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Raw Boned and Full of Want

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Dragons aren't really meant to mingle among humans- there's the matter of pride and then there's the dangerous matter of growing attached to those whose lifespans are far smaller. There's also the matter of disrespect and the fear borne between two races that are so fundamentally different that they're unable to find common ground, time and time again.

Living close but apart still is the natural conclusion, is what his grandfather tells him. His parents are dead and there aren't many dragonkin his own age where they reside, but he is not lonely. They don't talk to him often and when they do, it's to tease him for his short size, his inability to fly and his comparatively weaker fire, but he is not lonely. His grandfather is old and doesn't leave his stone hut often, but he is not lonely.

The young dragon grows proud and unfettered, pressing down on his festering insecurities, the ever present mark of loneliness stowed away within his scaled chest. If a mortal enters their ruins, he happily watches as their faces drain of blood and they give, with trembling hands and fearful eyes, their gold over to him. He is not lonely, he tells his grandfather when he occasionally teases him about his lack of friends. He is satisfied, he insists loudly and then adds more quietly, "I have you after all."

His grandfather makes an odd face every time- an expression he cannot read because it is a wisp of a wistful thought, creased with age and twice folded over- and always, always changes the topic.

During dark evenings where the creeping chill affects only the warm blooded, his grandfather sometimes regales to him stories of a war that reaped many lives; mostly human, but quite a few of their kind as well. Rumbling deep from his throat, he calls him by a name only fellow dragons can pronounce; a name given to him by people he never met, a mother he never knew. He tells him of his soft-hearted father- the best flier in the tribe, the one who made her laugh until she cried and brought her back from the worst of her moods. He tells him of his fierce and iron willed mother- the youngest and strongest among her siblings, the one who would force the forever fretful him to take care of himself too and fought to protect whatever she held dear.
The one who was his grandfather's daughter, his pride and joy. The one who now crowns his tongue with such heavy melancholy.

He tells him of his birth, amidst the ashes and dust of a war that felt longer than it was, tells him about friends and family lost and surviving. And as he listens to these tales aching with love of all kinds he deems to ask his grandfather once, how he would define it. Lidded eyes closing in contemplation, he laughs lowly; shakes his bowed head and pokes his forehead lightly with a yellowed claw. He says that it is something incredibly simple and boundless, too broad to be measured yet small enough to slip away into hidden cracks with ease. Equal parts eternal, equal parts ephemeral.

"A priceless treasure", he calls it.

It's much too complex for the young dragon to understand, so he files the answer away for when he is older, when the gentle slope in his grandfather's raspy voice doesn't lull him to sleep so easily. Curled up around each other, his flickering flame dies down into dreams of grandeur, of being the strongest and flying higher than anyone else.

A girl, so very small and insignificant, and sweating profusely under the desert sun. She marches towards his ruins, tight grip on a dagger her only offense and simple leather armor drawn tight over a simple pink dress her only defense. Her curly brown hair is tied back from her face but he still can't decipher her expression- it isn't one of fear, which he's used to seeing, or rage coupled with vengeance, which is also common among mortal fools. The few dragons that live nearby hardly felt the need to shape shift so it couldn't be them either, he surmises.

His vision naturally superior, he watches her lazily from afar, lying in wait for her to wander in and be blown away by his majesty. These adventurers never stop dropping by despite the rumors, the prospect of riches too alluring to dissuade them. It's strange for it to be someone so obviously young, though; to be so soft that any common animals' claws could render them scarred, weeping blood and tears, fed upon by vultures and harpies alike.

The dragon yawns. It is none of his business, after all.

Looking at her this close, she doesn't seem as small nor does she cower at the sight of him. Round brown eyes blinking straight up at him, he watches her former surprise melt away into something more foreign.

"Dragon Ruins?"


Preening, he welcomes the topic. "These ruins have been my family's home since ancient times. Filthy humans coming in here mess the place up."

The 'like you' was unsaid but she clearly picks up on it, piping up impudently. "W-What did you just say!?"

Naturally, he ignores her having spoken out of turn and continues swiftly, "Still, if you really want to get in, I'll let you pass if you pay a 200g toll."

Her chapped mouth curls downward in obvious displeasure, eyes narrowing. "So, for all your pride, this is actually just about money." The glare she gives him, that he is familiar with.

"Say what you like," waving a claw in the air, he makes sure to maintain eye contact, gleeful as she warily watches the movement. "Dragons begin building their fortunes when they're young so that they can be happy in their old age."

