It was not a fit night to be travelling, not for man nor beast. Wild magic had crept into the storm; rain and hail pelted down with unnatural force, ripping away needles, shredding bark, and pulverizing much of the ground cover. Mere boughs simply weren’t enough to keep the icy rain at bay; anything that could, huddled under leaning or fallen trunks for some cover.

But not all errands waited on the weather, and so Kalen, out gathering the last of the season’s rimeberries, had been caught on the trails when the full force of the storm hit. A magical barrier kept the rain and hail from falling directly upon him, but it couldn’t keep the ground from being treacherous, nor did it keep the chill bite of the air from his lungs. But even if he was inclined to wait out the storm – and as the sky grew still darker, that was a possibility he was strongly considering – there simply wasn’t good cover to be had. Not down in the woods.

And so he trudged upwards. The going was harder, especially as the trees thinned and the ground became icier, but there were caves in the foothills. Better to stumble into a bear’s den than to be caught out here; his magic could subdue such a beast, but he could drain himself trying to keep away the fickle anger of the Green Goddess and still succumb.

In searching for such shelter, he was better-equipped than most men. He could sense air under stone; all he needed to do was follow it to the surface.

His toes were numb and his lungs were burning by the time he found a rocky overhang and ducked under it. Ice-cold water flowed down after him, but at least he was able to relax his concentration and allow his shield to dissipate while he moved further back.

As he hunkered down against the rock, it struck him that the face of it was much too flat, too regular. Even the spit he crouched under, broken and irregular though it had seemed from without, was flat underneath.

Well, that was nothing terribly strange. Ruins of dead cities lay not far beneath the surface, buried by terrible magics conjured in wars long past, and in many places time had begun to expose them. Still, it was enough to make him curious. He sensed air under the stone and soil – something had been dug open. He’d thought it to be a cave, and this overhang the mouth of it, but though he still felt the emptiness beyond, now he faced only stone.

No, it opened… above the overhang.

Well, if he stayed down here too long, the cavity was liable to flood anyway. A few minutes to rest had done wonders for his clarity of mind; restoring his shield was, for the moment, a simple thing.

Getting atop the stone balcony was much less so. The stone was very slick, broken away in many places, unstable in others – even as he sized it up, the ice broke away one small chunk at the edge, letting it fall with a splash of chill water. But he persisted, and found a spot where he could sink his staff against the stone and push against it, and finally stood on the weather-worn stone.

The upper surface had been beaten by the elements to the point that it was hard to recognize as a man-made structure, but toward the hillside, the dirt that piled up against the rock was thin. He shaped force to his will – not a great deal of force, for he had no wish to damage the stone any further, but enough to shovel the stone, cutting through roots where he needed to.

There was a small gap between dirt and stone, and focusing his efforts there, he was able to make it a little wider, revealing a dark emptiness beyond. More and more of the wet soil he scooped out of the way, until it finally revealed enough of a doorway for him to crawl through.

The dirt dropped away sharply on the other side, and he slid abruptly downwards, palm striking stone. With only a small opening to the outside world, the noise of the storm was suddenly muted.

It was also pitch-dark, but making a small magelight to hover over his shoulder was the work of a moment.

The years had not been kind to this place – some of the stone had collapsed, and those places were blocked by tumbled soil. But he could still see that he stood at the top of a tower of sorts, and from what he could tell, the walls beneath were either sound, or buttressed by the instruments of their own collapse; the stone was stable now, and much of it was whole or just barely chipped.

A stairway yawned at one end of the small room, spiralling downward. Kalen yearned to discover what lay beyond, but first needed to take care of pressing concerns: he took his staff in hand, used its tip to scratch a design on the dusty stone, and in the center of that design he brought fire into being.

