The cold rain pelted her face as she flew just beneath the dark rain clouds, her large green wings beating out steadily, stirring up the fine mist in the air. Low clouds of fog hung around the trees, obscuring the ground of the mountainside from her vantage point, driving her lower and lower towards the ground.
She huffed in annoyance as she weaved between the taller pine trees, barely able to see the ground, making her aerial hunting all but impossible. Resigning herself to her fate and landing in a small, rocky clearing, the dragon scanned the treeline looking for any sort of movement that could reveal a potential meal. The rain continued to fall upon her as she stood in the open, her ears only picking up the sound of distant thunder and the trees swaying in the empty forest.
Taking off again, she flew high above the trees and headed back up the mountain, making sure to keep on the lookout. Her stomach growled as she flew, her hunger gnawing away at her. She had not eaten in days, her food reserves were running low, and the storm prevented her from hunting properly. It seemed as if she would be eating what little cured meat she had left tonight.
The storm had not let up for the past few days, causing the mountainside she called her home to turn into a quagmire of sticky mud, a fact she remembered as her claws sank into the ground as she landed a short distance from her cave.
Coming to a standstill, she looked down is disdain, raising one leg to flick the mud off of it, and then the other before striding off to her home, doing her best to avoid the small rivers of water flowing downhill. The cave entrance itself was well hidden, an outcropping of rock covering most of it, the tall conifers growing around it doing their best to obscure the rest of the cave.
Pushing through the treeline, the dragon froze at the sight of small, deep tracks left in the mud that led into her cave. Tracks that had not been there when she had left.
Her wings fanned out in anger as she rushed in to protect her home, her hands clenching and chest heaving as her eyes adjusted to the dim natural light inside. Her head scanned back and forth as she looked for the intruder in the large entrance to the cave, her tail thumping behind her in anticipation.
Ears twitching, she blocked out the pattering of the rain outside, focusing in on the faint sound of breathing coming from further on in the cave. Her eyes, now adjusted, focused in on a roughly human shaped heap of armour leaning against a pile of rocks in the far corner of the cave, a raspy chorus of breathing echoing out from it.
Leaping into the air, the dragon flapped her wings once and launched herself at the invader, zeroing in on her target as she flew across the room. Before reaching it, she changed orientation midair, allowing her clawed feet to grab hold of the being and fling it back towards the entrance in a single, fluid motion.
A horribly loud cacophony of clangs rang out as the human landed and rolled across the stone ground, coming to rest just short of the wall next to the mouth of the cave. The dragon stalked back across the room as the human struggled to stand, leaning against the wall as its armoured legs shook.
“Leave… My… HOME!” the dragon woman roared after closing the distance, her leg lashing out as her foot impacted with the humans back, sending him once more flying outside and into the mud.
Stepping out into the light, her wings fanned out again in an attempt to make herself look ever larger than her already impressive stature. Her eyes narrowed as she saw the human struggling to right himself, helmet missing as he looked up at her.
Blood and mud caked his face and beard, the large gash open just above his right eye still raw and sore. His dirty armour was dented and scuffed, with most of the left arm missing any form of protection, instead wrapped in a torn and bloody cloth. His helmet lay discarded off to his side, and his scabbard was curiously empty.
The man’s body began to quake as he sat, before he erupted into laughter, looking upward into the sky as the rain fell onto him. He looked back down at his hands and shook his head, still laughing to himself, the dragon staring at him incredulously.
“What is it that you find so funny, human?” she asked angrily, taking a step towards him. This caused the mans laughter to only increase more, practically howling as he clutched his sides and rocked back and forth where he sat.
“Just… just...” he struggled out as he waved a hand in front of him, his tears of laughter mixing with the rain as they ran down his cheeks.
The dragon stopped, looking down at the man in confusion as he tried to compose himself. Soon enough, he had stopped laughing. “That hurt.” he said to himself, still clutching at his sides.