She raises an eyebrow. "Is that so?" Crossing her arms, she audaciously clicks her tongue. He bristles with irritation, drawing up to his full height; and whether she misses the movement or chooses to ignore it, he doesn't know, since she's preoccupied with trying to blow a sweaty curl out of her face. Failing to do that, she just huffs and gives up.

He really doesn't understand. Aren't humans supposed to be scared of dragons, who don't need to rely on man made weapons to force lesser beings into submission and are, by the law of nature and the gods themselves, bigger and stronger? It's not as though she doesn't have money on her right now; he saw her raid a pile of gold in the corner of the ruin just a day ago, formerly untouched and left behind by a cousin who sought to make his life elsewhere. The pockets of her tunic are bulging , to the point that a bit of gold is actually peeking out at him, glinting mischievously under the sun. She stands to lose nothing that's her own if she just pays up the toll. And while her glare has cooled down, it is still venomous and he just does not understand why she isn't paying up at this point or how she can be so bold in front of an actual, breathing dragon.

Bold enough to point her dagger at him, former petulance dissipating in the wake of her determination. "Some dragon you are, bullying travelers with your ridiculous toll!" Her hand surprisingly does not shake in fear and her eyes are astonishingly steady in their flaming fury, voice high in indignation only. "This brave warrior will exterminate you!"

The same drivel as ever, he can't help but scoff at it as he flares open his wings, mocking her openly, "Stupid! Do you really think a human can defeat a dragon?" Baring his teeth, he roars and rushes at her, "I'll show you!"

Steel, fire, and the claws that bent under them. At the end he lies there, a prideful punctured dragon, staring up at the shining beacon of an insignificant human, shadowed by the sun.

His head throbs. Everything hurts, actually, but especially his skull with how viciously she'd punched it the first opportunity presented to her and then proceeded to stab his toes as he'd crouched in a moment of disorientation and shock. When he'd slammed his tail down, she'd simply hopped out of the way; when he'd clawed at her, leaving bleeding gashes on her arms, she'd winced but carried on regardless. While clumsy in some respects, slipping and clearly unused to fighting on such terrain, she'd bared her blunt teeth and pushed on regardless.
Cornered, his excitement and fear had mingled until one won out. And now, as the rush of adrenaline finally dies down, his eyes well up with frustrated tears. He can no longer hold himself back from groaning, either.

"How could I have been beaten by a human girl... Ugh..."

It's a complete loss. It would have been a different matter to lose against a fellow dragon, there's a vast difference in experience with most of them anyway. The sense of inferiority that he usually sated through scuffles with her kind rose up with a vengeance. Bitterly, he knows he'll never be able to forget this as he looks up at the victor peering down at him, hands on her hips and infuriatingly confident.

"You seem kind of weak for a dragon. How old are you, anyway?"

More than a touch begrudgingly, he gives her the truth. "I'm 10..."

She immediately reels backwards, eyes blown open. "Whaaat!?", pointing at him incredulously, she exclaims and he flinches at the sound and the rush of the following words. "You're younger than me?! I thought dragons were all hundreds of years old!"

Through the depths of an ever-growing well of embarrassment, he stutters and finds the strength to weakly thump his tail in annoyance. He doesn't need her to rub his age in his face, he's well aware of his immaturity in comparison to others, thank you very much. Scrambling for the crumbling remnants of his pride, he only just barely manages to stammer through.

"H-Hmph... Loud mouthed wench! There are young dragons too, you know!"

Her previously open, unmarred expression once more morphs into a scowl. "Well! You have a lot of nerve!" Turning her head away from him, she makes the universal gesture for shooing unkept creatures away. "Anyways, I've beaten you! Now get out of my way!"

With such a humiliating defeat and with no sympathy offered as balm, there's little left to do. Sniffing, he slinks away into the ruins, twisting around once only to see her sift through his dropped gold, a bright smile adorning her dusty, travel worn face as she hums.

For a moment- and only just a moment, he swears- his heart skips a beat.

His grandfather pops in to see him as he tends to his own wounds and cheerily says, "Hohoho, a nice child visited me a while ago." He squints at him, a twinkle in his aged eyes, "Seems like she did quite the number on you, eh?"

Growling, he's embarrassingly aware of how it sounds more like a drawn out whine. "Grandpa...!"

His grandfather chuckles but does not pursue the topic, trudging away. Just for that, he ignores the elder dragon for 2 days, although the cackles of other dragons who observed his loss prickles at him far more. He ignores the girl even more when he hears her slipping in and out of the ruins for a whole week, as if the universe won't even allow him to mourn his shattered pride in peace.

He is definitely not sulking, certainly not avoiding her. There's just no reason left to challenge her and hence no reason to speak to her, either.

