The Dragon Riddler (A Dark Fantasy Short)

I have a treat for you guys! This is a short story I wrote back in the late 90’s when I was first taking a creative writing course. The style and flow is a bit dated, but it is a fond memory for me. This was when I first began to seriously contemplate writing stories and books for other people to read, to actually be an author. Over two decades later and my dreams are starting to come true!

Image from Pixaby user Chewie2012

THE DRAGON RIDDLER

“Tell me this, I do declare, what is dark as night and white as the moon so fair? For it to live, you must die, and yet if you die it could not live. Yet dead it is as it walks alive.”

Fiera grinned as the villager’s face contorted in thought. Creatures of mystic powers were her specialty in these riddles. For, though the villagers told many tales of the workings and evils of different beings, they tended to forget about their own stories in the face of a dragon as dark as those very same creatures.

“Um….,” a line of dark liquid slid down the inner pants leg of the thin little man. His hands wrung with anxiety and his dark eyes squinted in expectation, “a…..a…..flea?”

Fiera roared in laughter before slamming her jaws around the helpless victim. One large gulp and he was gone. Humming to herself she smiled as her inner flames incinerated the dinner as it went to her belly.

“A vampire, you silly human. The very story you told to your children last night to keep them from causing mischief in the graveyards.” Shaking her magnificent head she slid back to the ground to nap for the remainder of the day.

Giant ebony plates, shining like wet glass, graced her long curved body. Her massive head, always held high, was topped by large white spikes sharp as swords. Eyes of emerald gems glared above her flaring nostrils. Her tail, also spiked, swished slowly knocking down brush and killing any small creatures that fell in its path.

Settling down on the forest floor, Fiera looked out at the small village of Fralthal, a town whose population was greatly affected by her large appetite. Fiera, though, was not a brainless killer. Her riddles gave the poor villagers a chance to keep their lives if only they answered them correctly. Only the bravest tried leaving through the only path to Sherdio, the very path that Fiera resided on. They could easily try the old thick forests surrounding their village, but then again, coyotes and bears did not give them chances to answer riddles before they killed, and many of them paced the perimeter of the town ready for their own chances at a good meal.

As evening came, Fiera was disturbed by an approaching life form. Slowly she sat up and looked around until she spotted the intruder. A cat, one of the largest she had ever seen, sat on the road blending in with surrounding night. His black coat was long and fluffy and well taken care of.

“Well, seems I will be having kitty for dessert?” Fiera crouched down and cleared her voice dramatically, “UMM UMM! Let’s see, ok, I will give you a simple one. Golden treasures I contain, guarded by hundreds and thousands. Stored in a labyrinth where no man walks, yet men come often to seize my gold. By smoke I am overcome and robbed, then left to build my treasure anew.”

“Well,” the black cat stretched lazily before staring back at the astounded dragon, “I believe you are referring to a beehive. Sorry to deprive you of your dessert.”

The cat turned its tail and continued down the path past the dragon. The dragon stared incredulously. Never had anyone answered her riddles so fast and not in many years had anyone been correct. Intrigued by this new found animal’s knowledge, Fiera thought up some of her hardest riddles for the next victim, who did suffice as a tasty dessert.

As dawn rose up and painted the morning sky, the fog that covered the forest floor slowly drifted away. Fiera’s eyes stayed alert for any who thought themselves cunning enough to sneak past her in this dense cover. She could see right through, and saw no one was willing to try her this morning. As her day continued on in the usual manner, she felt a surge of excitement as a long fluffy tail twitched back forth in the air. Slowly the cat from the previous evening appeared once more. Fiera could not help but shake in excitement, hoping the cat would once again answer her riddle.

“Good morning, giant reptilian guard of my village. You do seem a little more interested in me today,” The cat sat promptly in front of Fiera, its dark tail curling around its feet as it looked about lazily, “What have you to ask me this morning?”

