|A dragon's ghost raged atop Mount Vertor, reliving countless ancient agonies in death, and all Kanzites knew it.|
Peace no longer kissed the peaks with bracing breeze and settling snows. The halo of mist that crowned Vertor's head glowed green with ghoulish malice. Tortured wails resounded down the mountain, whose icy echoes thrived on biting winds and seemed to never die. Moonlight cast monstrous shadows on mountain snows. The silhouette of a vast beast squatted on hind legs and bared its bristling fangs. Claws on rearing paws menaced the lands leagues below, for its shadow stretched hundreds of feet down the mountain. Wings, like a theatrical cape, spread either side to fearsomely frame the beast. Smoke billowed towards the moon in spectral hues of blue. What fires this monster must have breathed! Needless to say, none dared venture near Vertor's peak. Few even approached the foot of the mountain, till Razor the Thief came to Kanzo.
All who worked for Mentan's infamous Thieving Guild knew Razor's name. Scores of foolhardy bandits had fallen to his Kris knife in the Outlands. He could move like a shadow unheard, strike like the crack of a whip and steal out of strongrooms just as easily as he stole into them. He had trained many apprentices and outlived most of them. Why was he here? The dragon's legend drew him. For a dragon only settles on a mountain to house its hoard of treasure.
"You're a fool man! Turn back while you're healthy and whole."
Razor rocked the innkeeper with wild eyes and a reckless leer. "The dragon's rare hoard will pass into my hands. Then you'll admit you were the fool and bow to a deed well done."
"If you climb the mountain and brave those blue flames, you'll go from rare to well done quicker than you deserve," the innkeeper muttered. "And what if you succeed? What misfortune will you bring on the people of Kanzo? You really think a Great Wyrm will forego vengeance?"
"Oh, I hadn't thought about that," Razor mused. "Too bad for you, I suppose."
The door of the inn swang shut. Less than a league out of Kanzo town, across wilds of leafless brush and arid tundra, stood the base of Mount Vertor.
The ascent was brutal, yet the climber a seasoned brute. As he set up shelter under an overhanging ledge of rock, that curled over him like a protective claw, Razor smeared vervefruit salve over his furs, face and hands. The odour was sharply sweet and masked the scent of man. After nightfall, no dragon would be able to detect him, for Razor knew how to dance as one with the shadows. He slept surrounded by the stinging hiss of winds and the phantom's tortured wails.
As dawn's light fell on a track now shodden with snow, Razor rose and flailed his way through a blizzard, like a blind beggar, towards the summit. Evening fell before he neared the dragon's lair, a cavern rent by claws into the mountainside like an ugly open wound. The thief prepared to hold still, and wait for darkness to render him invisible.
But, just as he turned the last twist before the summit, Razor spotted something odd. Two stone's throws ahead, by the cave entrance, twin stakes stood erect, criss-crossing one another. Affixed either side of this frame, two towering wooden structures billowed outwards, whittled by knives or discerning claws into the form of ornate wings. "The wings of a dragon!" Razor thought. "This phantom's an artist?"
No moon indecently assaulted him that night. The summit stood wreathed in shadow, untouched by the dim glow of distant stars. With less noise than an anxious mouse might dare to make, Razor inched with inhuman patience towards the cavern maw, crawling in slow-motion across the carpet of snow. A faint glow kissed his eyes. Did the dragon sleep by torchlight? That might make things tricky. Eventually, reaching the entrance, Razor peered deep inside through the greedy slits of trespasser’s eyes.
Gleaming torches fixed to brackets on rocky walls illuminated the cavern. Inside lay a hoard like he’d never seen before, like no thief had ever seen, yet not a single coin or gem adorned it. Razor beheld rows of purple, yellow, orange, red, blue, green, bronze, silver and gold. Thousands of brightly coloured eggs sat in neat rows like rotund soldiers. Behind them, on a bed of golden hay, slept the beast.
But a dragon? No! The beast was naught but a giant rabbit! Its claws seemed sharp and cruel, yet its hide was soft and virginally white. Stacks of incense sticks sat piled in pyramids around him. Were these the source of the blue smoke? And the green-tinged mist-cap of the mountain? The dragon had indeed proved a phantom, a phantom that had fooled everyone but him. Howling winds, Razor reflected, needed mere imagination to morph into ghostly wails. He knew full well the powers that fear could exact on the human mind. He'd wielded them often enough himself.
Moving swiftly, for Razor had no fear of waking a creature whose primary prey was lettuce, he flitted from row to row, bagging each and every egg, for a magical secret played between his fingers. It was a Pandora bag, forged by Wizard Adarkmag of Penteza, and could hold an infinite number of stolen items. Razor pondered slaying the poor creature, yet he had been quite amused by the hopeless beast's attempts to guard its precious hoard. What's more, he wished to picture the look on its ridiculous face when it woke to find that everything it owned was gone. Compassion was a virtue that had somehow never crossed paths with Razor's soul.
The Pandora bag, though ripe with treasure, weighed as little as before. Razor crept out of the cave, not wishing to spring the rabbit's awful surprise, for dawn's fierce rays would intensify it. What might he do with his ill-gotten gains? Of course, he'd boast about his victory to everyone he met. This, in turn, would attract other thieves who’d attempt to steal his stolen treasure. Razor would enjoy that. For, if there was one thing this wild and wayward man loved more than hunting for gold, it was the thrill of being hunted!
"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies."
- Groucho Marx