GREEN   972   2
   7154   40.14 KB   412

"Enter" the Dragon

By LmonE6
Created: 18th January 2022 11:01:41 AM
20th February 2022 09:23:32 PM

  1. “‘Why do I do it’? THAT’S the best question you could lead with?”
  2. >You are Anonymous, age 43.
  3. >Career intrepid adventurer and survivalist.
  4. >Currently tolerating an interview for an insipid human interest piece to be published in some rag you’ve already forgotten the name of.
  5. “Quite the inspired journalist, aren’t we?”.”
  6. >The unamused interviewer doesn’t share your cheeky grin, so you sigh and bite the end off a cigar.
  7. >You offer him one as well, not wishing to be a poor host, and he politely refuses with a wave of his hoof.
  8. >Shrugging, you lean back in your chair and strike a match.
  9. >A few puffs gets the tip a nice glowing orange, after which you take a long pull and blow a thick cloud of tobacco smoke into the air.
  10. >You repeat the action a few times until the entire room is covered in a thin, smokey-smelling haze.
  11. >Which, to his credit, your one-sided conversational partner seems fairly unfazed by.
  12. >You let out another sigh and close your eyes.
  13. “‘Why do I do it’ huh…”
  14. >The query rolls around in your head for a moment as you try and find the words to answer it.
  15. >Well, where your words fail, you can always use ‘hers’.
  16. “I s’pose it’s all been an effort to increase my ‘value’, if that makes sense.”
  17. >…
  18. “Cmon, don’t look at me like that. I’m not saying I’m just in it for the cash and prestige. There are less stupid and dangerous ways to make a couple bits or get your name on a plaque, y’know?”
  19. >You clasp your hands behind your head and recline even further.
  20. >Should probably expect that kind of reaction, ponies’ brains tend to default to profit motives when they don’t understand your way of thinking.
  21. “What I mean by ‘value’ is, like, a sort of justification. Like, when I’m on my deathbed, I wanna be able to tell my grandkids about all the awesome shit their granddad did.”
  22. >You knock off some ash into the ashtray on your armrest and lock eyes with your impassive interviewer.
  23. >He seems like a good listener.
  24. >No wonder he got picked for this job.
  25. “I want real, active proof that I made the most of my life while I was here. Maybe that’s just the sentiment of a starry-eyed middle-aged man nowadays, but it’s still the truth in retrospect.”
  26. >Try as you might, you couldn’t keep a self-satisfied smirk from working its way onto your visage.
  27. “And as far as that proof goes, I’d say stuff like summiting Mount Gryphus in the Hyperboreans with no oxygen or free climbing Rainbow Falls ain’t half bad.”
  28. >You chuckle and take another quick drag, folding your left leg over your right with some finality.
  29. >The journo scribbles far more than you could’ve possibly said onto his notepad - most definitely dressing your words up into a mass-appellate mockery of what you’d actually said.
  30. >Whatever.
  31. >You know what you’re saying and don’t particularly care if some Manehattan socialite misinterprets it.
  32. >The scratch of pen on paper stops, and he looks to you expectantly once again.
  33. >Taking that as a cue but not really knowing how to proceed with it, you awkwardly rub the back of your neck.
  34. “So, uh… anyway, wanna hear about my next endeavor? It’s a real exciting thing. Y’see, I’m aiming to cross the San Palomino from east to west in under-“
  35. >Your words peter off as the interviewer quickly shakes his head and signals for you to stop, leaving you a bit puzzled.
  36. >That previous question was usually sufficient for most shitty tabloids as far as establishing your outlook went.
  37. >So what else could he possibly want to know?
  38. >…
  39. >Oh, of course.
  40. >The silver bullet question that you were never really comfortable answering.
  41. “‘What made me start’...?”
  42. >You plant both feet on the floor and rest your elbows on your knees, interleaving your fingers and resting your forehead on your hands.
  43. >It’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask, in all honesty.
  44. >Obviously, you didn’t just wake up one day and decide to take part in such daring and dangerous activities on a whim.
  45. >There had to have been some kind of inciting incident, and indeed there was.
  46. >It’s just, well…
  47. >There were and still are two major factors preventing you from sharing about that incident more regularly.
  48. >One, it’s a prohibitively long story.
  49. >It would take a while to tell it all, and there’s simply no way you would be able to recount all of it accurately considering you were… less than lucid at many points throughout.
  50. >Two, it’s a personal story.
  51. >An excessively graphic personal story.
  52. >You couldn’t include certain things in any retelling as a matter of common decency and privacy, but it wouldn’t make any sense all cut-up and censored like that.
  53. >There’s always the option to refuse the question entirely or give some lame non-answer, but…
  54. >You’ll have to tell SOMEONE the whole story eventually.
