(IP) The Noble Attempt
When the dragon laughed, it was like the flames of a forest fire, deep and smoky, but dark with warning.
“Did you truly think that you could defeat me? My kind was here before you human weaklings were a twinkling in the universe’s eye. Though I will admit that it’s awfully valiant of you to attempt killing me. What’s the point? I have blood on my claws, that’s true. But I was merely defending my territory. My possessions.”
It stalked forward, laughing at the knight who knelt in the cold, barren earth, one hand twisted around the hilt of his blade, the other holding him up, but just barely. Blood spotted the gray ground that smelled of fire, ashes, and carrion, leaking from him in violent crimson spurts. The pain was such that he was near blind with it, and he didn’t know if he could attempt attacking again.
The cowardly part of him demanded that he back away, that he turn back and go home while most of him was intact. But he wasn’t a coward. He was the oldest son of the kingdom’s most legendary general, and turning away from his duty wasn’t an option. His honor would simply not allow it. He struggled to stand back up, using his sword as best he could.
“If you give up now, I will let you return to whatever hole you crawled out of, you human worm,” The creature crooned, its fiery eyes sparking. The knight was reminded of a cobra; he almost couldn’t see the monster’s pupils, the fire inside of its eyes was so great. He felt as though he were caught in a trap, and the only way to free himself would be to sacrifice something.
Anything for a distraction.
His old childhood fear, not of the dark, nor the ocean, or heights, or strangers stealing into the castle late at night to slay them all, reared its ugly head, and it only amplified when the dragon came face to face with him, twisting its head on its long, scaly neck to get so close.
"There is no need to sacrifice yourself for that corrupt kingdom of yours, whoever you are.“ Its voice was oddly tender, and immediately the knight didn’t trust it. Monsters were known to lie, to say anything to sway a gullible human over to its side. "What would be the point? You deserve to return to your people.”
“You’re just saying that so I won’t try to hurt you again!” The knight snarled in reply, spitting at the massive dragon’s clawed feet. “You don’t know anything about me and mine!”
“You also wouldn’t be the first human that has attempted to best me.” The beast said, sounding almost exasperated. “And you’re injured. Are you certain that you wish to finish this quest?”
“Why are you trying to talk me out of it?” The knight asked, discombobulated by the fact that this bloodthirsty, vicious thing was taking pity on him, trying to send him home.
If he went home without slaying this thing, he would face the wrath of his family, especially his father, as well as the Crown. How could he turn back now? It had taken him days to get here, and it would be an even longer journey back.
“I don’t understand,” He added, his teeth chattering violently. Exactly how much blood had he lost in their first skirmish? His heart was still beating, but more slowly than he’d ever experienced, and his eyes fluttered. Just speaking those three words was too much.
“As I said, I don’t enjoy killing, you foolish human.” The dragon sounded tired, even while it showed off dozens of rows of sharp white teeth. “Especially not a human who seems to be so burdened.”
“So you’re taking pity on me, are you, you big ugly brute? I don’t know whether to thank you or scream in frustration.”
“Would it better, human, if I simply put you out of your misery instead? That way, you wouldn’t have to return home shamed because of what you couldn’t do.”
The knight looked up at the dragon and removed his helmet. Then he nodded, and said very slowly and clearly, “Yes.”