His cloak had been shredded by the rain, and what was left of it was so thoroughly soaked as to be a hindrance; he unfastened it and let it fall with a sodden thump. Tucking his eagle-claw brooch into his belt pouch, he sat, kicked off his boots, and peeled off his stockings, laying those things by the fire to dry and letting it warm his fingers and toes as they did. While he was sitting, he reached back free the leather thong that held his black hair in a tail, giving his head a few shakes to let it spill over his shoulders, the better to dry as well.

Even with a circle drawn to control it, maintaining such a fire took some measure of will, and his was starting to fray; once he’d restored some heat to his body and found that his clothes were mostly dry, he donned stockings and boots once more, and he let the fire dissipate. The magelight was a much gentler thing, so slight a force that he could keep it with him without any conscious thought; with that as his guide, he looked over the rim of the stairs.

They looked sound, but Kalen was no mason, and he liked to consider himself no fool; as he descended, he did so slowly, testing each step with his staff before putting a boot onto it. The stone stood up to his steps without difficulty. Farther down, though, soil from above clogged up the stairs, turning them into more of an irregular ramp; there the going was trickier.

Still, even if he did have to turn sideways and squeeze through some clogged portions, the stairway was never entirely blocked, and after some three storeys’ worth, the obstructions grew less, until the stairs were quite open and he could walk in confidence.

He came to a circular room, wider than that at the top of the tower but still not exactly vast; maybe five times his height across. The stonework was plain and gave no clues as to what manner of place this was. One of the adjacent hallways had caved in and was blocked by stone and rubble, but another remained very much intact.

As he followed it, it opened into another stairway, this one descending straight ahead. Masonry gave way to hewn stone; wherever this place was, it had been built underground even before more ground was laid over it.

At length, the passage levelled off and opened into another room, this one a simple square cut into the rock. At first, he thought it empty, and was about to give up exploring and set up a makeshift camp; but once he’d let his pack fall and sat down, he sensed that there was still something more, just below him.

In fact, toward one corner, something caught the gleam of his magelight, sending it back in a brilliant sparkle.

Metal – clean metal, untainted by time.

Excitement got the better of him; he didn’t notice the cracks in the stone until it started to give way beneath him. Before he could marshal his thoughts, he was falling, tumbling down in a flurry of stone.

He didn’t fall far – maybe a body-length – and then it was onto a heap; his feet slid out from under him, and he skidded downward. His magelight winked out as even that tiny bit of concentration broke, but not before he’d seen coins gleaming all around him.

By how far he skidded, he’d landed right on top of a great heap of the things – some sort of subterranean vault, it had to be. What the room over it was, he had no idea. Perhaps, in its heyday, this vault had been accessed from that little room, by magical means, without breaching the stone at all?

At any rate, when he picked himself up and rekindled his magelight, bright metal winked back at him from all around – a king’s ransom of ancient coins.

And then his heart leapt into his throat.

Across the great expanse of the vault, something was stirring, something vast. Light glittered off of azure scales and shone on jet-black horns and spikes. At the end of a sinuous neck, a great head turned toward him, enormous eyes, their rims a deeper blue than the richest sapphire, opening to focus upon him.

Before he could even recover his wits enough to think of fleeing, the great beast turned toward him, one forepaw darting forward with startling speed and wrapping around his body, pinning his arms to his sides. The grip was tight enough to make it hard to breathe, tight enough to lift him bodily from the tumble of coins and out into the open.

The massive beast held him before its head, looking at him with its head tilted slightly askance, the better to keep one deep blue eye focused on him. A blue-white glow kindled and suffused the vault, dwarfing Kalen’s own magelight.

“Huh. I thought I had blocked all the ways that your kind could get here,” came a deep, rumbling growl of a voice. “What are you, little man? Why have you come here? How have you come here? This is hardly safe territory for your lot.”

Through Kalen’s rising terror, a faint ray of hope broke. Anyone who knew anything of substance about dragons knew that the only chance anyone could have, if in the grip of one, was if it felt like talking. A slim chance, but better by far than none.

