b-belated greetings.”

The dragon’s forked tongue flicked the air. “Curious. Not once have I breathed his name. Not in three centuries. Not even to curse it.”

“An oversight for which he e-expresses p-profound regret,” Godwick stammered. Feeling his way nervously along the floor and wall, he inched his way further into the darkness.

“We are far from the Faewilds,” the dragon whispered, although Godwick could hear him clearly in his head, “and far from the memories of Archfae. You are his vassal?”

“Yes,” Godwick said. He tugged on a thick iron chain that ran between his manacled wrists and added, “Of sorts.”

“He’s tasked you on an errand?”

Godwick swallowed. “H-He’s sent me to collect a treasure kept in your hoard.”

“Has he?” the dragon said in a mocking tone. Godwick heard more stirring and scratching.

Upon reaching a corner along the wall, Godwick was unsure of the size of the space; the lack of cavernous or expansive sounds suggested it wasn't very large.

The dragon’s voice rumbled in his mind. “Hmmm. So what am I to call you, thrall of Aurusel?”

“G-godwick,” he said, peering above his head for any sign of light, depth, or distance.

“Godwick,” the dragon breathed. “Sticks in the mouth. I see you are one of Yondalla’s Children.”

Godwick moved away from the wall and sightlessly reached into the open space in front of him. “I am h-halfling. However, I’ve not visited Aevalorn in decades. Time … time’s been a bit f-fussy.”

The direction of the dragon’s voice seemingly changed, and Godwick’s head bolted up and to his right. "Entering this space is no trivial matter, Godwick of Aevalorn. You must be a formidable warlock."

“I serve. Aurusel rewards,” Godwick said morosely. He crawled on the floor in the dark. 

“Alright,” said the dragon. “Get on with it. If you must, burgle; if you can, steal."

“Not b-burgle, bargain,” Godwick said, arriving at an obstacle. Touching it, it felt like the back of a plush sitting chair. He ran his fingers across sumptuous velvet, and he felt seams and stitches bound to a wood frame.

The dragon chortled. In his mind, Godwick could feel the dragon’s amusement as if the emotion was relayed to him with its words. “You’re quite confident for someone alone, unarmed, and shackled in a dragon’s lair.”

“L-lair?” Godwick said, suppressing a giggle. Concentrating on the room, Godwick snapped his fingers, and four candlewicks ignited with a spark of sulfurous fire. “Respectfully, this f-feels more like a l-library than a lair.”

“Ah, yes, light,” the dragon said wistfully. “I forget. Forgive me, I entertain so infrequently.”

Godwick rose to his feet behind a regal sitting chair. He had thin, greasy, graying-black hair that hung in curls past his shoulders, and his face appeared sullen and heavily wrinkled, beyond his actual age. Godwick’s tattered garments had worn holes around his knees and elbows. A soiled yellow cotton cravat tie hung loosely around his neck. He wore a quilt-like cloak covered in colorful square patches; its hood gathered on his shoulders.

The room was windowless. It was a study with two comfortable sitting chairs, a long-dormant fireplace, and a dusty wood desk surrounded by cobweb-covered shelves of measuring instruments and glass-bottled ingredients. A rickety microscope with various-sized lenses was bolted to the table’s surface. Crooked bookshelves ran the length of two walls, and a dark hall lead away from this place.

Godwick was startled when he realized a decayed corpse of a man sat upright in the nearby chair.

“Hmm,” observed the dragon. “I also forgot he was here.”

At once relieved the small room contained no enormous dragon, Godwick’s attention was fully arrested by the books. He dashed to the wall and yanked one from a shelf. He read its cover and then discharged it to the floor. He pulled another from the shelf in the same way, then another, frantically rifling through books and tossing them aside.

“Movadd Vinrus Dusodro,” the dragon recalled. “A boring, tedious man yet an accomplished alchemist in his age. Ah, it is good to meet another so appreciative of literature.”

Godwick madly whipped through the books, discarding them to the floor, and said, “Dusodro. Y-you were his familiar then?”

“I was,” the dragon admitted. “We were introduced late in his life; our time together was brief. When he died, the protective enchantments that obscure this place from the natural world persisted and confined me here.”

