A/N: This one goes out to Corinne. I know I write slow, but I also keep my promises.

This is also dedicated to everyone who has ever started a story without a clue where it'll lead and just the vaguest notion of what they want it to be about. Embrace that glorious uncertainty. It'll take you places that don't even exist yet.

Hoard

When he woke up the gold was gone. That's a scary sentence for some men to hear but, trust me, it's worse for dragons.

Eyelids the size of flat screen TVs snapped wide open. Wings unfurled, beating the air into a chaos of wind and dust. Throughout the tunnels beneath the Moaning Mountain, a single voice echoed with shame and anger. It was ear-scrapingly high-pitched, with a kind of tonality that the human voice couldn't hope to match. Rebounding off of stalactites and shattering crystal formations, it escaped into the night outside like the steam-hiss from a kettle.

Betrayal!

The locals—who had bought their land for cheap from the ever enterprising Seedy Realtors Inc.—decided that it was high time to pack up and go. Never mind the half-finished condominiums and partially constructed pool hall. There were other pool halls in the world, some of which weren't in the path of a murderous dragon. If there was anything left of Moanfield when they returned, then they decided they would sell it to the next witless yahoo they met in a tavern. That was, after all, the commonly accepted way of siccing adventurers on a dragon.

Betrayal!

The scream reverberated out of the mountainside again, accompanied by a blast of steam. Ashe was pissed.

He paced his lair as best he could, turning circles in the cramped cavern and trying not to stumble over his own tail. Maybe it wasn't the best living space for a reptile of his stature, but it had been extremely cozy with all those doubloons. His back had scraped the ceiling without needing to stretch. Now he could get there only if he…

Ashe reared up on his hind feet and clocked his head against the cavern ceiling. Okay, so maybe it was still pretty close, but it wasn't nearly as cozy as it had been before. Sulfuric vapors jetted from his nostrils, and would certainly have parboiled any intruders in his lair, if there had been intruders to parboil in the first place.

That was the problem, really. There was nothing. No gold. No gems. No ingots of anything, let alone rare metals. No Damascus. No frankincense, myrrh, rosewater, or opium. No magical blades or enchanted quivers or dining room tables that filled themselves with food. No trick torches to adorn the auric birthday cake of his life's savings. No auric birthday cake of his life savings, either. And as clumsy as that metaphor was, he couldn't bear to be without it. His entire existence had been emptied out. It felt like someone had taken a melon baller to his soul…

Wait.

Was that a glitter over there? Behind those stalagmites?

He brushed them aside with his head, hardly noticing as the limestone fractured and gave way before his massive skull.

Yes. There was something there. It glinted in the half-light of bioluminescent algae and lambent toadstools. It wasn't much, but if there was gold then maybe just one little tiny fraction of his life was still okay. He leaned in close.

It was a suit of armor. Bland, steel, plate mail. With a tiny yellow post-it note stuck to the gorget.

This one was defective. We couldn't find a buyer for it due to it's, uh, idiosyncrasies. We have elected to return it to your care instead of liquidating it.

Regards,

J.C. Walder and Sons; aggressive acquisitions specialists.

Ashe stared. He knew in some distant corner of his mind that his breath, when he was really, truly angry, had a habit of heat-warping metal. He also knew that this was the one part of his centuries of savings that had been left with him. It should have had some sort of sentimental value. But he didn't care.

Betrayal!

Scalding gouts of steam broke over the suit of armor, which somehow failed utterly to melt. Instead it coughed dustily and said "Boss? That's a hell of a wake up call. I mean, I'm touched that you feel that way about me, but would it kill you to brush every once in a while?"

Ashe backed up so fast that his hind end hit the opposite wall of the cavern like a freight train. The whole place shook; stalactites swaying in their sockets.

"Boss? What'd I say? You don't look so good. Should I tone it down on the banter?"

Ashe thrashed his head and rolled his eyes, like a racehorse would if it was faced with a crocodile the size of a 747. Oh god no not him why him I thought he was dormant.

"Boss? Did you eat something that didn't agree with you? Maybe another law firm? And, hey, where's all your gold gotten to? The folks who came by here earlier said they were just gonna borrow it for a while."

Why why why whywhywhywhywait what? Long unused muscles rumbled to life in the back of Ashe's throat. "Enter text ," he grated "repeat that last part."

"Sure, boss. They said they were just going to borrow it for a while. And then they tried to hand me off to some guy in a turban who said he was only interested in quality thaumically enhanced merchandise and turned me down. Ignorant lout. He took Freddy, though, and that pompous blowhard can barely cut through butter, let alone hold a tune."

Ashe fumed. Fredrick the serenading scimitar had won competitions. Stay on topic. Don't give in to your anger yet. You can tear ArthurEnter text here. limb-from-plate after you've gotten your life back. "Enter text , who's 'they'?"

"I dunno. Some guys in suits who showed up about a month ago with a couple of tractor-trailers and orders to 'work silently'. I've got pretty good hearing—or at least I used to. Thanks boss—so I woke up the second they stepped into the cavern."

Control yourself. Don't give in. He will pay for this. Not just yet, but there will be such a reckoning when his time comes… "Where did they go?"

"Oh, I'm not really sure. They took me to a little bazaar on the edge of Schere, I think. That's where they had me sent back from, so they could've gone anywhere since. Are you sure you're alright, boss? You look a little peaky. I bet a flock of sheep would fix you up a trea—ARGH!"

Ashe was past the point of listening. Seizing the suit of armor in his mouth, he surged out of the cavern, barreling through the tunnels under the Moaning Mountain until his head broke out into the night air. Flexing his wings mightily, Ashe hurled himself into the air and with sure, steady beats began to drive his weight towards the outskirts of Schere.

"Uh, boss?" asked Enter text from behind a mesh of yellowed molars, "where we goin'?"