My characters always have family issues. Not sure where this one's going yet. Probably somewhere very dark.

My Brother's Sacrifice

"Are you looking to bargain with me, girl?" He leaned forward on his dais of stone, the claws of one great paw gripping the edge with enough force to scrape thin lines in the rock.

She looked quickly to his other paw, but it was holding her brother with no more force than before. She looked back to the dragon. "Please, sir, I must have him back. He does not belong to you."

"I have him in my grasp, child. He is much more mine than yours." He turned his snout and sent a snort of hot breath washing over the young man's face. The young man stirred and shuddered, but he remained unconscious, head sagging to one side.

"Please, sir," she said again, one foot inching forward as if to step toward him.His yellow-green eyes pierced her, and the movement stopped almost before it began.

"And what have you to offer me?" he asked, one wing unfolding with a leathery sweep to indicate the room and its hazardously piled riches. "What have you to match what I have already acquired?"

She stared at him a moment before her gaze unwillingly turned to the glittering treasure that lay strewn from corner to corner, then followed it back to her feet, where she trod on some of it still. She nudged a piece or two carefully aside with the edge of her boot, hands taking hold of her long braid and fidgeting with it.

"Nothing, then?"

She looked up once more and found his snout bare inches away from her face, his sulphurous breath gusting heavily into her mouth and nose. Her eyes began to water, and a cough rose into her throat.

"I will come back to you, sir, when his task is done. I will take his place." She paled even as she spoke, the words slipping from her mouth before she could call them back.

He didn't answer at first, even his breath stilling until the room was silent. Then it came again in a sudden gust, and she did cough, bending and scrubbing at her eyes as his head reared away, arching back as a booming laugh thundered off the cavern walls. "Will you now," he said, when his mirth finally settled. "And even if you are an equal exchange for him --" His eyes swept over her skinny frame, and she flinched, coughing again. "-- I'm simply to trust you'll return?"

She looked at him again, squinting against the heat of his breath. Light was flickering in his throat, and smoke trickled in thin columns from the sides of his mouth.

"I-if I don't return --" She stopped to cough again, looking at the paw that held her brother. She felt a jolt when she saw his blue gaze looking back into hers. "If I don't return, you'll turn this land into a waste," she whispered.

"True enough." The dragon was amused now, a rumbling chuckle escaping his throat with another gout of smoke. "And this land means so much to you?"

"It does, sir." She straightened, one hand slipping to the thin knife at her belt. She hesitated, then drew it, slashing the blade quickly across the palm of her hand. "I swear on my blood I will return, sir." She clenched her fist, and the dragon watched with interest as the blood seeped between her fingers to drip thickly on gold and stone alike. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her brother squirm, but she didn't turn her gaze from the dragon.

He chuckled again. "Fascinating." He leaned forward again, and his tongue snaked from between his teeth, flicking quickly to catch the next droplet as it fell. He drew it back behind his fangs, eyes narrowing in apparent thought.

Then his paw dropped, tossing the young man in his grip toward the nearest heap of gold. Her brother struck the ground and rolled, colliding with the pile and going still. A small shower of coins tumbled onto him, but he didn't move. She looked at him quickly and found his eyes open and staring at her.

"Very well!" said the dragon. "We have a bargain. I will be waiting." He bared his teeth in a wide, hungry grin. "I suggest you be on your way before I change my mind."

Her arm dropped bonelessly to her side, and she sheathed her knife, turning to run to her brother and extending her hands to help him to his feet. He slapped her hands away, and his eyes, fixed on her until that moment, dropped to the floor and wouldn't meet hers again. Still not looking at her, he began to walk from the room, dragging his leg. She let her hands fall and followed him without looking back.

The dragon's eyes followed her until a curve in the tunnel hid her from sight.

They were silent until they exited the cave, and her brother stopped. Looking down, she nearly collided with his back before coming to a stumbling.

"Why did you do that?" he asked, and she looked at her hand, shoulders lifting in a faint shrug.

"Our errand is urgent.. I couldn't leave you there."

"I would have --" He broke off, trying again seconds later. "I was fine."

She didn't answer.

He looked at her, eyes narrowing. "I was fine."

"All right --" she said quickly. "Of course." She moved to walk past him, but his hand lashed out to grip her shoulder, twisting her toward him.

"You had no business interfering." His blue gaze, a mirror of her own, pierced her with as much force as the dragon's. She looked away.

"I'm sorry."

His hand tightened, painful now, but she managed not to flinch, staring at the dirt path and refusing to lift her gaze to his. A droplet of blood colored a patch of ground crimson, followed shortly by a second.

"We should hurry," she said. "There are many miles yet between us and the city."

He was silent for a moment -- so long she feared he would disagree -- but he released her sharply, half turning away. "Of course," he said. "Our errand is urgent."

She relaxed, eyes closing for a moment as the flow of blood returned to her shoulder. She resisted the impulse to rub it, instead turning to walk toward him and finally raising her head. She saw his fist swing toward her out of the corner of her eye but was unable to arrest her movement, steps carrying her directly into its path. The jolt sent her sprawling into the dirt, leg twisiting beneath her in a way that would almost certainly haunt her later. She lay where she fell, staring silently at the scrubby grass that bordered the path to the city.

"Take care not to forget your place in the future."

She waited until he was several steps ahead before levering herself to her feet and following him.