Sir Richard sprinted, his armored feet flailing the ground, lungs gasping for each ragged breath. Disarmed and disgraced, his quest in ruins, he had nothing left but to run. At such times, he recalled the sagacious words of his grandmother, who had always told him: "Running from a problem never solves anything."
The ground beneath him trembled with a jarring rhythm, like cadent thunder. He glanced over his shoulder into a huge, green reptilian face with yellow eyes and baleful fangs that grew closer with each earth-shuddering stride.
"I wish you were here for me now, Grans," he panted as a jet of red flame streamed past his ear. "I'd use you for bait, you old goat."
He scrambled down the mountain slope, weaving in and out of the trees, hoping to slow down the winged brute. The dragon merely snapped the trees flat, plowing them down like a farmer plows down spent grain. Another gout of hot, draconian breath seared by him, curling his hair through the fine steel plate of his ancestral armor.
With the dramatic flair befitting a knight of his station, he leaped over an outcropping of stones. With the high-pitched shriek befitting a pigtailed schoolgirl, he tripped over a tree root and rolled like a stone down into the valley. While not as graceful or as masculine as he had hoped, rolling did prove to be faster than running.
He landed with a leaden flop in the bottom of the gully and stared up into the swirling clouds above. Through the ringing in his ears, the dragon's growls grew closer. He crawled to his feet and stumbled off through the valley away from the encroaching drake.
Ahead, an archway of stone jutted from the mountainside. His hairs stood on end, as if they, too, knew of the dangers lurking inside, and wanted to flee for themselves. Inside the dungeon, he thought that he might stand a chance. Outside, his future would surely be that of very noble excrement. The thump of deadly claws drove him underground.
The Orrid Dungeon was a place spoken of in fearful tones, whispered over crackling campfires and pint-laden pub tables as though it were an obscenity, not worthy of utterance aloud. It had been so named for the late Lord Fatten Orrid, the former Duke of Northwesthamptonwickshireton East, who had once used the caves to hide treasure from his ex-wives. Few had ever returned from its embrace, and those that did wandered alone in the darkness, cursing and trying to bite off their own ears. Lighting a torch, Sir Richard checked his codpiece and pressed deeper into the dungeon.
He pushed open a broken door that barely clung to its hinges and was besieged by a pack of giant, rabid goats. He deftly evaded them by feeding them his tabard.
Passing into a narrow corridor, he encountered a mob of wailing zombies; little more than walking skeletons, with palid skin, sunken eyes and bony limbs, they moaned and clawed at anything that got in their way. Sir Richard evaded them by promising them all lucrative modeling contracts.
A deep growl rumbled through the caverns.