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A hero prepares to slay a dragon—but the dragon has other plans

The hero had not signed up for this.

When she had set out on her quest, sword raised, ready for an adventure, and eyes sparkling with ambition, she’d never predicted that she’d arrive here: standing in a dragon’s lair, facing the beast’s flames.

The hero attempted to draw her sword, but it seemed far too heavy for her to wield, weighted down by the curdling fear in her gut. Still, she lifted her chin and said to the dragon, “Prepare to meet your doom, you vile creature.”

The dragon, who was a beast of great culture and respect, took personal offense to this statement and said, irritated, “I don’t understand why dragons always have to be vile creatures. Tell me, hero, what makes me so evil that you have no other choice but to smite me down?”

Baffled, the hero groped for a reply. “Because, well . . . you’re a dragon. Dragons breathe fire and serve demons and eat people.”

Sigurd Faces Fafnir, the Dragon

The dragon raised an eyebrow. “I breathe flames to cook; I have never seen a demon in my entire life; and I find humans to be quite crunchy, so I’m a vegan. That may be a perfectly fine reason to rid this world of me and my all-plants diet, but my point is, you’re making inaccurate assumptions about dragons.”

The hero’s eyes narrowed. She knew of the tricks dragons played and knew not to be fooled by their words. “Just because you use flames to cook, it doesn’t make them burn any less dangerously. Just because you haven’t seen a demon doesn’t mean you don’t serve them. And you may be vegan, but how would you know what people taste like unless you’ve devoured them before?” She found the strength to lift her sword and raised it, baring it at the dragon. “You, dragon, and all the others like you, have an evil, blackened heart. And so I must vanquish you.”

The dragon sat down, bracing its large head on its arms. Its interest was aroused; no hero had ever talked back to it as fiercely as this one. “So what if my heart is dark? Everyone was born with the same heart beating in their chests. Mine was pure once, and it still can be. Perhaps it is not so different from yours. Is that not enough for you to spare my life?”

The hero’s sword faltered. She hadn’t come on this quest to discuss philosophy with a beast. She hadn’t even come here to slay it. Once again, she hadn’t signed up for this.

But she also hadn’t anywhere else to be, so the hero told the dragon, “Even if you once were good, you have done things so awful that it has turned your heart black, and that is why we are different.” She paused as a thought occurred. “However, people can be open to change. If you apologize for what you have done, if you regret your horrible deeds, maybe I will see that your heart can be pure again and spare your life.”

The dragon tilted its head to the side and looked intently at the hero. “Why should I say sorry for doing what a dragon was made to do? The world didn’t say sorry when it made me like this—when it made me a creature for brave heroes to come and slay because they have nothing better to do.” It smiled an odd, almost sad smile that showed its rows of razored teeth. “If you’re looking for a villain to blame, hero, I suggest blaming the world. It is the cruelest of us all.”

The hero’s sword faltered. She hadn’t come on this quest to discuss philosophy with a beast.

The hero mirrored the dragon’s smile. “I find it easier to fight things I have at least a little control over, dragon.”

“I think,” answered the dragon, “that a true hero does not fight because it’s easy. A true hero fights because she believes in what’s right.”

“Those heroes often find themselves burnt to a crisp by dragons,” the hero—but maybe not so much a hero anymore—said. She sheathed her sword.

“I’m late for supper, dragon; I must be on my way.”

She turned to go and paused. She hadn’t signed up for this, had she? And yet . . . “Maybe I’ll come over tomorrow for tea?”

The dragon, for the first time in a long while, blinked in surprise. And then it laughed, a dry sound that sounded like the crackling of flames. “I would most enjoy that.”