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Payment

Sounds rang constantly through the cavernous dining hall: indistinct voices spoke to each other over an orchestra of classical music and dishes clattering. The room was filled with well-dressed people and servants, and the decoration was extravagant.

Just off the room, a man with long white hair stood inside a pristine bathroom, his hands beneath a stream of water flowing out of a golden tap. Casually, he watched the only other occupant of the room from the corner of his eye until he exited. A pair of red eyes peeked out from beneath his hair on the back of his neck and watched the door close. The tiny, solid black head of a six-inch-tall dragon reached out of the thick mass of hair, keeping its eyes on the closed door.

“I don’t like it,” the dragon spoke in an ancient tongue.

“I don’t like it either,” the man replied in the same language, but with a British accent, “but this is our only chance to find Bentley.”

“That double-crossing coward,” Onyx spat out with the mention of their client’s name. “So how shall we go about this?” Gareth turned off the tap and dried his hands.

“I think a snake would go over this crowd well enough,” he stated. With a sigh, the miniature dragon concentrated and its form changed. The scales on its head shrank in size and grew in number, the horns on the top of its head melted away into its skin, and its eyes narrowed, the pupils becoming single, thin lines. Its neck elongated as it stretched it out, but it kept its wings and legs hidden beneath Gareth’s hair and behind his neck.

“Ready, love?” Gareth asked.

“Yes,” Onyx responded, flitting her forked tongue out briefly.

As they reentered the crowded dining hall, both pairs of eyes traveled across the crowd. Gareth moved slowly into the throng while Onyx’s raised head swung back and forth, scanning the crowd. A few people gazed curiously at the dark brown snake protruding from the well-dressed man’s hair, but paid it little attention. Stranger things had been seen at these kinds of parties.

“There,” Onyx announced suddenly, her eyes fixed on one person in the distance. Gareth followed her eyes and allowed a brief, satisfied smile when he caught sight of his target before he began moving toward him.

Halfway there, the man they pursued became aware of being followed. When he saw Gareth between other people, his eyes widened in fear and he immediately sifted through the crowd away from Gareth and Onyx. Gareth increased his pace while Onyx lowered her head and reverted to dragon form, shrinking beneath his hair once more. Mark Bentley began running away, unsure of what else to do. If he called security over, they wouldn’t take his side.

Finally, he reached a glass door leading into a courtyard, Gareth and Onyx close behind. Mark ran into the courtyard, then turned to face his followers desperately. Gareth casually closed the door.

“Please…” Mark begged.

“I missed you the other night, Mr. Bentley,” Gareth began as he moved slowly towards Bentley, backing away. “What happened, car didn’t start?”

“Please, I…” Mark continued, frightened.

“You know you owe me the money,” Gareth continued, widening his pace so he neared Mark faster.

“It’s been a very lean year for my business,” Mark offered.

“We had a deal,” Gareth reminded him in a voice of stone. Mark’s eyes widened while Gareth glared down at him. Suddenly, Mark swung his arm up and punched Gareth in the face, then bolted before he could recover. Gareth calmly stood straight again, bringing his hand to his face. Pulling it away, he saw it stained with fresh blood. He sent a disappointed glance to Onyx and shook his head, then reached into his coat. Facing Mark again, he pulled out a pistol with a silencer attached to it and aimed at the distant man. Power and concentration surged in his mind and flowed through his body into the weapon. He pulled the trigger. Bentley collapsed.

“It’s a shame it had to come to this,” Gareth spoke to the dead man as he approached. “You had plenty of time to get the money.” As he reached what remained of Mark Bentley, he bent down and pulled out his wallet, then counted the money inside. Gareth shook his head again.

“Only half what he owed us,” he told Onyx.

“That cheating scamp,” she growled.

“That’s the trouble with owning your own business, Onyx,” Gareth remarked. “Nobody wants to trust a name they don’t know.”

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