Godwick grunted and climbed onto a bookshelf, throwing the books to the ground. “Have you a name? In a mortal tongue? Something I can p-pronounce?”

After some consideration, the dragon spoke, saying, "I have always been fond of Greymalken. A hag bestowed it upon me a millennia ago."

Godwick violently sent more books to the floor.

“Where is it?!” Godwick sneered, leaping from the shelves to the pile of books in front of the fireplace. He went to the work table and opened its drawers. Godwick scattered stacks of ancient notes, journals, and parchment across the oak floor. His heart was racing, and a slick sweat matted his hair.

“Movadd had many books,” Greymalken’s voice said. “With time, I’m sure you’ll find a title or subject that interests you. After all, you and I, we have an abundance of time.”

Frantic, Godwick shook his shackled hands and yelled, “The Wytchweed Grimoire! Aurusel desires it. He told me you g-guard it with your l-life!”

“Oh,” Greymalken mused. “That book. Yes, I suppose it is true. Dosodro tasked me to keep the Grimoire safe. Apparently, that was Aurusel’s intention as well.”

“Where is it?!” Godwick screamed, wresting a candle from a side table. He crossed the room to examine the books there and similarly tore them from the wall.

“Obviously not on a bookshelf,” Greymalken’s voice soothed. 

Godwick cackled maniacally and furiously rattled his chain. Coming away from the wall, he went into the hallway to inspect the residence but encountered a locked door, magically sealed with runes carved into the doorframe.

“Wouldn’t try that,” Greymalken advised.

“S-Show me the G-Grimoire!” Godwick demanded, returning to the study. His temper was erratic, and he angrily kicked at the books strewn on the floor.

Greymalken offered, “Perhaps I might dissuade you? Spoilers, but the Wytchweed Grimoire is filled with rather dark arcana. It was written by a lich determined to draw immortal energy from trees of all things. It is a perversion of nature, bringing madness to all mortals who read it.”

Godwick grunted as he pushed over the empty sitting room chair to inspect the bottom cushion. He clawed at its fabric, ripping through it with his bare hands.

“Yet I’m sensing the risk of madness isn’t an issue here,” Greymalken surmised.

“S-Show me the d-damned book!” Godwick stuttered, and he returned to scour the alchemist’s desk. He pushed it away from the wall. He attacked the shelves to rake the measuring tins, weights, and glassware, sending them to shatter and clang against the floor. He opened and overturned every drawer, and once diligently inspecting the emptied shelves, he returned to the center of the room to accompany the corpse.

Then his attention was drawn to the fireplace. Holding out his candle, he approached to investigate it further. However, as he neared, an illusion rippled away to reveal the dragon’s fantastic hoard within.

There appeared a small pile of aged gold coins; a golden chalice; three silver cups; a small painting of an aged gray cat; needles and thread in a pin cushion; a mound of buttons; a smattering of copper and platinum nuggets; sprigs of long-dead and withered holly leaves; and under it all, the corner of a silver-embroidered, leather-bound book.

Swooping in from behind, Greymalken - a red-scaled pseudodragon no larger than a kitten - flew to Godwick’s back and crawled up his shoulders. Godwick reeled, landing in the corpse's lap with a rattle of dust and bones, waving at Greymalken with one hand while balancing the candle’s picket in the other; the chain that ran between his wrists prevented Godwick from reaching Greymalken. Circling Godwick’s throat with its tail, he could feel a sharp stinger at the end of it biting into an artery. Godwick stopped and slid to his knees, falling off the lap of the dead alchemist.

“Careful, Godwick,” the dragon seethed into his ear. Its mouth moved, and its tongue flicked, making slurring, hissing noises, but the words were only heard in Godwick’s mind. “We’ve yet to negotiate terms, and you wouldn’t want to end up like poor Movadd.”

His breathing haggard, Godwick rested on his knees amongst a pile of books. The dragon pressed its stinger into his skin. Godwick winced from the pressure and whispered, “You k-killed your patron? B-But your pact!”

“Don’t be so dramatic. It was a misunderstanding,” Greymalken purred. It glanced adoringly at the alchemist’s skull propped against the chair. “Movadd was quite specific in his instruction to guard the Grimoire but woefully silent concerning my own curiosity. We shared … words … when he caught me reading it.”