Her claws twitched as she fought to control her burning rage, “And just what exactly is it that you find so humorous?” she asked again. “Give me a good reason why I should not strike you down where you lay!”
“But that’s exactly what’s so funny!” the man exclaimed, his laughter starting up once more. “I finally manage to lose those people hunting me, and stumble upon a place where I think I can rest, only to find out that it’s the home of a fucking dragon!”
She stands there, watching the man laughing again, a look of puzzlement forming on her face. “Just please end me already, make it quick, I'm tired of running.” he sighed out still chuckling, bracing himself on all fours in the mud and bowing his head.
“No.” she said curtly, her body relaxing and drawing her wings back closer to her body.
The armoured man stopped laughing and looked up after a few seconds, leaning backwards into a sitting position and glaring up at the dragon. “What do you mean, ‘No’?” he asked, the tattered fabric of his tunic flitting slightly in the wind.
“I mean no, I will not kill you.” she answered, her eyes softening as she looked upon his sorry form.
“Why not?” he asked, still confused at the monster’s sudden change of heart. He cradled his left arm as he pulled himself off the ground, rising to his feet unsteadily to look at the dragon. “I broke into your home, aren’t dragons usually ultra-territorial? Besides, I’m wounded and not even armed, you could kill me in a second if you really tried.”
She looked down at the man, who barely came up to her shoulders at full height, “That is exactly why I will not kill you. To kill a defenceless, wounded being, even if it is a human, is a dishonourable act. I wish to retain what little honour and pride I have left. I will not harm you, human.” With that, she stepped by his side and extended a wing over him, shielding him from the rain.
“You said you were being followed, so you should come inside and rest. I don’t have much to offer you, but I believe a rest at the least will do you some good.” she said, prodding him forward with her wing.
The man started forward, brow furrowed in confusion but he remained silent, instead accepting her hospitality as the two strode inside.
“Wait here, and remove your armour.” she instructed him as she walked to one of the small indents in the wall of the cave. Obliging, the man removed his protection, undoing the clasps and letting the pieces fall to the floor in a clatter. Looking around, he could see small alcoves scattered along the length of the cave, some natural, others obviously having been dug out. Chests, boxes, and randomly stacked objects lay haphazardly within them, giving the cave an organized, yet cluttered feeling.
Having gathered a bundle of furs and cloth, the dragon returned to the man and threw the pile on top of him, “Use these to dry off and keep yourself warm, I’ll start us a fire and get us some food.”
Mumbling a “Thanks…”, the man stripped and began to dry himself, using the cloths to remove the build up of mud and dried blood around his body.
The dragon walked to the large mantle at the far end on the room, gathering a few pieces of wood a setting them in the fireplace before breathing her fire gently into it, lighting the dry wood. “Come rest by here, human.” she said as she stood and turned back towards him. “I ask that you refrain from touching anything of mine.”
He nodded as he stumbled towards the fire, now wrapped in the warm furs, and promptly sat down in front of it.
“I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer you besides some old meat and water.” she said, fetching a shallow bowl and filling it with collected rainwater. “The storm has hampered my hunting abilities as of late.”
“That’s alright, better than nothing at least.” the man said as she returned, food and drink in hand. “What’s your name?” he asked as he took her offering, biting into the chewy meat.
She didn’t answer, instead turning back around and returning to one of the storage alcoves. He sighed, took a drink of water and spoke out, “My name’s Jonathan, first son of Reginald Kasser.”
She paused, looking back over her shoulder at the man. “Astraea.” she said, rummaging through a chest of items.
“No clan name? I thought dragons had clan names.”
Astraea didn’t answer, instead, she pulled a glass bottle from out of the chest and walked her way back to the fire. “Drink this.” she said, dropping the vial in his lap. “It will heal you.”
Jonathan looked up at the dragon, then down at the vial in his hands, shaking it and causing the clear liquid to slosh about. “What is it?”
