In the deep, dark tunnels under the mountain, red tendrils slithered on the walls, like rivulets of lava, like questing fingers, long and slender. Their glow was the only light; their thought was darkness. One thought, in their simple minds: “Build the bridge. Let the darkness come.”
Orange flames in the fireplace cast dancing shadows on the marble floor. Two men were in this richly decorated room, and one bear. The men were tall and well built. So was the bear. It was sitting on an ornamental carpet with its eyes on the two.
“This is my condition,” said the man wearing blue silk from the comfort of his armchair. The other, in body-hugging red, was pacing back and forth in front of him. “And please sit down, Commander.”
“I’d rather stand,” said the Commander. He prided himself on being able to feel comfortable in any situation, but three hours in a plush chair were too much. Give him a bench, a rock, the back of a horse, and he would happily sit there for hours, but a chair that you sank into was just not natural. “I’m sorry, we don’t do requests,” he said. “Your support for our station in return for our services of interstellar flight — that’s what we had agreed. We know that madjeek of this magnitude is not available to you. There is nothing more to discuss.”
“I understand well the commercial benefits of interstellar flight. I also understand that you need my help — my land — for your station. Perhaps I have not made myself clear — there will be no kingdom if the information about Dragon Mountain is correct. We are no longer haggling about land, men and supplies. This is a one time task that is in your own best interest. Our army is enough to protect us in these days of peace with the troll kingdom, but it is ill trained to combat true evil. Your advanced madjeek might help save us, and that will allow you to construct your station.”
The Commander decided not to mention that while interstellar ships were powered by madjeek and advanced psionics, the madjeeshians and psionicists themselves preferred to remain earthbound, and charged inordinate amounts of money for their services. “So we are your only hope? Surely that’s worth quite a bit.”
“Don’t toy with me, Commander. Would you rather that I put you inside Dragon Mountain so that your friends will have to rescue you?”
The bear growled.
“I’m sorry, that was uncalled for,” the King said. The bear was protective of the Commander, though the Commander had claimed, when the bear walked in, two hours before, that he didn’t own it. It seemed otherwise harmless. “No, you are not our only hope. A group of experienced adventurers may be able to overcome the threat. My messengers have put notices of the reward in inns all over the kingdom. But adventurers are few. Don’t gamble. Your help will assure that you could build your station.”
The commander stroked his goatee. “You mentioned a reward.”
“Yes. Fifty thousand gold coins.”
“Can you show me a gold coin? Yes, quite heavy. Not bad. We will save your kingdom, in exchange for the fifty thousand gold coins, and for the construction of the station without any obligations on our part.”
“That’s not what we had agreed, Commander.”
“That was before you asked me to save your kingdom. Surely your kingdom is enough of a payment.”
“You want our best land, our men, materials and supplies — for free? That would be financial suicide. At least Dragon Mountain promises a quick end.”
“It’s getting late. Let’s meet tomorrow morning to discuss this. I’ll look again at the financial situation of your country, and we’ll see what you can contribute. I will call the Captain and make him aware of the Dragon Mountain problem. I understand that he should be here tomorrow at noon. Good night.”
He gave the king a hardly noticeable bow, and left. Fighting Evil. He hadn’t planned for this, but he wasn’t worried. He had adventuring experience — likely enough to tip the scales in their favour. How bad could it be?
He went to his room to get some sleep. He would wait for the morning to call the Enterprise.