The Dragon's Secret Treasure Part One: The Stranger

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Damara ran down the street, clinging to her cloak. As she reached her home, she fell to the ground, struck down by a gust of wind. Above her, four dragons circled like vultures, casting their shadows on the moonlit ground below.

Lord Gaspar came out of the house and rushed to his daughter's side. "Thank goodness you are safe," he said. "I was certain those beasts had gotten you." He helped Damara to her feet. "Come, we must hurry."

The people of the village all headed towards the nearby forest, hoping to find shelter among the trees. Damara and her father joined the crowd.

Before anyone could get to the forest, one of the dragons let loose a great flame from its maw, setting the trees ablaze.

Lord Gaspar held up his hands. "Everyone, to the river."

The people followed their lord to the other side of the village. Damara clung to her father's arm as she ran beside him.

One of the dragons spewed a torrent of water at the river, causing it to flood. Another dragon sent out a blast of icy air, freezing the river solid.

With nowhere left to go, the villagers huddled together. One man tried to run off on his own, but a lightning bolt from one of the dragons landed just in front of him, and he ran back to the group.

Lord Gaspar hugged his daughter. "All is lost," he said. "They will kill us now."

"My lord, look," a villager said. He pointed to where the forest met the river.

A strange man in a hooded cloak walked out of the forest. Despite the fire, he appeared to be unharmed.

"Who goes there?" Lord Gaspar asked.

The stranger stopped a short distance from the crowd. "My lord," he said as he bowed. "It seems you have angered the dragons of the mountain."

Lord Gaspar snarled. "I wish to know your name."

"My name is of no importance." The stranger spread his arms. "I am a mere messenger."

"Speak your message, then," Lord Gaspar said.

The stranger clasped his hands together. "A great treasure has been taken from one of the dragons. He wants recompense for his loss, and in return, the villagers will be spared."

Lord Gaspar took a step forward. "We have never gone anywhere near that cursed mountain. This is preposterous."

"Preposterous you say?" The stranger chuckled and pointed at the sky. "Tell that to them."

"Enough of this." Lord Gaspar stomped his foot. "What was taken?"

"That is the wrong question," the stranger said. "You should be asking what they want."

"Do they not want what was taken?" Lord Gaspar asked.

The stranger made no reply.

Lord Gaspar clenched his fists. "Well then, what do they want?"

"Two things." The stranger pointed at the village. "First, you must all leave this place by dawn."

The villagers murmured among themselves.

"Leave?" Lord Gaspar raised a fist. "Why should we?"

"Surely you would all be glad to be far from the dragons and their mountain," the stranger said. "You can stay, but you will not like the consequences."

"Father," Damara said. "Perhaps it would be best to leave. Many of the people have families elsewhere, and we could stay with some relatives in the capital."

Lord Gaspar grunted. "Very well. What is the second thing?"

The stranger crossed his arms. "Come here, my lord, and bring your daughter. I wish to meet her."

"Come here yourself, scoundrel," Lord Gaspar said. He gripped Damara's wrist.

The stranger shrugged and approached the villagers. Damara saw him grin beneath his hood as the people all backed away.

Lord Gaspar stood his ground. "What does my daughter have to do with any of this?"

The stranger held out a hand to the young woman. "What is your name, my lady?"

Damara felt her throat go dry. "I am Lady Damara."

Lord Gaspar pulled his daughter behind him. "Leave her alone."

The stranger lowered his hand. "My lady, would you be willing to come to the mountain with me?"

"She will do nothing of the sort." Lord Gaspar tightened his grip on Damara's wrist.

The stranger ignored Lord Gaspar. "Please come, my lady. If you do, all of these people will be spared."

Damara looked back at the cowering villagers. "Do I have your word that no harm will come to any of them?"

The stranger placed his hand on his chest. "I swear to you that no one will be harmed so long as everyone leaves by dawn."

"You will not take her." Lord Gaspar let go of Damara and raised a hand to strike the stranger.

Damara took a step back. "Father, please-"

The stranger raised a hand, and two thick vines burst from the ground. One vine wrapped around Lord Gaspar's hands, while the other bound his feet.

"Let me go." Lord Gaspar struggled against the vines.

"My lady," the stranger said. "It seems I made my vow too soon. However, I can promise you that this will be the only instance when I break it." He flicked his hand, and Lord Gaspar was tossed backward. "If he does not let this lady come with me," he said to the villagers, "the dragons will not be pleased."

Two men grabbed Lord Gaspar. They held him back as he tried to get to Damara.

"Do they intend to harm the lady?" one man asked.

"Be more concerned with your own loved ones," the stranger said.

Lord Gaspar screamed. "You call us thieves? Now you are the thieves!" He looked up at the circling dragons. "You cannot have my daughter!"

"I am afraid that is not your decision, my lord." The stranger held out his hand to Damara. "Now, my lady, will you come with me willingly?"

Damara looked from the stranger to her father, and then up at the dragons. "Do I have a choice?"

"Of course," the stranger said. "Why else would I ask such a question?"

Damara frowned. "The villagers will be allowed to leave in peace?"

The stranger nodded. "I gave you my word."

"Very well," Damara said. "I will come with you."

The stranger smiled. "I am glad to hear you say that. Come, my lady."

Damara gave the stranger her hand, and then followed him towards the flaming trees.

"Damara!" Lord Gaspar kicked at the men holding him back, but neither of them would let him go. "Damara!"

Damara kept looking ahead, refusing to look back at what she was leaving behind. She held her head high as the stranger led her down a safe path through the forest.

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