Prompt: An old but beautiful woman meets the last dragon in a canyon. The dragon moves in to kill her; what stops him?
The canyon was not difficult to find, given the plethora of dragon bones around its edges. None of them were intact; every last skull and wing had been crushed to chips or powder. The mass grave was left, undisturbed, for decades. Even though every part of a dragon was rich in magic, nobody wanted the bone chips, for they feared their use in enchantments posed a risk of bringing the beasts back.
Sheera stepped through the bones lightly, showing them respect, because she was the only person in the world who desired their return. She had recently entered her sixth decade and, on the exact day of that entrance, suffered a shade of nihilism over her soul. Suddenly all the people about her, the ones she chose to spend her life with and the ones she was forced to, looked like cackling imps. It was as if she finally realized her whole life was a joke, and everyone had been laughing behind her back.
She picked up an eye socket the size of a hairbrush just as she reached the lip of the canyon. She tried to see the slit of a pupil that had, at some point, lived inside it. She dove into her memories to fill it in. She was only twelve at the time, but she remembered the exact amber color of its eye, like a swell of fossilized breath in tree sap.
That was before the last war of the wing, when mankind had allied itself with furred flying beasts, mantiscores, and together they had the power to overcome the ancient dragons. No more would humans be forced to sacrifice their treasure and young maidens. No more would the mantiscores return to their caves and find one of their cubs missing.
The bottom of the canyon was clear of bones, and there were sweeping marks in the bluish dirt, as if a tail had gone by and cleaned them all up. A section of the the rock cracked and gave way under her weight as she stared down into it; she didn’t have time to react. Sheera hit a wall on the way down and tumbled all the way to the bottom, striking her head on one of the rocks.
Getting back to her feet and keeping her aged eyes open was crucial. She heard a low hissing growl: breath in a scaly throat. It already knew she was there, but she needed time to speak with it before it tore her throat out. She was to be their victim ages ago, but it hadn’t settled that way, so if she wanted to get it done now, they would need to go through the formalities first.
Sheera hopped up with a speed impressive for a woman half her age. The dragon stopped in its tracks, but kept its head low and one clawed foot out. Each was shocked to see the other. The old woman wore clothes more suited to a traveling mercenary: a black mask across the lower half of her face, a crimson cloak with no coat of arms or badge, and boots that looked like they’d been chewed on by an entire family of wild boars.
She had not known what to expect of the last living dragon when she heard tell of it a month ago. None thought its killing necessary, as it had no mate to continue the species with. It was just a growl, growing quieter every day, dying in the darkness of a cave.
It didn’t look like it was dying. Its spiraling horns were free of cracks and their natural seams glowed with its internal fire, like the red shadows of coals seen around a corner. Its red scales shone brighter than Sheera’s cloak, many of them tipped with spots of blue like the lightest touch of a paintbrush.
The dragon was moments from striking before the woman rose to her full height, but something had given it pause. There was something it recognized in the woman’s eye. It wasn’t a current fear, but an old one. A woman that old would hardly be worth the taste, the thick blood boiling in the back of its throat, but it still wouldn’t bear the insult of her trespass. It was the last, but it was far from the most cowardly.
“You!” the dragon’s voice puffed, a curl of smoke going with the word. “Lower your mask.” Sheera reached up slowly and did as she was told. At the sight of her lips and chin the dragon raised its head. Its beard of barbels no longer dragged in the dirt. “I remember you.”
“And I, you,” she answered. It suddenly came back to her that she still held the eye socket of one of its family, so she gently placed it upon the ground. “Forty-eight years ago. I was presented to you as sacrifice. Bound. Unable to even curse you through the rope in my mouth.” The dragon slowly circled around her, and she didn’t quite know how to respond. She kept her hands off her sheath.
“Yes. You looked delicious. Dripping with fear. Your kingdom had to make extra offerings, because they were especially… prone.”
“Prone to what?” she asked.
“Evil. You have come here, even after I spared you those years ago, seeking what? My head? For the attempt on your life? As you’ll recall, it was your fellow man that offered you, and I did not sample even a finger from your hand.”
“I did not know I would be returning to you,” Sheera admitted. “I’d only heard tell of the one dragon left. Why was it that you spared me?”
“It was simply the day. I suffered from indigestion. Too many diamonds adorning the last sacrifice.”
“It figures it would be something so trivial. It matters not. I have learned my life has always been trivial. My beauty tied me down under your eyes. It bound me in marriage to a cruel man after you rejected me. I see now why the dragons came into being. You are like mousers in the castle of the world, and mankind is your mouse.”
“I’ve never seen a human come to understand this. We are your natural predator. We target your cruelest and richest, because they are always the same. We ate your daughters to prune the wickedness that would undoubtedly grow in their wombs.”
“Your insults burn, but only because I know them to be true,” Sheera said. A decade ago she might’ve had tears to spill, but no more. “What of your womb dragon? I confess I cannot discern your sex. Be you male or female? Is there anyway to bring you back? To grant you eggs? I hoped that perhaps your deep magic lived in your very life cycle, that having an old sacrifice returned to you could spark the tinder of a new blazing nest.”
“Male and female. Heh…” the dragon laughed slightly and bitterly, the sound like a squeeze of rotten lemon juice. “You come here with respect in your voice, but you still think us lizards. There is no male and female, only the proper catalysts for our clutches.”
“Am I a proper catalyst? If I offer myself as food can your kind live again?”
“No,” the dragon said simply. “I am Rimmnon and I am the last. Even my name means, in the old forked tongue, ‘an empty bite’. A sacrifice is merely food. I would need inspiration to clutch new eggs. I would need a wicked brutal warrior to fight, an evil human to defeat.”
“Fortune is with you after all Rimmnon. The fear you planted in me, the fear of death I saw in your amber eyes, has been with me always, souring my actions with my own kind.” Sheera threw off her cloak, revealing light armor and several sharpened weapons. There were scars up and down her arms from battles past. “I have killed my fair share, including some who did not deserve it. I’m a better feast than I ever was.”
“You’ll have to season yourself with efforts to preserve your miserable life,” Rimmnon stated. Sheera drew two sabers and stoked the determination burning in her eyes.
“Then let us fight. If you can take your victory, you can take your future. I wish you all the luck in the world.”
“You’re right, brave woman,” the dragon agreed. “You do look more delicious than ever.” The brutal warrior and the last dragon lunged at each other. Blade clashed with tooth deep in the canyon, away from the eyes of the mice.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by NicoleDark during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!