The woman was old, older than time itself...and she was weary. In the beginning she'd led a mighty army, but that was long ago. She had watched her army dwindle as the believers, one by one, tired of the endless war and hobbled off in defeat to the mist shadowed realm of lost kings and causes.
And when she was all that remained, she stood alone and held her own for time out of mind, but the stalemate was long since finished and done, and now her magic faded with her strength. The tide was turning -- mankind was winning, and the earth was losing.
Grimlor had been her final hope. The Dragon on the mountaintop was the last of his kind, just as she was the last of her own. But there was a difference. The dragon's power was not tied to the well-being of the earth. In truth, the contrary beast seemed to thrive on the poisons of mankind that filled the land and air.
She looked back towards the mountain and a bitterness took hold of her heart. A swirling maelstrum of lightning flash and rumbling thunder erupted from the mountaintop as the dragon soared off into the night. It was a mocking, jeering, blatant display of power -- taunting evidence of all that he had and would not share.
Magic! Power, grand and glorious. Enough magic to cleanse the earth and air and stem the fatal tides that doomed the earth. ...and all of it wasted on a single dragon and his obscene lust for gold. T'lerin's eyes filled with tears for all that had once been...and would never again be.
T'lerin was ready to retire in defeat -- to follow all the other faded creatures of magic, leaving man to his own self-destructive follies, and the earth to mankind's cruel mercy. And thus would it have ended had not the dragon overplayed his hand and spitefully destroyed her beloved home.
T'lerin returned to her valley for one final deep- draught of a look. The day before it had been lush and lovely, filled with the myrid green of grass and tree, and the dew shrouded song of bird and cricket. But now there was only silence, blackened stubs and a few wispy tendrils that drifted heavenward. The stench of dragon hung heavy in the air!
And that, of course, was Grimlor's greatest mistake. For T'lerin might well have resigned herself to retiring in defeat before the ravages of mankind--for it was their time to rule and none could deny them that--but to allow a dragon to wantonly destroy that which she loved most on all the earth...that T'lerin would never do.
Greed would be her weapon -- Grimlor's greed. The spell would take the last of her strength and the last of her magic--there would be naught remaining to carry her into the misted lands of peace and rest, but if she knew anything at all about dragons she'd win this one battle and just maybe the whole damn war.
A Dragon's greed is something on which you can always rely, and even more so can you depend on their arrogance and their twisted need to gloat over a vanquished enemy. Grimlor returned to T'lerin's valley just as she had known he would and thus it was there...she lay her trap.
Dragons can scent fairy gold from a mile in the air, and Grimlor was no different. He never suspected a thing. In his great and stupid arrogance, it never once occurred to him that it was just a bit odd for a treasure trove of fairy gold to be buried in the valley he'd so recently destroyed. He never once stopped to consider the fact that had it been there all along, he surely would have found it long ago. No, Grimlor didn't stop to think at all. He just swept up the silver bound chest and and flew off like a thief in the night.
Fast and hard he flew, soaring high above the clouds until he reached the loftiest peak of the highest mountain in the land. He landed on a narrow ledge and waddled into a dark mouth of a huge cave where, lo and behold, treasure of every kind and description glimmered and glittered in every nook, cranny and corner...silver and gold, gems and jewels, crowns and septers--more treasure than the world has ever seen or will ever see again all piled and strewn about to make a dragon's bed.... And 'twas there the dragon lay his weary head and slept the peacefilled rest of well-satisfied thief.
But an odd thing happened, and as he slept Grimlor's breathing turned to the noisy snorting snores of a ominious dream. His newest treasure began to quiver and shiver and shake. The silver bands fell away and lid began to rise. Golden coins began to spill over the chest's sides and like a fountain's spew of moonlit spray, T'lerin leapt from her hiding place beneath the gold.
She looked around at the dragonly hoarde and smiled a bit at the dragon's great greed. She raised her hands and began a slow swirl. Her voice held an almost deathly calm as she began to recite the words of her last magic spell:
Treasures you are and treasures you'll be, but treasures heed well, and listen to me. Here you now are, but there you'll soon be for when the thief steals twice what is stolen will turn into trees. Ash and elm, cedar and oak filling the valleys forests and glades giving life to the land and death to the haze. Treasures you are and treasures you'll be. but treasures heed well and listen to me.
She spoke the final words in a voice so full of quiet command that the earth shook, and all its creatures bowed down in worship and fear. Grimlor awoke with an enraged roar of anger--something was wrong--the smell of magic hung heavy in the air. Grimlor was quick to see the cause.
He towered over T'lerin in his frightful rage, and though his gaze was colder than arctic ice, his breath came in spurts of dark and angry flame.
"Your kind has never been known for playing the fool, Earth Mother. Surely you seek not to challenge me."
"True, I seek not to challenge you Grimlor, but to give you one final chance to use your power freely, to turn the tide and preserve the land and air until the race of man either learns the wisdom of preservation, or destroys itself with its foolish ways."
"You already have my answer to that T'lerin. I care nothing for the fate of mankind, or magickind, or even this pitiful earth. My treasures and I will endure forever, it matters not to me if all that remains is a silent desert."
"Then I'll take my treasure and leave you to yours--may it bring you much joy in your desolate solitude."
"Leave now T'lerin and bother me nevermore, but your gold and silver remain with me, for I've no mind to see them go."
"Then I'd not be watching, if I were you," replied T'lerin as she magically lifted her hands and faded away with a smile, taking her chest of silver and gold as she went and leaving behind only a whispy puff of translucent smoke, and one very angry dragon.
Grimlor gave out with a dragonly roar that shook the mountain, and he hit the air running and spread his great wings as he leapt from the mouth of the cave. "I'LL STEAL IT RIGHT BACK AGAIN!" he roared as he swooped down through the clouds toward the valley where T'lerin calmly waited.
T'lerin didn't even bother to hide the chest of gold, it sat in the center of the devastated valley in open invitation. Grimlor didn't stop to wonder why. He swept up the chest of fairy gold and circled back to his cave.
T'lerin cried for sheer joy when the beautiful trees began to appear, and she laughed out loud when Grimlor's mighty roar of pure rage swept down from the mountain.
She gazed lovingly upon the trees and savored the memories of earth as it had been in all its deeply forested glory, so long ago in the days before mankind came to rule. She smiled as her feet took root in the earth, and as her limbs hardened and changed again to silver bark. Just before the last tiny bit of her magic faded away, she spoke aloud one final time. "I wonder whose greed and foolish, wasteful ways will end first--Grimlor's or mankind's?"
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