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PREFACE: At a table of four, we each had to read aloud our short story. I remember being pretty sore about the girl before me reading through twelve pages of The Beatles bullshit, cutting my own reading short. I only now realize as I upload this that it was mercy.

Digging my blade into its thick and blackened nose, the blue scaled dragon let out an enormous roar of pain, followed by a flap of its wings as it ascended towards the ceiling of the enormous treasure vault--carrying me with it. My grip on the blade fastened with the sudden flight as the dragon, bleeding profusely and yelping intermittently, began thrashing about in the air. With a sudden thrust of its long-spanning wings, both my blade and I found ourselves launched upwards, then downwards. I felt myself go limp as I hit a pile of gold with a sickening thud, cracking my plated armor evenly into two. Thank god I padded it, because, while the shrieking wyvern continued to thrash about, I emerged from my now-desecrated armor relatively unscathed. Immediately turning my attention to my crushed pack, I rummaged around quickly for anything that wasn't destroyed and could prove useful in falling a flying beast.

Grappling hook? In pieces. Hookshot? Destroyed. Boomerang? Cracked in two. Compound bow? Brok-no! I drew my bow from the sack and was astounded by how well it held up. Scooping out some ammunition, I knocked an arrow and aimed for the wild prize: the head of the dreaded monster that had not only wreaked such tremendous havoc upon our kingdom, but furthermore, it had claimed the country's sole princess as its prize. With the euphoria of vengeance and justice, I released my hand and observed the arrow soar through the air and pierce the foul beast through its pitiful skull.

One more final yelp and all sound was shattered within the expanse as the dragon came crashing down onto its collected piles of wealth and treasure. I grabbed my blade and sheathed it, then came to admire my handiwork--the dragon, once capable of immense destruction and chaos, now lay before me limp and gone from this realm. A peculiarity stopped me however--while the life was clearly dissipated from the beast, there appeared to be… tears, tears running down its sides. As I realized my theory was all but confirmed, the corpse before me began hyper-decomposing, stripping the scales, then meat, then bones--until nothing but decay lay before me.

Time to go meet the princess.

With my bow and blade neatly secured behind my back, I ascended the cylinder of stairs lying in the back of the treasure trove, and I found myself face to face with a neatly ornate door. Could this be where the princess was being kept? I continued to wrack my brain as I palmed for the door and pushed it open--coming face to face with the missing beauty of the kingdom.

Her hair was so elegantly braided and expansive. Her necklace, gold and encrusted with a radiant blue crystal, gleamed so brightly. Her dress was so clearly intricately designed--representing not only the master craftsmanship of the kingdom but the exquisite lifestyle the princess had pursued prior to her capture--And yet, she was so clean, so… unharmed--as if she had found a proper way to take care of herself all these months. I stepped forward and dropped to one knee, beckoning her.

"My lady, I have been sent by none other than your Father to come and rescue you from the clutches of the now slain beast in this treacherous fortress."

Twirling her finger in her long and flowing hair, she smiled brightly towards me.

"You have served our kingdom well, brave knight. I've baked you a bountiful cake--please, let us eat so we may not come to my castle--our new home--hungry and unsatisfied."

If there were a smile on my face, it was gone now, as I realized that my theory had begun to manifest itself as truth all the more. I stood up off the ground and gestured towards the door.

"Ma'am, we should really go--Your father is as sick and worried for you as the rest of the kingdom is, if not more"

"Nonsense, what is but a few moments longer? Let us dine as one, sir knight," She responded.

Resting my palm on my sheath, I inched forward and spoke firmly. "I'm not eating the cake. Let's go."

"Please, I worked very hard on this. It's the least I can do for your daring rescue. Why won't you please just eat?" She queried. That was the final confirmation I needed to proceed in what would be a risky gambit with a dangerous payoff.

Drawing my blade and directing it towards her, leaving just a few inches between the tip and her chain, I beckoned her with a question of my own amid her sudden gasp.

"Why don't you explain some things to me, princess? For a dear friend of mine also came to rescue you--as have dozens of other good and fine men, and some brave women, too. But my friend in particular--he slayed the same dragon I also did. So then, how could we have both killed such a beast?"

Stammering, the princess quickly responded, "It-it has regenerative powers, of course. How else could it come back, right? Now why don't we just eat the-"

Cutting her off, I continued my diatribe, "That's funny, because you surely would have had enough time to escape the castle--after all, the dragon's nowhere to be seen right now. You could easily run right this very moment."