“A healing potion I acquired from a trader in a nearby valley.” she said, taking a seat beside the fire. “It will heal your bruises and gashes within a few hours.”
The man looked down at his arms and chest, patches of skin an angry colour of purple, with deep cuts running across him from his ordeals. Pulling the furs back over his shoulders, he uncorked the bottle and downed it in a single swig. Coughing as he swallowed, Jonathan said “That tastes horrible. What’s in it?”
Astraea shrugged, stoking the fire and taking a bite out of a piece of meat. “I’m not too sure, but it works.”
A silence settled over the two as they both continued their meager meals, only broken by the sound of thunder rumbling into the cave, and the occasional thuds of Astraea’s tail as it swayed.
Swallowing the last piece of meat and chasing it with more water, Jonathan spoke up, “I have to ask, what was with the sudden change of heart back there? First you attack me and threaten to kill me, then you completely switch and welcome me into your, uh, ‘home’.”
She looked at the man out of the corner of her eye. “Seeing you on the ground out there, talking of being hunted while obviously injured reminded me of something, so I decided to take pity on you. I can tell your intentions were pure, you meant no harm when you entered my home. I apologize for my brashness.”
Jonathan blinked, staring at the dragon, her eyes transfixed by the dancing flames of the fire. Slowly he stood and approached her, sitting himself down a few feet next to her. “You were kicked out of your clan, weren’t you?” he asked.
She looked at him, her ashen grey eyes boring into his as the fire crackled in front of them. Jonathan followed her with his eyes as the dragon stood, walking back over to one of the chests and pulling out a large bottle. Uncorking the top, she took a whiff before downing a large swig of the liquid as she walked back to the fire. “If we are going to talk about that stuff, might as well try and get drunk, too.” she said as she sat, holding the bottle out at the man.
Grinning, the scruffy looking man took the bottle from her claws and took a sip. “Wine?” he asked, taking another.
“Indeed. I stole a few bottles from a caravan that happened wander a little to close to my territory.”
He nodded, taking one more sip before handing the bottle back to Astraea. “So, you were-”
“How did you end up here?” Astraea interrupted, “You said you were being followed?”
Jonathan nodded. “I was, hopefully not anymore though.” he said, grabbing the wine from the dragon’s clutches once more. “You see now, the Order…”
“It’s always the Order, isn’t it?” Astraea asked inquisitively, balancing her chin in her hand. “What did you do to get their attention? You are a long way from Order territory, after all.”
“Well, that was the idea I guess,” he responded, “Because you see…”
“…and then I finally find myself a place where I can rest for a night, but lo-and-behold, I unknowingly wandered into and dragon’s lair!” he shouted, laughing as he finished off another bottle of wine.
Astraea just looked at him, a sly grin on her face, “So let me get this straight, you try and pay off a debt with a golden sceptre which you stole-"
“Stole from a Lord no less!” Jonathan interrupted.
“Yes, from a Lord.” she said, waving him off. “Then you proceed to get arrested by the Order, but break out and manage to evade Order patrols for how long?”
“Sssix days.” he slurred, tossing the now empty bottle of wine away. “Then I made a break for non-Order lands, nearly dying by falling off cliff while getting attacked by harpies, then I stumble upon you.”
The dragon just shook her head, “You are one interesting human, you know that?” She stood up, throwing more wood into the fire and fetching another bottle of wine for the human.
“What about you?” he asked, calling out to her from across the room. “How come you’re here?”
Astraea paused for a moment, picking her words carefully. “Let’s just say I had a disagreement with my family, and leave it at that.”
“Oh fuck off!” he shouted angrily, pulling himself closer to the fire. “I told you my story, it’s only fair if you tell yours, too!” Astraea didn’t respond, blocking him out and searching for another bottle.
Jonathan sighed as she made her way back to the fire. “Look, ya don’t have to if ya don’t want to.” he said quietly. “I just think it might help you, is all. Get it off your chest.”