“Ah, yes, hmmm,” Fiera tried to look deep thought as she rehearsed her riddle before speaking to the cat, “We are four brothers in this world and we’re born together. The first one runs and never wearies. The second eats and is never full. The third drinks and is ever thirsty. The fourth sings a song that is barely heard.”

The cat purred and lay down slowly. Stretching his claws before him he yawned and then returned to a curled ball of fluff at the dragon’s feet.

“My dear creature of the path, you are speaking of the sons of nature. There is water, fire, earth, and wind. I feel in need of a bit of a nap. Mind me not for a bit, just please do not step on my tail.”

Fiera stared at the cat in astonishment as it curled at her feet and fell asleep. Smiling a bit, if a dragon could smile physically that is, she nestled down near her new friend and thought to herself that for the first time in hundreds of years, she did not feel alone. For a dragon, this is a bit of an embarrassing thought, but as old as Fiera was it was one in which she often found herself saddened about.

Fiera drifted into her usual light sleep and soon felt the presence of the cat leave her. Though it did make her a bit sad, she felt sure that the cat was as intrigued with her as she was with him. A bond may have been formed and her happiness caused her to let one of the villagers go on a poor guess on an easy riddle. She was surprised at her first act of leniency in years. In fact, she believed she may have never been easy on anyone. Years ago, when children still listened to the stories of the wise men, they knew many of the riddles and answered plenty to allow them safe passage. Now no one cared for old stories, and oh how it did make them easy meals.

A few more days went by with the standard occasional not-so-brave man trying his luck. None succeeded, and Fiera was well fed. She began to get a little agitated and wondered if that cat had not been as fond of her as she had thought. This began to nag at her until an evening came when the notable fluffy standard was waving in the air over a small hill in the road. Fiera shivered and turned toward the approaching feline.

“Well, I was beginning to wonder if you were going to visit anymore.” Fiera sighed slightly as all women sometimes do to show they have been disappointed, “Are you ready for a riddle?”

“Why not? I have no plans for this evening so I suppose I could spare a bit of time for you. I must ask though, would you not like for me to ask one of you?” The cat sat in its usual position, and cocked its head to one side at the mighty dragon.

“Well, hmm, I have never been offered such a chance. I must warn you I have centuries of knowledge of riddles, so you may be in a bit of a spot trying to find one that I have not heard.”

“Ok then, how about a play on words and their meanings, a slight tale with an odd answer?”

“I will do my best to sound as if I did not have to think on it, but give me this tale,” Fiera felt the excitement build at the small conversation that had transgressed.

“John gave his brother, James, a box, about it were many locks. James woke and said it gave him a pain, so gave it back to John again. The box was not with lid supplied, yet caused the lids to open wide. And all these locks had never a key, What kind of box, then, could it be?” The cat licked his paw and slid it back on his glossy head then glanced at the dragon.

“Hmm, what a tale that is. I have never heard this one before. You astound me little friend! I am surprised! Tell me the answer, I do request!” The dragon crouched down waiting for the answer to such an odd riddle.

The cat purred a bit and looked back at the dragon.

“I will give you the answer under one condition, me and my own are never to enter the jaws you have. My master is old and frail, but a great man none the less. If you grant him safe passage then I will continue to visit and riddle with you as well as answer my own.”

The dragon sat up and felt a bit of anger seep up before he realized that it seemed only fair and maybe a good sign of her power to grant the cat’s request.

“Very well, I will do as you ask. What is your master’s name so that I may know him when he tries to pass?”

“His name is Vladrenyl, but you may have some difficulty asking him for an answer. He no longer speaks the heard words of man. His voice is that of the mind alone.”

“So how should I know it is him?”

“Ask him of this riddle that I tell you now, he will answer you with actions that should express the proper response.”

Fiera sighed then glanced at the cat.

“Then tell me of this answer so that I can be expectant of his actions.” The dragon crouched back down to better catch every word of the large cat.