  55. >Even if it ends up in ink as hopped-up libel garbage, the guy across from you is a pretty good sport as far as you can tell.
  56. >And, checking your watch, you realize you’ve got basically nothing better to do for the next few hours anyway.
  57. >Guess there’s no harm in it.
  58. >With a resigned huff and yet another long drag on your cigar - bringing it almost all the way down to the stub - you pose a seemingly left-field question to the quiet pony.
  59. “What’re the limits on what you guys can print? Morally speaking, I mean.”
  60. >He cocks his head quizzically, raising an eyebrow in slight suspicion, but answers truthfully.
  61. >PG-13 for pictures, but basically anything goes for writing, so he says.
  62. >So all good, more or less.
  63. >Thank Celestia you didn’t have any pictures to show him.
  64. “You, uh, might wanna move to a fresh page for this one.”
  65. >You tap a foot for a few seconds as he flips to a blank sheet, trying to think of a good place to start.
  66. >Hm…
  67. >Well, why not something you’re uniquely qualified to speak on?
  68. >You rub your hands together and look up, meeting the pony’s blank expression.
  69. “What do you know about the mating processes of dragons?”
  70. >20 years…
  71. >20 years and countless harrowing life-or-death experiences later, and you could still recall the events of that day with startling clarity.
  72. >The jagged black spire of rock you faced, the menacing orange tint of the sky, the clouds of ash and thick smell of sulfur hanging in the air…
  73. >All factors contributing to the unique natural beauty of the dragons’ domain.
  74. >Your appreciation of said factors would only come later in life, though.
  75. >Standing there as a chipper 23 year old, your thoughts weren’t particularly focused on aesthetics.
  76. >They hit more along the lines of ‘How can I get out of this shithole with as much as I can carry as quickly as possible?’
  77. >See, you weren’t exactly a gallant man of adventure at the time.
  78. >You liked to think of yourself as one who simply appropriated goods whose owners no longer required them.
  79. >What? ‘Grave robber’?
  80. >…
  81. >Alright, you were totally a grave robber.
  82. >But you didn’t really have a choice at the time, y’know?
  83. >The universe had dumped you alone in a world where you didn’t belong at the ripe old age of ten, your prospects had been kind of limited from the start.
  84. >And with the way Equestria was dotted with unclaimed treasures quite literally sticking out of the ground, who could blame you?
  85. >Whether or not you really NEEDED to cling to such a less-than-honest path for over half of your life up to that point…
  86. >Largely pointless hypothetical, in your opinion.
  87. >Anyway, why were you, a fairly accomplished appropriator-of-goods by that point, standing at the foot of a small formation of volcanic rock on the outskirts of dragon territory?
  88. >Well, through your interleaved network of grapevines built up over the years, the presence of a very interesting thing had come to light.
  89. >Based on whispers, rumors, and old legends surrounding the area, what you thought was the juiciest prize imaginable had revealed itself to you.
  90. >Somewhere near the peak of that overgrown ebony stalagmite, buried and forgotten in a cave, was an unclaimed dragon’s hoard.
  91. >The conclusion that you’d come to would, of course, prove to be entirely wrong.
  92. >But it’s not like you could’ve known that at the time.
  93. >By all accounts that you’d been able to lend an ear to, the perch was totally abandoned.
  94. >No smoke had billowed from its entrance in centuries, and no ferocious bellows had responded to an approaching presence in the past three generations of nomads and traders.
  95. >Which led you to believe that a shitload of gold, jewels, and precious artifacts was just sitting there, ripe for the taking by anyone who knew of its existence.
  96. >Were a pegasus or a griffon to catch wind of that prize, they would be rich beyond their wildest dreams within a day.
  97. >You, however, didn’t have wings, and thus were condemned to look up longingly at the skyward pillar of stone and search for the hoard you could not access.
  98. >...Or you could get your ass climbing.
  99. >You most definitely lacked the required guts for a climb like that in those days.
  100. >The cave was, by your estimation, about 350 meters up.
  101. >Free climbing that high would be absolute hell on your nerves - if you could even make it up at all.
  102. >But you solemnly cracked your knuckles regardless.
  103. >Unfortunately for you - or perhaps fortunately, depending on how near or far into the future you cared to look - hunger was a far more compelling motivator than fear in your eyes.
  104. >Not regular hunger, of course, but the wild, insatiable hunger known as greed.
  105. >You inhaled deeply, the foul taste of brimstone coating your throat.
  106. >In spite of your body’s fearful trembling, you reached a hand out and firmly grasped a small outcropping, tracing with your sight what looked like a vague route up the small mountain.
  107. “Let’s do this.”
  108. >You said aloud to no one in particular.
  109. >Your arms were set to detach at any given moment, you were sure of it.