This is not to say he doesn't see her at all, that fateful week. He catches a glimpse of her while meandering one day and instinctively retreats. He has no time to think about why he did so, as at that moment, his attention is caught by the glint of an ever familiar small dagger delving itself deep into the defenseless belly of a defeated harpy. Stunned, he watches as she wastes no time in wiping off the blood from her hands onto her skirt, smearing the dusty pink with tainted red, and snatches up the gold left behind, a blank look on her face the whole while.

Heart thudding loudly, he's seized by a morbid captivation, unable to tear his eyes away from the gruesome display. It's a common sight for him as a dragon, of course, although not one that he can claim to indulge in much, finding it distasteful and unpleasant. It's the dispassionate killing by someone only a year older than him- and a human at that- that keeps his gaze rooted, following her as she sits next to the oasis, closes her eyes and takes a moment to rest. The wounds on her arm are bandaged clumsily, he notices, and there's a splatter of fresh, rapidly drying blood on her cheek that she doesn't seem to have noticed or be bothered by.

He takes a few moments to stare at her profile, study her the way prey watches predator. He thinks of how defenseless she is, how she beat him despite the paper thin armor and pathetic excuse of a blade, how she's stronger, an actual war-

A strange warmth rushes through him contrasting with his natural cool temperature, at the same time as her eyes flash open but before she can turn around, he is gone, refusing to pursue that train of thought.

That's the last he sees of her for several long months. He tries to do the same extortion practices as before, crowing over those lesser than him but the act brings no satisfaction anymore. When he looks towards his amassed horde, a growing promise of ease in old age, he finds himself remembering the unshaken pitch of her voice as she'd challenged him so brazenly, the spark of determination in her eyes as she had looked at him head on and fought; begins to wonder when she'll come around again, if she ever will. A flush of regret, to have avoided her so studiously; lost in a daydream forming in his eyes, he wonders of rosy potentials.

What she'd say to him. What he'd say to her.

The thought makes his heart beat faster than ever, an unfamiliar yet familiar anxiety, and he shakes his head roughly. 'There's no way we could ever have a normal conversation', he tells himself, coaxing himself to calm down, 'We're too different, what could we even talk about? It's just that, only that-'

From the corner of his eye, he sees frizzy brown hair and raises his head with a start, but it's just a random traveler who freezes, turns tail and runs at the piercing ripple in his slanted eyes. Uncaring, his head drops back into his crossed limbs, and the incomplete thought slots itself back together, with ease, with hesitance.

'She's the only human to have ever looked at me in the eye and talked to me normally...'

To have shown him a variety of expressions he's never seen before, stood her ground valiantly even as he tried to throw her off, and inadvertently, shoved the poor nature of his weakness back in his face. The sand that blows into his eyes stings but not as much as the aching feeling of disappointment towards himself.

"You've been so quiet ever since she came by", his grandfather says to him one evening, while the others are out hunting. Too old for such excitement and too young to want it, both of them always stayed behind. "Did your new friend say something to you?"

He flusters. The claw he was filing makes a screech as he stutters. "I- No, she's not my friend and she, she didn't-" Fumbling for words, his mouth clacks shut and he falls silent instead. His grandfather does not ask more, only hums and lets him be, but he knows that he's patiently waiting, knows that he'll eventually crack and spill it all. He can't bring himself to resent it.

It's just that he doesn't know how to explain the growing color of his thoughts, how when he looks down at the humans begging for their lives or money, he doesn't see her in them. They are not the warrior she is, only unlucky merchants, thieves or adventurers. Defenseless, compared to him; pathetic, compared to her. He has never actually killed a human before, because his grandfather told him the times were precarious and not to incite any further bloodshed, but now, now-

As he sends them off on their way, their gold now in his hand, he tries to be gentle about it. Doesn't pull on the same airs as before. Her voice echoes in his mind, sharper than ever; calling him a cowardly bully, a terrible person, an irredeemable monster who's not at all like his courageous parents-

And, see, he knows. He knows that it's impossible to meet her as he is; so small and so weak. If he curls his tail into himself and shies away from his bloodied claws, if tears drip down his meticulously polished scales from big, scared eyes and splash onto sand, that's fine because he learned to be quiet about it a long time ago.

He's a big boy now. Maybe he wants to be a better boy now, too.

"Oh? What's the matter, my dear grandson?"

And if his grandfather asks and he starts bawling uncontrollably and nudging himself into his wrinkled side; if his older cousins snicker and jeer about what a baby he's being when they return and he's cried himself into an uneasy sleep, then maybe that's fine too. Because, even as he hides away and drifts off into a restless sleep, in his mind her fangless smile is directed at him instead of that glittering gold.