He took as deep a breath as he could, framing his answer in his mind. Styling himself a wizard seemed rather foolish when he’d only earned his staff – now uselessly lying in the corner of the vault – a few months back. Besides, a dragon of this size would wield power far greater than his, and would not be impressed by such a claim. “I-I’m just a traveller,” he began, and swallowed. Stammering wouldn’t help him make a good impression, if indeed he yet could. “I know a touch of magic, enough to keep the beasts at bay. I found the ruin above when I was looking for shelter, and I was curious. I fell through while I was exploring it.”

The dragon blinked, lifting its head and peering at him from slightly farther off. “Curious,” it said. “Over the centuries, I’ve encountered valiant knights, mighty warriors, and potent wizards.” After a moment’s pause, it added, “They all proved to be tasty snacks, to some degree or other. But you…” Its foreleg lowered, and Kalen’s boots struck stone, though the claws stayed snug around him. “You intrigue me, little man. But if you aren’t one of those great heroes who have come here before, why have you come?” Its head moved in closer again. “Come to steal away some of my prizes?”

“N-n-no!” Kalen stammered. “I’m not from these lands, I had no idea there was a dragon living here at all, much less where! There was a storm, I found an old tower up above – some of it was collapsed, but there was a passage that led to a little room above this one, and the stone crumbled under me – back there -” Lacking a free arm to point, he tossed his head in the general direction he’d been grabbed from.

“Hmmm.” After a few moments of tense silence, the dragon released him. While he was still swaying on his feet, it lifted its head, looking down at him, then behind him. “If you’d been trying to break in, I suppose it’s a touch less likely that you’d have come down with so much broken stone. And it’s been some years since I’ve had so much as a conversation, so I’ll make you a deal, little man: Entertain me, and so long as you leave my precious things alone, I’ll let you out of here intact.”

In spite of himself, Kalen blinked.

It would be tactless, he felt, to ask how he knew the dragon would keep its word. The truth was, he couldn’t know that, but if it wasn’t inclined to do so, pointing that fact out probably wouldn’t help his case. Still… what could he do? What did a centuries-old wyrm find entertaining?

How could he know? But the dragon itself might. And it had seemed at least a little amused by his humility.

“I don’t know what I could do that you’d find entertaining,” Kalen admitted.

The dragon let out a great, roaring bark of laughter, its tail sweeping over stone off in the distance behind it. “You’ve humility and wit, little man. Wit and wisdom enough not to ply me with false flattery. Not one word of ‘mighty’ this or ‘awesome’ that out of you so far… I might actually believe you’ve been telling the truth all along.” It reached forward, claws splaying out. One of those talons, black as obsidian, slid right up against his neck, hooking into his shirt, tugging him forward a little. “I wonder, are you adaptable enough to give me a more… visceral sort of entertainment? There hasn’t been another of my kind around here that I might… play with… for decades.”

Play with? It couldn’t mean…

He shivered. Could it?

The thought was… strangely compelling. Kalen’s classmates always had said his curiosity would get him in trouble someday, but this…! If he was wrong, there was no telling what the dragon’s reaction might be.

Honesty had served him well so far, though.

“Do you mean… pleasure you? Physically?” Those huge, dark eyes gave him no answer; he swallowed. “I… don’t have the slightest idea how your kind is put together.”

“You came here exploring, did you not say? Explore some more.” The claw pulled free of his shirt, and the outward curve of it slid down along his body, nudging up between his thighs with exquisite and surprising gentleness – no stronger a push than a lover might give to fondle him. “I expect you’ll find similarities enough. And I daresay some of you appreciates the notion.”

Again Kalen swallowed. The beast could seize him bodily, pick him up, toss him between its teeth, and swallow him whole. It was holding his very life hostage to its amusement. And it was suggesting he pleasure it sexually to arrange that amusement. He ought to be terrified – and on some level, he was.