Godwick uselessly pulled his shackled arms against the iron chain. “You vulture!”

Greymalken cooed, “Godwick, it so happens your timely arrival coincides with the end of my hibernation, and soon, I must eat. To whatever end he had in mind, Aurusel trapped me here. Either he intends my caretaking role to end, and the Grimoire surrendered to a more faithful servant, one who wouldn’t dare use the Wytchweed against him, or-”

Greymalken’s tongue lashed deliciously up the side of Godwick’s sweaty cheek.

“-you’re in time for dinner.”

Godwick sneered, careened his neck, and struggled. “I m-must bring the Grimoire to Aurusel! I’ve no ch-choice!”

“You understand where I might be a tad resentful,” Greymalken growled, tightening its tail around Godwick’s throat, “losing three hundred years of life to Aurusel’s trickery. I apologize if it seems I’m taking it out on you. You’re simply here, whereas Aurusel is not. No hard feelings.”

“We can bargain!” Godwick breathed, feeling Greymalken’s stinger edge close to his jugular.

“Does the pig bargain for its life with the farmer?” Greymalken chided. “Does the rabbit parley with the wolf? You stuttering fool, we are trapped here. You are a soul-bound slave, and I have a debt to settle with your liege. I am also quite hungry. Aside from your succulent albeit boney flesh, what can you possibly offer me?”

Godwick considered, licked his dry lips, and looked sideways at the dragon, saying, “A w-way out.”

The dragon sunk its needle-like talons through his cloak into Godwick’s skin. “Stupid smallfoot. Have you not been listening? The door is magicked. There is no way out. Believe me. Aurusel-”

“-sent me to r-re-retrieve the Grimoire,” Godwick retorted, finishing Greymalken’s sentence. He held up his cloak. “My patchwork. It lends me the ability to p-plane shift. It brought me here, and it can take us away!”

Greymalken eyed the cloak beneath him and sniffed at it suspiciously. “I sense nothing extraordinary about this cloak.”

“B-Believe what you want,” Godwick said, “but there’s my bargain. Your ff-freedom for the G-grimoire.”

Greymalken purred and released the tension from Godwick’s neck. The dragon’s stinger relaxed below Godwick’s esophagus, and it smiled through a row of jagged teeth. “A tempting offer. Your cloak. It takes you places. Anywhere you can imagine?”

“Should I will it, yes,” Godwick replied.

Greymalken considered the possibilities and said, “I have a condition.”

“Name it,” Godwick said, breathing heavily. “But Aurusel m-must have the book.”

Greymalken’s head leveled with Godwick’s eyes. “We make the pact, and I am to become your familiar.”

“S-Shuh!” Godwick blurted, looking up at the corpse of Movadd Vinrus Dusodro.

Greymalken stretched, and its scales bristled. “Come now. Don’t let one bad apple like Movadd ruin your opinion of me.”

Godwick was beside himself. “B-But why? Wha-whatever for?”

“I am bored,” Greymalken sighed. “I’ve been held captive for three hundred years. I’ve grown weary of this hoard and its obligations. I wish to stretch my wings. I long for freedom, adventure, exploration. And I ask you, where better than on the back of a plane-shifting halfling warlock?”

Godwick sneered, “B-But you’re missing my point. I’m en-enslaved to Aurusel. The p-pact will tie your fate to mine. By extension, he’ll have p-power over you, too.”

“For a time,” Greymalken admitted, its reptilian eyes narrowing, “but not forever.”

Godwick shook his head, gesturing his eyes up to the corpse. “You’ll turn on me j-just as you did him.”

Greymalken released Godwick’s neck and flew overhead to land atop the pile of books. It straightened its posture and folded back its wings, appearing as a miniaturized dragon with red scales, a tan-colored underbelly, bat-like wings, black vicious claws, and sharp teeth, but Godwick knew better. Greymalken was fae, a spirit of the Faerun, and its appearances on the mortal plane were a matter of its choice and preferences. And like all fae, Greymalken wasn’t to be trusted.