"Y-yes, but--"

"Furthermore, my dear friend observed something quite peculiar."

"Oh?" The princess was in clear distress at this point.

"Oh indeed, for before ascending the same stairway spiral that I did, he ventured through another path and spied into your window--watching you bake a cake so cheery--so happy."

"H-happy to be saved, of cour-"

"And he watched you slip something foul into the contents of the cake pan."

Silence permeated the room with a thickness that even a knife meant for slicing cake could not cut. The princess's eyes darted around as she bit her lip, attempting to find any sort of words to speak. I continued to hold my blade forward, ready for her next sentence.

"... Oh, why are you being such a baby about this?! Everyone else eats the cake!"

Her feet slowly levitating off the ground, the princess dropped the cake from her hands and spread her arms wide.

"Of course, there are always knights who are too stubborn or, perhaps, too inquisitive for their own good. Indeed, that dragon you slayed will simply come back--bait, to bring in fresh fish such as yourself," she revealed.

"To what end? Who are you?" I demanded.

Her eyes fluttered as the princess pressed her hands onto her necklace, careful not to graze the bountiful blue in the center. She started, "A simple reversal. I am the dragon, she is the princess. Now, we swap! I am the princess, and she is the stupid beast now! And I can keep my human form, so long as I have victims to feed on--victims such as yourself. Whenever our little "princess" falls in combat, I need only rub this precious medallion of hers to… raise her from the dead, once more."

I grit my teeth and readied my blade.

"And here's another fun fact for you, brave knight. She may have no control over what physical manifestation she assumes… but I do."

The ceiling exploded with the sheer and sudden mass that occupied the bedroom, for in the princess's place was now a fierce, red scaled dragon. With a startling roar, she gunned straight for me. Rolling out of the way, I still took a deep scratch along my arm, drawing blood in the process. She was fast.

Snapping her enormous head towards mine, the dragon once again dove at my position. This time, I raised my blade in an effort to block and, furthermore, parry against the beast, but found myself useless in holding off the sudden claws that dug into both me and my blade, shattering it into pieces and leaving me even messier. Resting her enormous dragon form onto the destroyed rubble of the wall, she cackled a disgusting amalgamation of beast and human. As she laughed, I observed the golden necklace still diligently hanging around her scaled neck.

Once again she rose to the air and prepared herself for a dive, but I too prepared myself for retaliation. As she descended, ripping through the air with the speed of a thousand tidal waves crashing onto an unsuspecting shore, I knocked an arrow and released--but instead of aiming for her head, I pierced her necklace, obviously damaging it as the dragon let out a piercing cry. The dragon's eyes grew more threatening, and I drew another arrow from behind my back.

More rolling. More dashing. More escaping. She dove for me and I dove away from her. Never could I escape an attack without damage to myself, but I endured, continued to find spaces between battle to fire arrow after arrow. As I steadied myself while blood and sweat freed itself from my visage, I aimed one final arrow for one final flight, just as the treacherous dragon readied itself for one final fight as well.

Ringing in my ears deafened the fight as I heard only the air shredding words of an arrow leaving my bow. It arched, and the world stood still to observe its flight. The dragon roared, fire in her eyes and fire in her breath, as she descended towards me. Then--pain.

The dragon crashed and collapsed inches before me as my arrow found its target, shattering the blue crystal found within the faux princess's necklace. I limped towards the moaning and pitiful dragon.

"It's over." I grumbled.

"Why couldn't you just… eat the cake. Why must humans be… so difficult." the dragon croaked. Then, she was gone, with the light of her eyes dissipated.

Breathing heavily, I dropped my bow and felt along a wall until I found a good place to collapse--and then I did just that. Resting my back against the wall, I felt along my body and watched as my hand grew redder with every touch. My head fell back against the wall too, allowing me full view of the destroyed bedroom and the disintegrating corpse of the dragon.

Silence was present once more until the sound of footsteps grew towards the door until I watched it fling open. A woman with beautifully long and elegant hair stepped forward, her dress a masterpiece, her step a graceful one. Slowly, she inched towards the vanishing dragon corpse and felt her gentle hand among the ground, feeling the bits of a shattered necklace. Then, her face moved to meet mine, and she hurried over to kneel and take my hand. Her visage was full of worry. I merely smiled and lowered my eyelids.