  110. >Your muscles had long sailed past basic stiffness and were more akin to steel wires grinding against your bones as you moved.
  111. >All of the sweat in your system had run dry, and the persistent shaking of your utterly fatigued body was making it difficult to even hold yourself in place.
  112. >You didn’t dare remove either of your hands from their perilously-small holds for anything but the most purposeful of movements.
  113. >Over a thousand feet off the ground, you couldn’t deny that you were very nearly out of gas.
  114. >It was extremely unlikely that you could’ve climbed any higher if you’d tried.
  115. >Minutes felt like hours, hours felt like days.
  116. >And yet, waves of joyful relief and anticipation were washing over you all the same.
  117. >Why?
  118. >Because at that dizzying height, invisible from a grounded perspective, was the mouth of a small cavern in the tower of igneous rock.
  119. >The prize for which your body was trembling and your hands were bleeding was practically within your grasp!
  120. >...With one tiny issue.
  121. >The opening, it seemed, was surrounded in all directions by sheer, smooth rock.
  122. >This was due to the cave being recently blasted out by dragon’s fire, you would later learn.
  123. >But the matter of “why” was less concerning to you at the time than the fact that there was a 2-meter wide ring of completely featureless - and thus, handholdless - stone in all directions around the entrance.
  124. >A proper (and smarter) free climber might’ve called it quits upon seeing that kind of hopeless traversal.
  125. >You weren’t a proper free climber and you were unbelievably stupid.
  126. >Still aren’t and still are, to be honest.
  127. >Plus, your plan for getting back to the ground kind of relied on hitching a rope to something in the cavern.
  128. >Fuck if you were gonna make the same climb you just had but in reverse and with a load.
  129. >So, bereft of other options, you were set up to execute one of the dumbest plans imaginable.
  130. >You’d gambled the rest of your stamina to reach a point ABOVE the mouth, whereupon you planned to simply let go and drop down to a hold on the lower lip of it.
  131. >There was absolutely no reason for you to believe that you could accomplish such a feat in the state you were in, and the price for failure was a bone-liquefying fall to your death.
  132. >And still, you climbed slowly and delicately downwards until you could feel your left foot slip on the gripless ring of rock.
  133. >You didn’t look down for fear of losing your last remaining shreds of nerve, but you knew that the opening had to be right below you.
  134. >All that was left was to let go.
  135. >So you did.
  136. >For a brief moment after your hands released their holds, you were horrifyingly weightless.
  137. >Your stomach jumped into your throat as your toes hit the lip.
  138. >And your heart followed it as they slipped off.
  139. >Acting quickly, you leaned forward, your chest crashing into the interior and just barely stopping you from falling the rest of the way down the mountain.
  140. >Panic overrode the breathlessness and pain from the impact, and all of your limbs scrambled to find enough purchase to force the rest of your body into the cave.
  141. >Inch by inch, feet pushing against frictionless rock and fingers clawing at the rough floor, you pulled yourself all the way into the blessedly flat space.
  142. >Utterly spent, you rolled over onto your back and gazed blankly at the roof for a moment.
  143. >Then tears began to flow.
  144. >A disturbing four-way cross between sobbing, dry heaving, manic laughing, and exhausted panting left your lips, echoing through the cavern like the cries of a wounded beast for several minutes.
  145. >The human mind can only knuckle down and grit through so much, you see.
  146. >In your opinion, you’d earned that release.
  147. >Eventually, though, your cacophony of elated pain - or perhaps pained elation? - died down.
  148. >You sniffed, and wiped at the dried streaks of salt on your cheeks.
  149. >It was the first time, you recall, that you’d felt it.
  150. >You weren’t new to exertion on the job, of course.
  151. >The way ancient tombs and monuments were designed in Equestria, you often HAD to resort to the old standby of physical capability.
  152. >But that particular day was the first time you’d really and truly felt the raw satisfaction of an adrenaline rush after a death-defying stunt.
  153. >Little did you know how addicted to it you would become.
  154. “That’s it. I’m retiring after this.”
  155. >You resolved, once again to no one in particular.
  156. “Should be able to, after all.”
  157. >You shot up into a seated position, reminded of why you’d even made the climb in the first place.
  158. >Unsurprisingly, it had completely slipped your mind in the moment.
  159. >You’d been a little preoccupied with not splattering from a thousand feet up to properly admire the contents of your haul.
  160. >With renewed eagerness, you twisted around, certain you would find an enormous pile of gems and treasures right before your eyes.
  161. >What you found instead deflated your spirits like a balloon in an instant.
  162. >Nothing.
  163. >Yes, after all that, there was nothing there.
  164. >Not a single solitary bit glimmered in the shady crevice.
  165. >And you could plainly SEE that there was nothing there, given how strangely shallow the cave itself was.
  166. >You estimated that it dug about 4 meters into the mountainside, at most.
