Treasure by Alouenikah, won first place in Sudiva Fan Fiction Contest:
It was in the winter that he came for her.
She was old, and a lack of sunlight had warped her bones like mouldering wood. The winter cold turned her blood to syrup. She lay still and silent for most of the season, barely breathing, unaware of the passage of time.
Then, one day, a sound woke her. A slither in the shadows: something moving, vast and slow.
Sudiva snarled, arching her neck like a scorpion's tail, and slid down from her mountain of gold. The ground here was charred and scored by her talons; the stalagmites at the lake’s edge were slumped like soft butter, melted by her rare but white-hot rages. He stood beyond them. She could make out little but a silhouette, massive and craggy, more like some rock formation than a living creature.
Her firelight reflected off a pebbled hide. Far above, toward the ceiling, she caught the gleam of golden eyes.
It was a dragon.
He did not respond to her aggression; he merely stood silent, unafraid, haunch-deep in the icy water. Posturing and snarling before his vast and inscrutable bulk, Sudiva felt suddenly small and absurd and very young.
In a voice like the deep rasp of continental plates, he asked her why she was here, alone.
Sudiva pranced backward toward her hoard of treasures. She hissed defiance, her saliva boiling into steam. She hated him. She hated him because he’d come to her now – after all this time – to see her like this. She had been beautiful once. Now she was old, a scarred and ugly cave creature hiding from the light. And, at last, here he was.
They had sent her here. Her people, his people: the ancient wyrms. She had been young, still gangly with adolescence, when they’d sent her away. They’d sent her to find treasure in the realms of men, the true treasure of the ancients, and they’d told her to wait. She had gathered riches, nesting in them like some monstrous bower-bird, and she had waited.
A thousand years. They’d never come.
He asked her then: were these the treasures that they’d sent her to find?
Slowly, gracefully, the ancient wyrm emerged from the water. Sudiva crouched and growled as he approached her. He lowered his head; his icy eyes met hers. She saw herself reflected in them. Her back was hunched and twisted, her wings flaccid from lack of use; her hide was dulled to the colour of old rust.
Look at you, he said, with immeasurable pity.
Behind her loomed the wall of treasure. There were raw jewels and finely made weapons, filigreed crowns and coins from city-states long since fallen into dust; there were human skeletons and crushed daemon skulls, bits of driftwood and yards of rotting cloth. In her youth, she’d seized the bulk of it by force. Later, the dead men who lived above her, hollow-eyed and sticklike in their sumptuous robes, had brought her tributes. She’d grown to love her wealth, as she lay in this abyss alone. The hoard was her child; she had guarded it like a precious egg.
But now she saw it through another's eyes, and she realised suddenly what it was.
It was all human garbage. Sudiva reared and snarled in grief. How long had she nested down here, coveting this trash heap? What had she become? A mindless magpie, drawn to the glitter of fool’s gold, rotting away on her throne of debris? She rose onto her hind legs, reeling with disgust at the pathetic, greedy, broken thing she saw in the mirror of the great wyrm’s eyes. Her tail lashed. Coins and skulls shattered and bounced away into the darkness. She swiped with her forepaws, breaking down the wall of debris, weeping tears that sizzled on the silt floor like burning oil. Fire leapt into her throat, and she convulsed with the force of it. Her spine arched sharply. She vomited a searing, pure stream of flame.
Wild shadows danced on the walls. For a moment she saw her hoard silhouetted in the blaze; then it burned, wood popping and gold melting into bright rivulets.
The wyrm let out a laugh like distant thunder. Sudiva whirled around.
He kissed her.
She felt the flame in his throat, deep and old. It warmed her. Her blood ran hot; her bones thawed. There, as she drank in his power, he showed it to her: the treasure of the ancients.
Opals, emeralds, and sapphires beyond compare; sterling silver and rich yellow gold. The dancing opal of the northern sky. The emerald of open fields. The sapphire of a sunlit sea, broad and calm beneath a clear blue sky. The silver of the snowy peaks. The gold of unbroken sand, a pristine beach at the height of noon.
Sudiva closed her streaming eyes.
The ancient wyrm laid his head against her flank and said:
Let me take you home.
The day dawned bright and clear. Sudiva lay coiled in the sand. Lenmir Anfinmotas was a perfect crescent, a cove tucked into the hollow of the mountain. It was silent, save for the babble of gulls and the hiss of the incoming tide. Overhead, the Ilshenari sky was cloudless, the full twin moons and the stars faintly visible even in broad daylight.
She slunk toward the cliff’s edge. She’d built a mound out of bits and pieces that had washed ashore. It was not as grand as her old treasure pile; it was mostly feathers and scraps of bark, old petrified driftwood bleached white by salt and sun. But it would do.
She lay down, curling her tail protectively around it. Snaking her neck, she nudged the meshed branches aside with her nose, revealing something smooth and bone-coloured within.
It was warm as a coal, and stirring with some dreamy internal motion. She lapped it gently with her tongue.
A single hairline crack split the surface of the eggshell.
And Sudiva smiled.