And yet a part of him was intensely, almost desperately aroused. The dragon had certainly seen the truth there – whether that was due to the swell in Kalen’s breeches or some other factor, the man couldn’t know, and it didn’t really matter.

“I… could certainly try,” he said aloud.

“Good, good,” the dragon crooned. “Then come over to my bed, little man. I’ve no wish to lie upon metal and stone, nor to hold myself still over you.” It ducked its head closer, forked black tongue darting forward, giving a firm, damp stroke to the side of Kalen’s neck; and then the dragon withdrew slightly, taking its light with it.

Kalen jogged forward, tugging at his shirt laces as he did. Apparently the vault had been breached when a cave had cut in against it – or maybe the dragon had claimed the cave, noticed the stone wall, and smashed it open itself. At any rate, as the worked stone gave way to natural, the metallic treasures also were replaced by softer ones. Bales of cloth, tapestries somewhat haphazardly hung, and there, blanketing a great depression in the stone, was an expanse of pale grey fabric, forming a bigger bed than Kalen had ever imagined.

It was there that the dragon stretched out on its back, its great wings half-stretched out to either side, doubtless to keep from lying right on them. That was the first time Kalen was able to properly appreciate the size of the beast. From the tip of its tail to that of its snout, it had to be well over a hundred feet – the neck and tail comprised a great deal of that, yes, but the body was lengthy in its own right. It was, however, not quite so massive as it had first appeared; that body was, while not exactly serpentine, certainly lean.

As Kalen hustled toward it, the light caught on something low on its belly – a place that shone a little brighter, caught the light a little more, nestled there between its hindlegs.

Oh. No wonder it had talked about Kalen finding things familiar. It – he – did have some things in common with the man after all.

He finished loosening his shirt and slid out of it, dropping it at the edge of that great expanse of cloth. Once he’d kicked off one boot, that foot found that it wasn’t just a thin sheet; there was something much thicker under it, yielding under his toes. This dragon enjoyed his comforts, it seemed. The sheet itself was ironsilk – spell-toughened silk from magic-bred spiders; he felt the tingle of its enchantments against his skin.

The other boot followed, and then he loosened his belt and slid out of his breeches. Maybe it was a little silly of him, to approach this ancient, powerful beast like a lover on equal terms, but if he was going to do this, he might as well do it right. If nothing else, it’d make it easier to perform at his best.

As he walked over toward the base of the dragon’s tail, he saw the great head lifted high, watching him. The dragon’s forked tongue darted forward, sampling the air, snake-like. More of that bare blue flesh was visible, now, shining brightly over the grainier gleam of scales.

Kalen tore his attention from it, looking up at the dragon’s head again. “Do you have anything I might call you?” he asked. It was so strange to be thinking of someone so plainly intelligent, so visibly male, and so visibly aroused, as a nameless beast.

The dragon’s head tilted slightly. “Since you ask so pleasantly, you may call me Ssarcalagon. It’s but a portion of my proper name, but it will suffice. And what are you known as, hmm?”

“Kalen is my name,” the man said automatically, “Kalen Darvor.” He walked up alongside that sinuous tail, letting his fingertips brush along it. Though dragonhide was famously tough, the scales were smooth to the touch, the hide that bore them supple.

Ssarcalagon uttered no objection when Kalen leaned against his rump and planted one foot right on the base of his tail, nor when the man clambered right up onto his stomach. Once there, though, Kalen couldn’t help but quail somewhat.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising, but the dragon’s maleness was massive. More and more of it slid into the open with each passing moment, and already it was well over a foot long – and thick enough for Kalen to wrap his arms around. This close, the shape of it was plainer to see – it tapered to more of a point than did a human man’s, but still bore a pronounced crown in a very similar profile; behind that crown, several raised ridges marked the flesh, in much the same profile – more understated and farther forward on the underside, but growing more prominent as they swept down and around. Perhaps it was a trick of the magelight, but the flesh shone like the finest lapis lazuli – brighter in some places, darker in others, all of it brightly gleaming.