  167. “Of all the damned…”
  168. >You cursed to yourself.
  169. >A sigh of equal parts frustration and disappointment left you.
  170. >Had you been scooped? Or was your lead just overly optimistic in the first place?
  171. >You stood up and stretched, wobbling slightly, and began searching around for an outcropping that looked like it could secure a rope while unraveling the one criss-crossed around your torso.
  172. >It didn’t really matter WHY the place was empty, you supposed, just that it was.
  173. >While that certainly sucked, you found that you weren’t actually as fuming as you probably should’ve been about it.
  174. >Almost as if the climb itself had been fulfilling enou-
  175. >”Oi.”
  176. >It bears mentioning that you were more of a runner than a fighter in your youth.
  177. >However, in your line of work, the occasional scrap wasn’t uncommon.
  178. >So your reaction to the unexpected voice coming from directly over your shoulder was relatively immediate.
  179. >You dropped the rope and, despite your fatigue, instantly transitioned into a spinning elbow thrust, aimed directly at the origin point of the vocalization.
  180. >Only to see it stopped short in the palm of a scaly hand.
  181. >Your blood ran cold as you looked slightly over at what the reptilian appendage was attached to.
  182. >An armor-clad cyan dragoness, wings flared and piercing scarlet eyes boring into you from under her helmet.
  183. >A shot of adrenaline entered your system as you felt something cold and sharp tighten around your arm.
  184. >”I wasn’t expecting any visitors.”
  185. “Hm? What’s that face about?”
  186. >The pony across the coffee table is staring at you with eyes the size of dinner plates and pupils the size of pinpricks.
  187. >The most emotion he’s shown since the interview started.
  188. >What’s he so frazzled about?
  189. >…
  190. >Oh yeah.
  191. “Hey man, I’m not lookin’ to slander a head of state here. If you want me to leave it, just say s-“
  192. >He shakes his head violently and gestures with something near desperation for you to continue.
  193. >You crack a bemused grin and shrug with mock resignation.
  194. >Yeah, you suppose a real journalist wouldn’t shy away from a story like this if his life depended on it.
  195. >You loudly clear your throat, then stand up and walk over to the conveniently-situated mini bar at the far wall of the room.
  196. >After some rummaging, a long-necked bottle of amber liquid finds its way into your hand.
  197. “Cognac?”
  198. >He hesitates for a moment, then nods, prompting you to break out a pair of fluted glasses and pour a splash of the liquor in each.
  199. >You sit back down and place both glasses and the bottle on the coffee table between you, sliding one beverage over to the interviewer.
  200. >Failing to think of a toast in the moment, you simply knock yours back immediately and relish the bittersweet burning sensation while the stallion cautiously sips at his.
  201. “Now, where was I… ah, right, the first time I met her.”
  202. >You reach for the bottle and pour yourself another glass - a much fuller one this time - and lean back while swirling it in your hand contemplatively.
  203. “The way ponies talk nowadays, you’d think Ember hatched right out of the egg as the First Dragon Empress. I’ll tell you right now, that’s about as far from the truth as you can get.”
  204. >A relaxed sip of cognac as the journalist scrawls dutifully into his notebook.
  205. “In fact, if I remember right, she’d literally JUST taken the title of Dragon Lord when we bumped into each other. I’m talking, like, an hour or two prior, tops.”
  206. >You take another sip before placing your glass back on the table and crossing your arms, looking pensively at the brown liquor still in it.
  207. “‘Course, I didn’t KNOW that at the time. All I knew was that I’d just picked a fight with a big, armor-clad lizard person whose home I was probably trespassing in, and that was plenty enough to scare the shit outta me.”
  208. >A wonderfully dramatic recollection strikes you, and you lean in, eyes fixated on your interviewer’s.
  209. “Back when I was a kid, before the powers that be decided to dump me here, I saw this monster movie, right? I forget the name, but it was about these scaly prehistoric animals called ‘dinosaurs’ going around eating people and generally being a nuisance.”
  210. >You smile.
  211. “For some reason, the way she stared at me - emotionless but kinda feral at the same time, like a predator on the hunt fixes on prey - really reminded me of one of those ‘dinosaurs’.”
  212. —-
  213. >A velociraptor.
  214. >Right there, grasping your right arm with a vice-like clawed hand and peering down its snout at you as a wolf might regard a rabbit.
  215. >You knew it was a female dragon by the wings, the armor, and the sound of her voice, but the image evoked in your mind was utterly clear nonetheless.
  216. >A fucking velociraptor.
  217. >More out of instinct than anything else, you spun in the direction, aiming to catch her in the side of the head with your left elbow.
  218. >The strike was stopped short once again, intercepted quite expertly by the crude rock shaft of a scepter clutched in her left hand.
