I wrote this little story in response to an online prompt. The prompt said that you are an adult dragon who comes upon a human toddler who has been abandoned in the forest. Write about what happens next. Here’s what spilled out of me.
I really wish they would stop doing this. They’ve been doing it for years now. It’s getting old. I’m half inclined to just let this one hang there. But in the end, I know I won’t. I never do.
Years ago, someone, probably a goblin, told the humans in Port Mullek that they needed to appease me with an offering from time to time, or else I would rain fire down on their town and kill them all. I suspect goblins for two reasons. First, they always try to get to the offering before I see it so they can take it for themselves. Second, I know it’s a big joke to them to spread rumors about fire breathing. Humans are afraid of us enough as it is. Add the threat of flaming breath to the equation and they feel obligated to hire foreign armies to come and wipe us out. They’ve just about done it, too. Of late, there’s been a lot less of that kind of thing because the towns are poor, and kings don’t like to lose a bunch of perfectly good soldiers fighting some dragon in a faraway land in exchange for a few bushels of grain or a couple of broken-down donkeys.
Of course, I don’t have fire. It’s not something we are born with. As a matter of fact, no one knows if we can do it at all. None ever have to my knowledge. Oh sure. There are the old legends. My great-great-grandfather used to tell me stories about the mighty Krovonik, also known as the Inferno Worm, who would reduce entire towns to ashes in a single breath. I know. Hard to believe. It might be true, but my guess is it’s been highly exaggerated over the centuries. I know I’ve never seen a dragon breathe fire. I’m pretty sure great-great-grandfather never did either. It’s just something to fuel story time for the young.
Back to the bag. Yes, it’s a bag, hanging from a tree branch about twenty feet off the ground, right in my line of sight. It’s wiggling, as always. It’s got some kind of cryptic writing on it, as always. The humans always paint weird symbols on the bags. I don’t know why. It’s probably part of the goblins’ stupid lies. They think they are communicating with me. They aren’t. The symbols are meaningless. Surely, they know dragons have mastered the common tongue, as well as dozens of other languages and dialects. They could just speak to me like they do one another, but they rarely try. Most of the time, they just scream and fall all over each other trying to get away from me. Their screams drown out anything I might try to say to them like, “Hey stupid. What’s wrong with you? Stop leaving little humans in bags for me. I don’t want them.”
Yes, that’s what I always find in the bags. Little humans. They’re not exactly babies, but they are small. Times I have let them out of the bag, they get up and try to run away, so they’re old enough to walk. Baby humans can’t even crawl for several months. They have to be about a year or so along before they can try to walk.
I guess the goblins told the humans that dragons like to eat small human children. That’s not true. Dragons won’t kill anything that can talk, unless they are being attacked or seriously threatened by the something in question. We have ethics. Mostly, we get all we need from elk, deer, and the occasional wild pig. We’ve certainly killed humans, mostly knights and other mercenaries, sent to exterminate us, but we don’t eat them. I’ve killed my share of goblins as well, but they were all asking for it, gouging at me with their nasty spears or trying to hack my legs with their crude swords. But there’s nothing a young human child could do to provoke me to kill it, and I certainly would not eat a dead one should I stumble upon it. That’s one thing the goblins must be telling the truth about when they try to get the villagers to give me their children. Dragons only eat live prey. We’re not vultures.
Generally, I open the bags out of curiosity and then just wrap the kid back up and drop it off just outside the town, close enough that the villagers will find it before the goblins do and far enough away to keep the more zealous townsfolk from getting brave and charging at me with spears and axes. I don’t know what happens to the bags after I leave them. I guess the villagers assume I refused their offering for some reason. They probably think I keep the ones the goblins get to first, so that’s enough to keep them at it.
So, this little bag is just hanging there, its contents wriggling and squeaking. I sigh and trudge heavily toward it, my exasperation on display for no one. I reach up and snap the branch off the tree. I’ve learned that’s safer for the occupant than ripping the bag open with a claw or trying to untie it. They don’t do well with twenty-foot falls. I put the bag down on the ground and slice the knot holding it closed with the tip of a claw. I wonder what the deal will be with this one.
I say “what the deal will be” because it’s always something. Usually, it’s a birthmark, an unusual hair color, eyes that are too close together, too far apart, or an uncommon hue. I guess they’re looking for some kind of sign that would indicate the sacrifice would be worthy of my attention. Honestly, I have no idea what they are trying to do with this exercise. If only I could find out what the stupid goblins were saying to them. I hate goblins. Did I say that already?
The mouth of the sack sighs open as the rope falls away. There’s more wriggling as the creature inside sees light and starts to move toward it. I wait, half annoyed and half curious.
Squinting in the light and raising a limb to shield its eyes, the occupant emerges. I cannot believe what I am seeing. I’ve never seen anything like this, certainly not among humans. I can’t be certain it even is completely human, but it looks mostly like one. The face is mostly human, except for the eyes. The eyes are large and golden. The pupils are not round, but instead they are horizontal slits, kind of like my own. Yellow hair, concentrated down the center of the skull, is silky and flowing, leading to a ridge running down the entire length of the child’s back and onto its tail. Wait! Tail? Humans don’t have tails. This little one does. Again, not sure if this even is human. The skin on its face, chest, stomach, arms, and legs is mostly the soft, pinkish stuff the rest of the villagers have, but the back side of the child is covered with iridescent scales, not unlike the ones that adorn my entire body.