Swallowing, he reached out to press his hand against it, and found it… well, much like any man’s, firm under the soft skin, but larger, of course. And warmer – very warm indeed. And strangely, but pleasingly, slick to the touch.

Kalen shivered.

“It won’t do you a harm to touch another male,” came Ssarcalagon’s sardonic voice.

“Oh, I know that,” Kalen blurted. Oh, yes, he knew that very well indeed, though he’d normally needed to be very discreet about it. Many people, after all, were less understanding.

Not him, though. No, if the dragon had been closer his size…

If the dragon had been, say, a fifth as big as he was, Kalen would have been all too willing to slide right down on that hot pole. As it was, the thing just kept getting bigger, sliding under his fingers with a soft rumble on the part of its owner. Three feet long and then some.

And big enough to wrap his arms around…

Gingerly, he lowered himself to Ssarcalagon’s belly. The scales tickled a little against his shoulders as he moved, but nothing worse than that; nothing unbearable. He reached over, curling his left arm around the great crown of the dragon’s shaft, and he wiggled his way over, between it and the dragon’s belly. Once he was squarely under it, he brought his other arm around it as well, and his legs, too, as best he could. The feel of that hot flesh against him, especially against his own now-rigid shaft and balls, was exquisite; the rich scent of it, distinctly male but with a foreign, almost spicy aroma, intoxicating. He bent his head, brushing his lips right against the opening at its tip, kissing and licking there.

The dragon’s body shifted under him, undulating, pushing him up against that great spire, then letting him down a little. He let his hands roam, stroking and petting over hot, tight skin, and as the great beast kept rolling under him, he rocked his hips in counterpoint, pressing his thighs against either side of that rigid heat, sliding his own up against it. Slippery as it was, the motion was smooth, almost effortless – there wasn’t even a moment of unpleasant chafing.

Ssarcalagon’s claws tousled Kalen’s hair, then brushed along his side. It wasn’t the gesture of a captor, but that of a lover. Heartened, Kalen kept stroking, kept licking, kept thrusting against the dragon’s pillar. In some distant corner of his mind, he noted his own rising pleasure, but that wasn’t what he craved – he wanted to feel this other male’s moment of ecstasy, yearned for that flesh he felt against so much of him to come to life, ached to taste the dragon’s seed.

So excited was he that his own peak passed almost unheeded – a shiver, a dim awareness of his own seed pumping onto his stomach, and through it all he kept up his attentions. And then, before the throes of his own understated climax had quite faded, Ssarcalagon roared out loud, his flesh jerking upward with enough force to lift Kalen’s shoulders clear away from the dragon’s belly.

And then liquid heat was gushing over him, flowing over his tongue, rich and spicy. It splattered all over his face and spurted out over his head, each torrential jet punctuated by another jerk of the dragon’s shaft – not quite so strong, but still enough to make the smaller male shift about. Kalen drank his fill, sticky seed pouring down his throat and into his empty stomach, and still the dragon’s flood went on.

By the time that torrent ebbed to one last sluggish mouthful, Kalen was sated almost as much in hunger as he was in sex. From head to toe he was streaked with the sticky stuff, and the scent of it filled every breath he took.

Ssarcalagon let out a long, whistling sigh, running the outside of a claw along Kalen’s arm. “I think I could get to like you, little Kalen,” he rumbled. “A bargain is a bargain, and I’ll see you out of here – but if you linger a time, I could make it worth your while…”

Kalen sighed as well, sucking a few fingers clean and using them to wipe the dragon’s seed away from around his eyes. What was waiting for him along the roads, really? A life of being misunderstood – for his magic, for his learning, for his romantic inclinations, for any number of things – and a paltry scattering of silver for a fine ration of rimeberry juice.

It could wait.

“I think,” he said, “I still have plenty of exploring to do here.”