  219. >The leverage and momentum you generated, however, allowed you to wrench your trapped arm free, and you backed away to the other side of the cave as quickly as you could.
  220. >You were still uncomfortably close.
  221. >But being anywhere near a creature so obviously dangerous was “uncomfortably close” to you back then.
  222. >At least you were fairly confident that your throat wouldn’t be ripped out in an instant from that distance.
  223. >Breathing room gained, you got your first good look at the dragoness, illuminated in a quite menacing fashion by the sickly light filtering in through the entrance.
  224. >You recall thinking that she was surprisingly small and rather… ‘evenly-proportioned’ for a dragon.
  225. >Not to say that your frame of reference was particularly large at the time.
  226. >Just that, absent the leathery sails of indigo membrane sprouting from her back or the tufted tail swaying idly behind her, she might’ve passed for a human from a distance.
  227. >And a relatively short one, at that.
  228. >You definitely had her beat by a few inches, which begged the question of why it had felt like YOU had been looking up at HER.
  229. >On closer inspection, she also appeared to be in seriously rough shape.
  230. >Her armor - a form-fitting helmet, segmented breastplate, and pauldrons, all of light bronze - was pockmarked throughout by a myriad of scratches, dents, and scorch marks, to say nothing of her darkish blue scales.
  231. >While you had the feeling that she was normally quite lustrous, a muddy mixture of volcanic ash and some steaming-hot purple liquid (which you would later learn was, in fact, fresh blood) had dulled her hide’s sheen significantly.
  232. >And yet, despite her shoddy condition and generally unimposing stature, the immense predatory pressure she exuded still sent shivers down your spine.
  233. >Looking back, it was probably the eyes.
  234. >Second only to a cockatrice, those bloodstained daggers she called irises could’ve left an animal several times her size in a state of fearful paralysis, let alone little old you.
  235. >Within those deep pools of red, you could see a capacity for violence that you couldn’t even comprehend in your youth, yet somehow could envision that violence being inflicted on yourself all the same.
  236. >By all rights, nothing in existence would have blamed you for curling up into a submissive ball on the spot.
  237. >But you didn’t.
  238. >You did not cow in the face of such a terrifying staredown.
  239. >Not out of any personal boldness or bravery, but because something else shiny and red had caught your ever-covetous eye.
  240. >Fixed atop the crappy rock scepter in her left hand - the very same one that she’d used to block your elbow - was a rough-cut ruby nearly the size of your head.
  241. >Oh, the way you salivated over it.
  242. >Wouldn’t have even known you were so massively dehydrated.
  243. >Your eyes followed it, hypnotized, as its wielder planted it staff-first into the cave floor.
  244. >You didn’t see her strip off the armor, but the sequential clatter of metal against the ground broke you out of the minor trance and brought your attention back to her.
  245. >Now, you could easily SAY that it was ‘love at first sight’ or whatever.
  246. >That you were hopelessly smitten with the dragoness the moment you saw the full beauty of her lithe feminine form (roughshod though it was at the time).
  247. >And in retrospect, you DID find her uniquely attractive to some extent when you first met.
  248. >Particularly the beautiful matrix of rhomboid scales, dirtied as they were, that made up her hide.
  249. >What you wouldn’t give to lay beside her and count those twinkling diamonds one by one again…
  250. >Huh?
  251. >Oh, right.
  252. >As romantic as it would be, to say you were lovestruck on first contact would be an outright lie.
  253. >No, what truly occupied your thoughts at the moment was something a bit more… practical.
  254. >Sans her armor, she was even less physically imposing than before.
  255. >While the terrifying atmosphere radiating from her gaze was still very much present, seeing the very human expressiveness of her otherwise angular reptilian face went a long way in nullifying it.
  256. >As she stood there staring at you, head tilted quizzically and hands casually on her hips as if the worrying amount of gashes and punctures dotting her form didn’t exist, a devious and terribly ill-advised idea started to hatch.
  257. ‘I might not have to leave here empty-handed after all.’
  258. >The dragoness sighed and crossed her arms, looking upwards to peer at an undefined spot on the ceiling.
  259. >”Mammal… upright… no wings or tail… no fur… thumbs…”
  260. >She shrugged resignedly, and looked back to you.
  261. >”I give up. What in the wide world of Equestria even ARE you? Some kinda hairless chimp?”
  262. >Her raw voice, unmuffled by the echo of a helmet, was surprisingly youthful and… un-dragonlike?
  263. >The inflection of a plain teenage filly, almost.
  264. >You made to answer, but she held up a hand to stop you short.
  265. >”On second thought, I don’t really care. Don’t answer that.”
  266. >She waved dismissively and, strangely, walked over to the side of the cave and sat down against the wall, seeming to have lost interest in you completely.