Astraea looked at the wine in her hands, then back at the human, “I guess it might.” Taking a swig, she began, “It was a simple thing, really. My family, or clan as you put it, wanted to marry me off to some man in order ‘strengthen’ alliances with some other family.” The words came freely, loosened by the alcohol in her belly, “I told them ‘no’, and when they insisted, I decided not to put up with them, and left. That was that, and I haven't seen them since.”
“So ya ran away from home ‘cus you didn’t like your parents lording over ya?” a drunken Jonathan asked, slightly swaying where he sat.
“Yeah, I guess I did.” she said dejectedly, looking at the man across from her.
“I don’t really blame you, honestly.” he said, understanding in his eyes. “I know I wouldn’t be able to stand someone forcing that on me. Can’t imagine what it’d be like for a dragon like you, a creature that’s usually all about superiority and freewill being forced into something they don’t want.”
Astraea just nodded, a silence settling over the two once more. A few minutes and a few drinks later, she spoke up, “What’re your plans after this, Jonathan? Where are you going to go?”
Looking at the man beneath the bundle of furs, she smiled, seeing his eyes closed and his chest rising and falling as he clutched one of the many wine bottles strewn around him. Astraea stood, stretching out her wings and extending her arms above her head. Quietly, she gathered herself some animal furs to sleep under from one of her many chests, and quickly fell asleep in front of the fire.
Astraea stirred as she awoke, yawning into her blankets and opening her eyes. From where she was, she could see sunlight making its way into the cave from the entrance, signaling the start of a new, rain free day.
She grinned as she sat up, knowing that she would finally be able to catch some fresh food for the day. Looking over at the pile of furs across from her, Astraea’s smile faded as she saw it was empty. She panicked and looked around the room, but could see nothing out of place or missing, just the man and his armour.
Standing, she walked over to her belongings, checking each and every chest, box, and object, just to make sure that nothing was stolen. She sighed in relief as she finished her search, taking a seat against the wall and looking out at the caves entrance, the trees outside just visible.
As she went to stand, a shining light near the door drew her attention, causing the dragons brow to furrow, and she leapt into the air, propelling herself towards it with her wings. Landing, she hurriedly strode her way to the shining object, picking it up in her claws.
Instantly, she recognized the item; a golden, oversized oval brooch with a single ruby in the middle, and flipping it over revealed a piece of paper struck through by its pin. Gently taking it off, she unfolded the paper and began to read the message left on it.
I’m sorry for leaving without telling you, but I must be on my way, I don't want to endanger you if I'm still being tracked. I would like to thank you for your hospitality, and as such, leave you this brooch that I stole along with the sceptre I mentioned last night. I couldn’t help but notice your lack of a treasure hoard that most dragons I've heard of have, and I felt as if this would make the perfect start to your own.
- Sincerely, Jonathan
Astraea clutched the brooch to her chest and closed her eyes, a small smile forming on her face.
“What’s that you got there, honey?”
Startled out of her reverie, Astraea’s eyes shot open, coming face to face with that of her husband's. Looking around, she found herself in her hoard room, her slowly growing collection of artifacts, tributes, and treasures surrounding her. She looked down at her hands, a dull looking brooch with a matte coloured ruby in her left, and a faded, yellow piece of paper in her right.
“Ah, nothing Frederik. I was just going over a few things.” she said with a sweet smile, leaning forward and pecking her husband with a kiss on the lips.
“You looked pretty lost in thought there, remembering something?” Frederik asked, taking the brooch from her hand and holding it up to his face. “A story, perhaps?”
Astraea smiled, “I was, yes. An old one at that.”
Frederik sat down in his wife’s lap, still holding onto the brooch. “Well? You know I love listening to your stories.” he said with a smile as she wrapped her scaled arms around him.
She sighed, enveloping the two of them in her wings and resting her chin on the mans shoulder, “Well, it all started long before I met you, when…”