What is this?
I don’t have any time to ponder my own question. In a flash, the child assumes a determined gaze, narrowing its pupils, lowering its brow, and leaping to my left foreleg, the one I had used to open the bag. Before I can react, it’s clambered up my leg, across my shoulder, and onto the back of my head. The speed of its movements is truly impressive. I’ve got to get this thing off me. Who knows what it will do?
I have got to stop eating those wooly mountain boars. They give me the worst nightmares. Sheesh, I feel really awful. Why is the sun so high in the sky? Have I slept that long?
“Four days,” a voice answers.
I spin around, shaking my stiff bones loose from their slumber. I shout out various warnings, insults, and unrepeatable slurs. I’m sure goblins have ambushed me.
“I’m not a goblin,” the voice assures.
Wait a minute. How does this thing, this voice, know I’m thinking about goblins?
“Because I’m part of you. Don’t you understand? Actually, it’s more than that. I am you.”
I am very far from understanding, and I loudly proclaim that fact to this unseen entity. I’m just about to panic, but a soothing wave of warmth flows through me. I’m actually kind of sleepy feeling. How can that be? I’ve just woken up.
“Shhh,” the voice whispers. “Relax. Let me fill you in. I am you. Well, that’s sort of right. I’m part of you, but it’s that and more than that at the same time. Oh, dear. Now I’m rambling. Let me start over. There is much about our ancestry you do not know. Many thousands of years ago, our kind was much different. We ruled this world without peer and without challenge for millennia. It was a time of glory. Something happened, however. Something terrible. It’s a long story for another time but suffice it to say it interrupted our natural way of living. It changed us.”
I’m feeling groggy and relaxed, but this voice is not making a lot of sense. Why is it saying, “us”? I don’t see another dragon here. There was that little creature in the bag. But that was a dream. At least, I think it was. It cannot be real. The voice snaps at me.
I stop my pondering to listen. I feel like I need to ask more questions, but I am compelled by this thing, whatever it is, to just listen.
“Yes, I said, ‘us.’ And yes, I know what you are thinking and why you are thinking it. Our minds are one because we are one. The ancient race existed not only of mating pairs of dragons who gave live birth, but also creatures that hatched from eggs. Yes, eggs. I know you have heard of some females laying eggs, but no one ever understood why. Actually, they just forgot why. They think it’s some kind of throwback to a time when we used to raise young from eggs, since the eggs never hatch. They just solidify into stone and are discarded. Well, most of them. Not me.
“I came from one of those eggs. Your mother’s egg, to be precise. I was left in our parents’ den when they were driven out by goblin and human mercenaries. You were too young to remember, but I know you understand mother and father were lost. Our grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents raised you, but they didn’t give the egg a second thought. It was just a dead stone in the back of the den. An oddity not worth going back for.
“Time passed. Eggs like mine wait. They wait until the other part of being matures to the point they can join it. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Almost all eggs just turn to stone and die, but not me. I awoke and hatched. I knew immediately I had to find you, but I did not know where I was. I could feel you, but you felt far away. I came out of the den, which was just a shallow cave in a hillside, and was immediately spotted and bagged by a group of humans, who were out hunting pheasants that day. They crammed me into a nasty pheasant bag and hauled me back to their village. The humans there did not know I could understand their speech, but I could. They were very excited to find me. They thought for sure I would be the sacrifice the great dragon would want. It was quickly decided they should take me out to the edge of the forest and hang me from a tree. You know the rest, but you awoke thinking it was a dream. It isn’t.”
I stir from my fog and ask tentatively what this thing is exactly. I’m still pretty confused, and it’s not making a lot of sense to me what this voice is telling me.
“I already told you. I am you. I am a part of you. When you let me out of the bag, I instinctively merged my body with yours. Your head probably feels a little strange. It’s larger and heavier now that I am blended into it. So, again, I am you. I am the part of you that you and every other dragon living today have been missing their whole lives. Specifically, I am your Kindling.”
A thought awakens deep within me. More than a thought. A realization. A revelation. Knowledge. Joy. Completeness. Suddenly, I feel energized, free from the slumber that held me inert. I leap from the ground, spread my wings, and flap into the sky. I climb higher and higher, rolling my body and finally leveling off onto a path heading straight over the town. Faster and faster I fly, feeling the strength and power of my being, finally complete, a feeling no dragon has had for thousands of years.
As I reach the edge of the village, I stall my flight, poised high in the air, giving as many townsfolk as possible a chance to notice me hovering high above their city gates. I throw my head back and open my throat in a mighty roar, enough to shake the villagers below in their boots. And now that I have their attention, I call upon my new, complete self, no longer a voice within me, but truly a part of me. I reach deep inside and summon the Kindling within. My nostrils flare and release a scarlet, blue, and golden flame that fills the sky above the town. I can only imagine the newfound terror and, hopefully, respect this display has yielded. I’m not going to hang around to find out. It’s time to put some goblins in their place.