  267. >Sticking a single claw on her hand up, she blew a concentrated jet of superheated flame over it for a couple of seconds until it glowed red-hot.
  268. >”Whatever you are, you should know better than to go busting into caves in dragon territory. Honestly.”
  269. >She chided without deigning to give you a look, instead eyeing her heated appendage with satisfaction.
  270. >”A cave isn’t automatically unoccupied just because some smoke-belching loudmouth doesn’t live in it, and-”
  271. >Without skipping a beat, she pinched a deep cut on her thigh closed with her off hand and shoved the makeshift cauterizer into it.
  272. >You reacted more than she did, wincing in shock and sympathy pain while she only allowed herself a slight gasp and a twitch of the eyelid.
  273. >A sizzling noise and the smell of iron permeated the space, making you sick to your stomach.
  274. >”-precious few caves are worth nosing around in, to begin with.”
  275. >She re-heated her claw and prepared to seal another wound, but paused as a realization you couldn’t begin to guess at flashed across her face.
  276. >”Unless you KNEW, specifically, that this is MY cave, and knew that I’d be gone for a while and would be coming back weak and injured. In order to, y’know, rob or kill me.”
  277. >Her lips curled back in a menacing snarl, revealing clean rows of pearly white knives protruding from her gums, and a glint of fire ignited behind her pupils.
  278. >”But that can’t be the case, right? I mean, the skin on your face is still pretty attached, near as I can tell. It’d be a shame if it were to become DEtached over a stupid little decision like that.”
  279. >You took an instinctive step back, holding your hands up, and spoke quickly with a bit of a crack in your voice.
  280. “N-no, no, not at all! Just caught wind that there might be an abandoned hoard up here or something, so I climbed up to check it out, that's all. To be frank, I wasn’t aware anyone even lived here, let alone who YOU are in particular!”
  281. >She seemed to flinch slightly at the word ‘hoard’, more so than during her macabre excuse for a first aid routine, but you paid it no mind at the time.
  282. >What with the whole ‘fearing desperately for your life and well-being’ thing.
  283. >Fortunately, the scowl dropped from her face, and a snort blew a puff of black smoke out of her nostrils with finality.
  284. >”Then we don’t have a problem, but we will if your lanky primate ass sticks around here any longer. Hitch up your little rope or whatever you were doing and get out of my cave already.”
  285. “Yes, ma’am, right away.”
  286. >Even the you of that time cringed internally.
  287. >Like, c’mon. ‘Ma’am’? Really? She was probably younger than you.
  288. >Regardless, you set to work tying your bundle of rope to a stalagmite with a basic figure-8 knot to the not-so-glamorous tune of sizzling flesh and the occasional pained gasp.
  289. >There was no real rush, but you felt a distinct pressure to hurry it along regardless.
  290. >Not because you were threatened or unsettled by the presence of the dragoness - she’d stopped paying attention to you as soon as she’d dismissed you - but because of a certain elephant in the room.
  291. >A gigantic, choppy, translucent-red elephant.
  292. >Try as you did, you simply couldn’t stop glancing over at the staff planted into the floor (it didn’t really register to you back then how impressive it was that the dragoness had stabbed the scepter into solid rock) and the enormous gemstone topping it.
  293. >Within it, you could see yourself reflected in a cherry-red glow from so many different angles it was dizzying.
  294. >Just imagining how many bits it would go for to the right buyer made you lick your chops involuntarily.
  295. >A quick shake of your head brought you back to Earth.
  296. ‘Yeah, right. I’m not THAT stupid.’
  297. >You thought to yourself, moderately satisfied that your fifth try at the knot would hold your weight on the way down.
  298. >Setting aside the fact that it was the property of a dragon, stealing from the living just wasn’t your MO.
  299. >It brought too many variables you couldn’t control into the mix, and always had the chance of leading to a much more serious crime than you were willing to commit.
  300. >You dusted your hands off and stood up, picking up the massive bundle of rope you’d unraveled from yourself off the ground and walking to the mouth of the cave.
  301. >You stopped at the edge, basking in the foul-smelling breeze of the dragon lands for a moment.
  302. >You looked down at the tangled mess of rope in your arms.
  303. >Enough to rappel all the way to the bottom of the mountain and forget you’d ever seen or heard of that tiny cavern.
  304. >You looked back into the cave, at the twinkling red rock that so tempted your eye.
  305. >Enough to let you swim in bits for the rest of your life.
  306. >Your gaze swapped back and forth between the two items several times before you remembered something that you’d inexplicably forgotten in the events of the past few minutes.
  307. >You’d climbed a fucking mountain to get where you were standing in that moment.
  308. >...
  309. >You still can’t really recall the exact sequence of events that happened next.
  310. >You just blinked, and suddenly you were no longer at the mouth of the cave and were no longer holding the rope.