“You can trust me,” Greymalken jeered to the contrary, almost as if it read Godwick’s thoughts. “You’re young and interesting - you’re going places, Godwick Emberfoot, I can tell, nothing like dusty old Movadd.”

They simultaneously glanced at Movadd’s skull.

Godwick sighed. “Alright. F-first, you g-give me the Grimoire, then we make our p-pact.”

“Hmm,” the dragon snarled. “If your cloak works as you say it does, once in possession of the weighty tome, what’ll prevent you from disappearing on me?”

Godwick sneered.

“You can see my concern,” Greymalken said, twisting its head. “Not that I don’t trust you.”

Pact first,” Godwick acquiesced. “Grimoire second.”

The dragon pranced atop the stack of books, arched its back, and growled in subtle agreement.

Godwick went to his feet and held out his chained arm as if he were summoning a raptor. Greymalken launched into the air and flew over to rest there, painfully digging in its claws.

“I-I, Godwick Emberfoot,” he started, wincing from the pain, “p-promise to take you as my familiar, my spirit companion. What I l-learn, you will learn, and where I go, we g-go together.”

The dragon snarled, chomped, and hissed, and its words resonated profoundly in Godwick’s mind. “I, Greymalken the Red, accept your pledge. I promise to ensure your safety. I promise to aid in your pursuits. And I promise to be your life’s companion … until you look like him.”

Greymalken’s head snaked toward the corpse.

Raising his arm so that he and the dragon saw eye to eye, Godwick whispered, “And w-we w-will be of one mind when it c-comes to Aurusel.”

“Agreed,” Greymalken purred all too assuringly.

Releasing the pseudodragon, Godwick approached the fireplace and pushed aside Greymalken’s pile of treasures to retrieve the Wytchweed Grimoire. It was so heavy, Godwick had to lift it with both hands and drag it out of the fireplace on its spine. Leaf-like shapes were impressed into its silver-embroidered green leather, bound tight by a living vine.

Taking a moment to bring his patchwork cloak’s cowl up and over his head, Godwick lifted the tome as if he were carrying an oversized box, bracing it against his belly. Resting on the pile of books, Greymalken stretched and flapped its wings to come and rest on Godwick’s shoulder.

Godwick then began to snort and chuckle.

Greymalken peered around the room, remembering it for a final time, before turning its mental attention to Godwick. “What is it?”

“A-Aurusel,” Godwick said. “Our p-pact. He’s going to  disagree with this.”

Greymalken smiled a wicked, toothy smile. “Quite.”

Godwick’s patchwork cloak shimmered. Suddenly, there was an explosion of Hellfire that subsequently turned in on itself and imploded. When the embers settled, Godwick, Greymalken, and the Grimoire were gone, and the resulting rush of sulfuric-smelling wind blew out the candles, leaving the dead body of Movadd Vinrus Dusodro all alone in the dark.


February 14, 2023 00:17

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21 comments

Russell Mickler
14:18 Mar 28, 2023

My landing page for this work can be found at: https://www.black-anvil-books.com/bargains-with-dragons As always, thanks for reading, and thanks for sticking around. R

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Irene Duchess
04:44 Mar 18, 2023

I hope we here more of this one... part 2? great story. :)

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Roger Scypion
05:58 Mar 05, 2023

Another excellent story. The dialogue was great and the lead inof Godwick to the lair, superb. Will there be another part or two written about Greymalken, Godwick and a surprised Aurusel? -RS

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Russell Mickler
06:09 Mar 05, 2023

Grin thanks man :) appreciate it … and yes! More of Godwick goodness to come …. Can’t say when exactly but yes! Thank you :) R

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Jester Patatoe
19:25 Feb 24, 2023

I loved this i would kinda like a part-two! but jokes aside fun read great story good job!

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Russell Mickler
20:45 Feb 24, 2023

Laugh - thanks! Stay tuned: I'm always writing new stories :) R

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14:34 Feb 23, 2023

This was a fun read! I was naturally in poor Godwick’s corner, wanting him to escape, and Greymalken’s sarcasm made him charming despite all the backstabbing. And the ending was also satisfying while also being open-ended. Makes me think about what they’re going to do once they get out. My only nitpick was that I thought Godwick’s stuttering could get distracting at times, I think a few instances would’ve been enough to capture his nervousness.

