Everything in the cave was covered in ice.
Even the ice had a fine coating of frost, evidence of the moisture that had entered with the two thieves.
The magic fairly shimmered around them, the heat spell on the heavy clothes the only thing that had allowed them to get this far.
“I’m still freezing,” the bigger of the two said.
“I told you it’d be cold,” the smaller one hissed, his voice low.
“You didn’t say it would be this cold.”
“Because nobody knows how cold it gets here. Because nobody has ever made it this far. Because the only thing that can handle this strong of a cold spell is an even stronger heat spell which cost everything we both own and calling in every debt we’ve ever been owed and going into more. So stop complaining about the cold and help me find the hoard.”
Turning the corner brought them to the resident of the cave.
Cold radiated off the dragon, creating a wind where none should exist and chilling the two thieves to the bone.
Around her feet lay the frozen corpses of dozens of men, their armor all showing the best heat spells money could buy, the designs going back hundreds of years.
A thick layer of ice coated the dragon, cracks showing in layers where she grew or stretched and allowed the ice to grow over her again.
“You said the dragon wasn’t here,” the bigger thief bellowed.
“No, I said the dragon wasn’t all there. She’s gone dreaming and can’t be woken. It’s the cold that put her to sleep.”
“I see. And all these people have come to do what we must,” the bigger one drew his axe from across his back and rushed the ice-covered dragon. As the metal struck, it crumbled to dust, joining the fine layer between her toes.
The big thief dropped the axe as if it had bit him and checked his hands quickly.
“No, all these people are here to do what you just tried. We are not here for that and I swear by the darkness, if you do it again, I’ll take what’s left of your spell and let you join the other fools.”
“I thought you said we were here for the hoard?” the big thief said, stamping his feet to get the blood flowing through them.
“Does she look like she’s going to stop us taking it?”
“Not ever. She’s gone. Ain’t coming back until the gold is spent and melted and the mountains crumble around her.”
“Yeah, okay,” the big thief said. “But we don’t have long to get it, right?”
“Just stick to the plan and we’ll get enough to be long gone before anybody realizes we’ve left.”
The thieves crept around the frozen dragon, making sure not to touch her or anything close to her. On the other side was a mountain of gold covered in frost, gems winking beneath the chill and glimpses of other treasures peeking coyly out from the pile.
“Get the ropes as far around it as you can,” the little one said. “The heat should hold long enough to get them loose.”
A chill ran down their arms as they lost the ambient heat from the ropes they were carrying, their muscles stiffening from the sudden cold. Moving as quickly as they could, they surrounded most of the pile of gold with the ropes and waited for the spell to work.
Dripping water was the first sound they heard and they started reaching across, filling bottomless bags with the gold and gems. Slowly, the heat spread up the metal and the coins started sliding down the pile towards them.
Moving faster and faster, it finally broke through the circle of rope, only to cool in the air of the cave once more. The first time one of them moved to pick up one of the cooled coins, their fingers burned like fire.
“Shit, the spell’s wearing off. Get the gems!” The little one said, panic in his voice.
“Grab the pearls,” the big one said. “Those ones. They’re bigger than my head!”
The pearls began to roll towards them and they grabbed them, stuffing them in the bags before they got out of the range of the spell.
The ropes began to glow and the thieves backed away, watching in awe as the ropes caught fire and the flames froze, faces of stricken fire elementals staring at them as though through glass.
By mutual decision, they closed the bags as best they could and started running, their careful pace around the dragon forgotten in an effort to make it out of the cave before the spell died.
A chill wind rose behind them and swept through the cave, down the passage.
The breath froze in their lungs and they fell, their bodies breaking like falling statues.
The bags that fell beside them began to lift and float to the entrance of the cave.
A tall man, cloaked in fur and darkness, coaxed them forward, his wand acting like a fishing rod.
The bags shrank as he touched them and he put them in his pocket, satisfied.