  311. >Instead, you were back inside the cave, about a foot or two away from the dragoness.
  312. >Your hands were clenched into fists, and one of them was resting in her left palm, which was in turn pressed up against her cheek.
  313. >It was a shockingly fast right straight which she’d barely managed to catch before it had been able to make contact.
  314. >The angry scowl returned in full force, accompanied by a ferocious growl and a furious expulsion of black smoke from her snout.
  315. >”So that’s how it is, then.”
  316. >In spite of everything - the dragoness’ clear advantage in strength even with her injuries, your own bone-shaking fatigue, your anger and confusion at yourself for doing something so idiotically impulsive…
  317. >A grin cracked across your face.
  318. >You’d made a lot of bad decisions in your life, it’s true.
  319. >Most of which fate made you regret down the line at one point or another.
  320. >But seldom had you felt the consequences of your actions quite so instantaneously as your attempted sucker punch against the dragoness.
  321. >The hand she’d used to block the strike tightened around your fist like a vice, resisting your frantic attempt to pull it free.
  322. >She slowly and methodically rose to her feet while forcibly bending your wrist back well beyond its comfortable range of motion.
  323. >A rather juvenile form of torture, you were powerless to resist it nonetheless; it was a similar experience to pushing against a hydraulic press, more or less.
  324. >If your body had possessed the water to spare in the moment, you would’ve definitely broken into a cold sweat.
  325. >Your left hand balled into a fist, aiming to break the one-sided stalemate with a follow-up left hook to her undefended snout.
  326. >’Aiming’ isn’t quite the same as ‘acting’, though.
  327. >You’d already been soundly beaten to the (metaphorical) punch on that particular front.
  328. >The brief jolt of your right arm nearly being yanked from its socket was all the warning you had before you were floating in mid air, weightless.
  329. >Again.
  330. >It wasn’t quite as terrifying the second time, all things considered.
  331. >It WAS, however, significantly more disorienting, and only partially because your perspective was forcibly canted sideways.
  332. >Mostly, you were just in disbelief that a creature roughly your size could so quickly and effortlessly haul you airborne with a single arm.
  333. >A disbelief that only compounded on itself when what felt like a sledgehammer connected squarely with your torso.
  334. >The breath was driven from you in an instant as you flew back-first into the far wall of the cave.
  335. >Your spine collided with the solid rock surface at speed, followed shortly by your head.
  336. >The one-two punch of an impact set your entire nervous system alight with raw agony and caused a veil of black to tug at the edges of your vision.
  337. >Combined with the lingering sensation of your diaphragm turning inside-out from the preceding body blow, it was too much.
  338. >Collapsing forward to your knees, you planted your forehead on the ground and cradled your throbbing midsection, coughing and gasping like a dying fish for the air that had been forced out of you.
  339. >Equestria is, to put it lightly, a big place.
  340. >Your line of work had made you well aware of that fact early in life, let alone everything you would experience later on.
  341. >There was an unfathomable variety of creatures out there, a great many of which were just inherently stronger than you for one reason or another.
  342. >Yet, among those that you had or would later encounter under less-than-friendly circumstances, none ever came close to matching the insane torque-to-size ratio exhibited to you on that day.
  343. >”Sheesh, you’re really light for your size. You seriously climbed all the way up here with that muscle mass?”
  344. >Even through the concussed throbbing of your brain, you could hear the boredom dripping from her inflection.
  345. >You planted a fist on the ground and lifted your head, doing your level best to get your breathing under control.
  346. >The dragoness blew a gout of flame across the clenched knuckles on her left hand, then shook her head and relaxed back into a nonchalant posture.
  347. >She looked almost…
  348. >Disappointed?
  349. >”Look, I know I’m gonna feel really bad about crushing a worm like you later, so I’ll give you one more chance.”
  350. >She cracked her neck both ways and emphatically brought her right fist to the opposite palm, glowering down at you with pure disdain.
  351. >A disdain that was clearly more for your overall weakness than your attempt to attack her in the first place.
  352. >”Get lost right this minute and I won’t beat you to death.”
  353. >You were going to leave, or she was going to kill you. Simple as that.
  354. >To your memory, it was the first time that you were confronted with a bold-faced threat to your life from another sentient being.
  355. >Wouldn’t be the last, either, but it’s not like you could’ve known that.
  356. >Sucking in and exhaling one last recovery breath, you pushed yourself onto your feet.
  357. >Only to stagger back into the wall as your legs immediately tried to give out from under you.
  358. >Couldn’t forget the fatigue now, could you?
  359. >There was probably more lactic acid than blood in your quads at that point.
  360. >You grit your teeth and leaned forward off of the surface, successfully managing to stand on your own despite feeling as though your muscles might tear themselves from your bones.