“A curly-haired James was sleeping in bed, His brother John gave him a blow in the head. James opened his eyelids, and spying his brother, doubled his fist and gave him another. This kind of box then is not so rare, the lids are the eyelids, and the locks are the hair.”

Fiera huffed a bit and smoked seeped from her nostrils.

“What an odd reply. So I can imagine he may try to point to his head to answer this riddle. I will look out for this deaf old man and allow him passage if her responds as you say.”

So they agreed, and the cat was satisfied. They began to spend their days riddling each other and Fiera was impressed with the knowledge of the cat. Their friendship grew and eventually the cat was known as “Dragon Shadow”, for he sat in the shadow of Fiera whilst she riddled her victims for their lives.

Dragon Shadow sometimes offered her new riddles to try, for as old as she was, she often repeated some that could easily be over heard from the village. Impressed with the help of her friend, Fiera began to use his riddles more and more. Not one deaf old man had yet to appear in her presence, at least not until one muggy evening when the fog was quite heavy.

Fiera sat alone licking her elongated razor sharp teeth as a tall man approached. His hair fell in long white locks down and around his dark cloak. He walked with the weariness of an old man. Fiera’s eyes narrowed as he came closer. She decided to try Dragon Shadow’s riddle on this one to see if perhaps this was the old deaf man who belonged to the cat.

“Well, hello there, sir.” Fiera nodded to the old man keep her yes locked on his. The man nodded back. “Are you ready for your riddle?”

The man motioned to the dragon to continue. Fiera was almost certain this was the correct man, for his calm demeanor was extremely reflective of the cat’s and must be of the same place.

“John gave his brother, James, a box, about it were many locks. James woke and said it gave him a pain, so gave it back to John again. The box was not with lid supplied, yet caused the lids to open wide. And all these locks had never a key, what kind of box, then, could it be?”

Fiera watched the man and waited for him to point at his head. Instead he crouched and began drawing runes in the sand at their feet. Fiera watched in confusion and stared at the strange symbols. Looking at the man she saw he sat back in contempt and seemed to be waiting for her. Fiera grunted in frustration and gobbled the man down before he could blink. She shook her head as she felt the last of him burn within her infernal stomach.

The lone dragon spent much of the day staring at the symbols wandering if perhaps he was trying to tell her something or if maybe she had misinterpreted his answer. Her uneasiness grew to a small discomfort within her belly as she saw the swishy black tail rise over the ridge.

“Dragon!” the cat stomped as hard as a feline really could, up to the great reptile, “Have you seen my man beast today?”

Fiera snarled in disgust and turned her head.

“How should I know? What did he look like?”

“Well, I do believe you have been told that he is an elderly man who cannot speak the words aloud in a voice that men can hear. I also told you he was wise, and wise men write runes like the ones drawn upon this ground.”

Fiera turned away as the black ears lay back on the cat’s head.

“A man did come and write those but he did not point to his head so I assumed he did not know the answer to the riddle.”

The cat let out a howl of rage and jumped at the dragon. Fiera opened her mouth and before she realized what she was doing she burned the kitty to a crisp. Fiera froze in horror at the sight of the burnt corpse of her only friend. She stepped over the runes and curled up around the ashes. Searing tears of acid dripped down her glassy cheeks. Through the blur she looked up at the runes and realized that from this side, the side the man had been standing on, the runes were perfectly legible and stated the answer to the riddle precisely as the cat had said. In her impatience Fiera had eaten the man she promised to let live and then murdered her friend.

Using her massive claws, Fiera scratched an indention in the ground and slid the cat’s remains into the hole. She smoothed the dirt over and the sprayed her flames upon the ground until the sand melted into liquid glass. While it was still hot, Fiera carved the rune for Dragon Shadow on the surface. After it completely cooled she turned and pounced into the sky. Her large leathery wings flapped for the first time in ages, and the small town of Fralthal was finally free of their very unwelcome guardian.

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