The forest wept quietly around Zephyr. He closed his eyes and breathed as the rain pelted his skin. Rainy weather never bothered him, but there was something hypnotic about the asymmetrical rhythm that it drummed into his hide.

“I told you last time, you’ll not get another ounce until I see payment for the last batch.” The man was heavily armed. He wore a waxed cloak that made the water bead and roll as it touched him.

“I could take it from you,” Zephyr growled.

The man scoffed. “You’ll get no more if I’m gone. We both know it. Who else but me would bother coming to your infernal forest?”

Zephyr growled, but the man wasn’t wrong. He prided himself on keeping the most dangerous forest in all of the Eastern Continent. No human in his right mind would dare encroach on Zephyr’s forest. Which probably said something about the man who now stood before Zephyr with the gall to withhold the thing that he most desired.

“If you haven’t got a way to pay then we’re done, here,” the man said.

Zephyr panicked. He reached out one massive forepaw and snatched the man off the ground. A high-pitched squeal tore from the man’s throat as his feet left the ground.

“Don’t go.” He meant for it to be a command. It was supposed to be a command. Instead, the words that ripped out of Zephyr’s chest came as a desperate plea. “I need it.”

The man breathed heavily, his skin pale and sweaty. He tried to speak. Failed. Cleared his throat, then tried again. “Then you must pay.”

Zephyr set the man on the ground gently. “Wait here. I will return shortly.”

He turned and loped through the forest to a nearby cave. A host of creatures scurried away at his approach. Jackalopes skittered into their dens. Wrens and dryads hid amongst trees and bushes. A lone dire wolf yelped and disappeared into a thicket of trees. Zephyr dove into the massive cave and breathed heavily. A spout of flame burst from his maw to light up his cave.

Once, the cave floor was lined with gold, diamonds, and precious gems. Great scrolls and magical texts lined the walls. He’d slept atop heaps of treasures from near and far. Now it was empty of nearly his entire hoard of treasures. Save for one.

He’d been a mere hatchling when the adventurer stumbled into his cave. He slew Zephyr’s mother and attempted to take her treasures for himself. Zephyr took the man’s murderous arms first. His hunger sated, he crippled the adventurer and enjoyed him slowly over the course of several days. When naught was left but a pile of armor and bones, Zephyr took the magical sword that the adventurer had used to pierce his mother’s flesh and he kept it. His very first prize. His first treasure. And his last.

Zephyr brought the magical sword to the man who waited patiently in the woods. The man jumped to his feet when Zephyr emerged from the weeping woods with a glowing sword between his teeth like a toothpick. He spat it at the man’s feet.

“This will be more than enough to cover my debt,” Zephyr snarled. “As well as the next few batches.”

The man stared down at the sword and smiled. “Indeed, it is.” He picked the sword from the ground and carefully tucked it into his belt before removing a pouch from an inner pocket and tossing it gently up to the monster who waited eagerly for the prize. “Try not to use it all at once.”

Zephyr barely noticed the man’s departure. His entire mind was focused on the small purple pouch before him. Glimmergreed. It was a drug that Zephyr has first tried only six months before. Even small traces of it could kill a human instantly. But for a dragon, it was bliss.

He took a small crystal between two claws and popped it into his vast maw. The colors of the forest grew more vibrant. He could suddenly spot fairies dancing on the treetops, celebrating the gloriously rainy day. His entire body vibrated with ecstasy. This was better than any heap of gold or treasure he could imagine.

Of course, it would run out soon enough. He had no more treasure to trade for the stuff. A shiver of panic ran through his spiny back and made his leathery wings flutter. Something would need to be done before then.

The man had mentioned a castle town, not far away. He called it the capital of the something or another kingdom. Zephyr barely remembered the rise and fall of human kingdoms. But kingdoms held treasures. And treasures could buy him more Glittergreed.

Zephyr popped another crystal into his mouth and shuddered with pleasure. Yes, perhaps it was time to venture into the human realm once more. For a good cause, of course.

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