  361. >The dragoness raised an eyebrow at you, crossing her arms and tapping a foot impatiently, but otherwise didn’t move to make good on her threat just yet.
  362. >So you were at least somewhat assured that she would keep to her word and let you leave, if you so chose.
  363. >In all other conceivable circumstances, you probably would have made that choice.
  364. >But, well…
  365. >A light dripping noise caught your attention, and your eyes were drawn downwards to the dragoness’ feet.
  366. >More accurately, at the steaming pool of indigo liquid that was rapidly forming around them.
  367. >Even after cauterizing herself for nearly five minutes straight, she still seemed to be losing an almost comical amount of blood by the second.
  368. >You scanned the cave floor, and indeed, everywhere she’d stayed still for more than a couple seconds was stained with smears and pools of a shared dark blue hue.
  369. >Just what in the deepest depths of Tartarus had she been tangling with?
  370. ‘She’s weakened.’
  371. >An intrusive thought in the back of your head pointed out.
  372. ‘Heavily weakened. There’s not an animal on the planet that can bleed that much and keep on fighting for very long. That little show of force probably cost her the last dregs of her energy.’’
  373. >You took a good look at her again, a grim shiver working its way up your spine as you picked out every individual tear in her hide.
  374. >Or you would have, anyway, if there weren’t too many to practically count from a distance.
  375. ‘She’s acting tough, but she’s gotta be hurting. There’s no way she would’ve given me so much breathing room or a way out if she wasn’t. Gotta be conserving her energy.’
  376. >”Oi. Staring’s impolite, you know.”
  377. >The dragoness snapped her fingers a few times, breaking you from your thoughts.
  378. >She gave a huff of exasperation and rested her hands on her hips.
  379. >”I’m losing my patience, here. It’s a simple choice: are you gonna scram, or are you gonna make me rip your heart out of your chest?”
  380. >You clenched and unclenched your hands a few times, thinking back once again to your ascent.
  381. >Every single movement of your hands and feet had carried with it a hefty risk of death, every slight shift in your handhold had potentially spelled the end.
  382. >Was facing down a monster set on killing you really any different?
  383. >You straightened your back out and experimentally tapped your abdomen a few times.
  384. >The pain from the punch was abating, and your residual concussion was clearing..
  385. >Soreness and exhaustion were issues, but you were reasonably certain adrenaline would make up for them.
  386. >From there on in, so you thought, the disparity in strength would only decrease as she lost more and more blood.
  387. >You sighed, gazing up pensively at the ceiling for a few seconds.
  388. >The mercilessness of what you were planning made your stomach turn, and for a brief moment, you considered just taking her up on her offer.
  389. >There would be other days, other scores.
  390. >The smart thing to do would be to give it up and wash your hands of the whole thing.
  391. >Your eyes dropped back to the shimmering ruby scepter jutting up from the center of the cave one more time.
  392. >If you were smart, you would never have been where you were at that moment in the first place.
  393. >So what was the harm in going all-in on stupidity?
  394. “Sure, yeah, no problem. I’m more than happy to get out of your, uh, spines.”
  395. >You pointed to the scepter, smiling with mock friendliness.
  396. “I’ll just take that lovely centerpiece there and be right on my way, thanks.”
  397. >Stunned silence and pinprick pupils were the order of the moment as she stared at you, making a futile effort to search your expression for any genuineness at all.
  398. >You took the opportunity to commit her worst injuries to memory, visualizing them in reference to your own body.
  399. >Targets.
  400. >The dragoness broke her stillness with a grin, pupils dilating immensely, and ended her protracted silence with a light giggle.
  401. >The giggle developed into a full-blown laughing fit, which was amplified as it bounced around the cave.
  402. >Finding it somewhat contagious, you also cracked a smile, eventually breaking into a round of manic laughter yourself.
  403. >The combined mirth echoed around you both at a booming volume for several minutes before winding back down into intermittent chuckling, a few hiccups wracking your frame as she wiped a tear from her eye.
  404. >”You’re pretty audacious for a worm, seriously. I’ll grant you that much.”
  405. >She let out a sigh of satisfaction, sinking into a low stance in concert with the breath leaving her body.
  406. >Taking the cue, you entered your own martial pose, though it was more of an amateurish imitation than anything else.
  407. >While you wiped the grin from your face in favor of a more neutral expression, a toothy smirk showing yellowish fangs remained transfixed on the dragoness’.
  408. >”I changed my mind, I don’t think I’ll feel bad about this at all.”

Dancing in the Sun

by LmonE6

"Enter" the Dragon

by LmonE6

Dashing Tiger, Rainbow Dragon

by LmonE6

Crimson-Tinged Sun

by LmonE6

Hallmark Dream-a (One-Shot)

by LmonE6