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Russell Mickler
16:17 Feb 23, 2023

Hey there, Joshua - thanks for reading! Glad you liked it! You know, I had the same thought myself. Godwick is nervous in the scene, yes, but I also imagined him with a stutter. A character flaw of sorts. Something to build on when I have him communicating with the dragon telepathically/empathically in future stories, the stutter goes away. I think that'd make a great juxtaposition to explore. Do you think it's too obnoxious and I should get rid of it? I was considering ... R

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10:25 Feb 24, 2023

I feel like a stutter isn't a character flaw so much as it is a tic. And I don't think the stuttering is inherently obnoxious as long as it's used in moderation, or when the character gets particularly nervous. I'm facing a similar dilemma where one main character hisses with every 's' sound (because they're lizardfolk), so I'm trying to figure out how to make the reader fill the gaps without having it in every instance. There was a good book I read called Amberlough where one major character had a stutter (more as a front to people than ou...

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Russell Mickler
12:06 Feb 24, 2023

Awesome - great advice. I think I’ll take the dialogue that direction in future rewrites. For your lizardfolk, yeah, I’d recommend having them speak words with an abundance of consonants and s-words, creating a semblance of hissing and clicking, then maybe describe their eyes or teeth or tongues outside dialogue. And exactly what I thought with Godwick’s telepathy experience! He’d find it liberating, I think, not being tongue tied or stammering … :) Thanks for the ideas! R

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Jane Summers
12:46 Feb 16, 2023

Brilliant. So many little twists. I loved the dragon hoard. A great read.

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Russell Mickler
16:20 Feb 16, 2023

Grin - hey Jane! Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment :) Really appreciate it ... and I'm glad you liked it :) R

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Laurel Hanson
21:11 Feb 14, 2023

A lot of fun to read, with great characterization and an interesting resolution to the conflict. This could easily be expanded, perhaps you are thinking of doing so? I'd read more.

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Russell Mickler
22:45 Feb 14, 2023

Hi Laurel! Hey, thank you! I appreciate your feedback and thank you for reading/responding to my work! Well yeah! Godwick is one of the characters that I write about - you can find info on them here: https://www.black-anvil-books.com/aevalorn-characters The full catalog of stories (short stories, novelettes, novellas, and I'm still working on one novel and MAN do novels take a long time to work on) here ... https://www.black-anvil-books.com/ Grin - stay tuned to Reedsy for more Godwick! I usually will write a short story here and then...

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Russell Mickler
15:12 Feb 14, 2023

Updated 2023.02.14; 2023.02.16.

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Wendy Kaminski
01:12 Feb 14, 2023

Gosh I love your stories! They are so transportive, which I say is now a word. This was a gorgeous and interesting response to the prompt, and I LOVED the idea of the little pseudodragon! - a red-scaled pseudodragon no larger than a kitten - d'awwwww!!! :) - black vicious claws, and sharp teeth - so, then, pretty much exactly like a cat *grin* Thanks for the great story, Russell!

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Russell Mickler
01:22 Feb 14, 2023

Grin - thanks for reading! Transportive is a word? Ain’t it? Grin My stuttering halfling hero wasn’t too distracting? Always, thank you for your kind words and time, Wendy :) R

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Wendy Kaminski
01:23 Feb 14, 2023

No, I thought it was charming! I mean, who among us WOULDN'T stutter when confronted with a darkened room, a homicidal dragon and a difficult quest, anyway... :)

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Russell Mickler
01:27 Feb 14, 2023

Cool :) thank you :) And the word Greymalken is my take on Shakespeare’s Graymalkin from Macbeth :) https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grimalkin#:~:text=Shakespeare's%20graymalkin%20literally%20means%20%22gray,an%20untidy%20woman%20as%20well. This character has been taunting my D&D players since the 90s - he’s been with me a long time :) R

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Wendy Kaminski
01:30 Feb 14, 2023

I KNEW I had seen that somewhere!! :D Couldn't place it, thanks!

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Russell Mickler
01:31 Feb 14, 2023

:)

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