Betty was this year’s dragon bait. There was a lottery and she got picked.
How about that?
“No!” she cried out when they called her name. “I’m not crunchy, this wont work.”
The others simply pushed her outside and threw the staff at her feet. “What’s this?” she asked, as they were shutting the gates behind her, ready to barricade them.
The cleric hesitated, looked around. He was a young guy, and he kept staring at Betty’s legs. He leaned in and whispered, “Use the staff at the right moment. It’s the only way to survive.”
Then he slammed the gate to her face and they brought a frickin’ tree trunk down on the other side, Betty saw them getting ready to drop it. There would be no opening that door, at least not anytime soon. They were sturdy, at least four times Betty’s height and reinforced with steel and enchantments. It was meant to keep the people inside safe from dragons, and up until five seconds ago, Betty was included in that category.
She grabbed the staff, it hummed with power. Yeah, a magic weapon, this was fine, she guessed. “If only you’d teach me how to actually use it!” she snapped back at the gates.
There was no reply.
Her shoulders slumped. She had never felt so alone her entire life. However, the fact that she wouldn’t be alone for too long was her whole problem right now.
She looked around the cliffs. They were far away, extending to the west. To the east, was the abandoned temple. She didn’t want to go in there, she had no idea what she might encounter. So she went straight, along the river. The water had carved the rock and there was protection there, she could hide along the walls of the rock and perhaps avoid the dragon’s teeth.
She splashed on the riverside, kicking water around. Who was she kidding? Everybody knew that the dragon had perfect scent, he could smell her long after she had walked the path, he could hear hear kilometres away, he could grab her from any hiding place.
And there she was, armed with nothing more than a stupid glowing staff.
And to top it all off, they had dressed her, no, that was the wrong word, undressed her with some skimpy clothes that barely covered any skin. Sure, she had her gloves with long sleeves and her high boots, no problem there. But she was butt-naked with just panties and a top, having practically no armour and protection. What was up with that business?
She heard a roar from somewhere far, but her heart skipped a beat nonetheless.
It didn’t matter that the dragon was far away. He could flap his wings and be on top of her in a few minutes. Betty threw herself between two rocks and forced herself to stay silent. Her heart wanted to break out of the confines of her chest, and she was suddenly very, very hot.
She gulped, waited a while. Then she meekly stepped out of the bush and started walking again, craning her neck. Trying to look for something that might swoop in behind you from the air and snatch you up is really tiresome. It’s as if humans weren’t meant to survive in this dragon-and-mouse game.
She used the stupid staff to help her up and move forward. The terrain was rough, this wasn’t a well-travelled path. She was certain that using the usual roads was a surefire way to become a snack.
And she didn’t wanna become a snack. She might be bait, sure, but she didn’t wanna become a snack.
The staff suddenly lit up, its end illuminating with a bluish colour.
What. The. Dragonfuck?
Betty had a second to look behind her, and sure enough, the dragon was incoming. She could see the ginormous maw opening up, his wingspan that took you a minute to walk across, and his sharp claws on powerful, scaly arms.
Betty started running away. The dragon swooped in, she fell to the side. The terrain helped her as she expected, the narrow passage was not a good place for a fly-by.
But the dragon flapped his wings, Betty felt the rush of wind in his downstream. The trees shook, the water slashed, she almost tripped over by the sudden blast of air.
She pushed herself on the staff and started running again. This terrain might be protecting her from fly-bys, but the dragon was not stupid. It was a very, very intelligent creature, one that demanded that the clergy sent out a young woman every year so he could chase her down and eat her.
And this year, Betty drew the shortest straw.
Okay, it was a black stone, but it’s the same thing.
The charred stone was collected from the spot where an earlier bait had become a lunch-break. For some reason the dragon didn’t use his fire breath too often, the clerics theorised that he either saved it up, or that he had little fuel for that devastating attack. It wasn’t a myth though, they had seen it scorch entire villages in a single exhale.
Betty started crying, running for her life, her tears streaking backwards from her velocity. Why was this happening to her? She was still young, she had hopes and dreams, dammit!
She didn’t know what they were exactly, but she wanted some more time to figure them out.
She felt the ground shake and turned around to see the dragon land on the rock. He fell with a crack, breaking the rock, and pushed his enormous body upwards, clawing the ground in large gashes.
Betty simply turned around and ran for her life, exiting the riverside. The dragon chased after her.
She unconsciously headed somewhere, and it took her more than two minutes of frantic, flat-out running in a straight line for her to realise she was heading for the ruined temple. In her panic, the building felt like something that could shield her from the angry lizard with the rude attitude.
She dashed towards the temple. She noticed that it still stood, and the entrance was rather narrow. There was no way the dragon could fit in there. Could he break the ceiling? Could he breathe fire and cook her inside?
But what else could she do?
Betty the dragon bait ran through the large entrance. It was large for a human, tiny for a dragon. She ran and ran, the temple was dark inside. Her eyes couldn’t adjust from the brightness outside, not in time, and she simply hurried to get further inside, perhaps find something to hide under.
She looked back, saw the dragon slide sideways from the immense speed he had achieved, his claws throwing up dirt and rocks as he braked himself.
Betty kept running and then froze, stopping herself, her boots sliding on the marble floor.
There was a chasm. A large hole, completely dark before her.
Her momentum brought her to the very edge, she kicked the rocks and they fell down. There was no noise, no splash, nothing yet.
She turned around, cornered. She held the staff before her, brandishing it like a weapon, pretending to look like she knew what she was doing. It might give the dragon pause.
The temple was actually pretty. It had marble columns, ancient ones, with intricate carvings on the top and straight lines along their length. This place was pretty, and they all had to abandon it, it wasn’t safe because of the dragon. Instead, they had to huddle inside the walls, piled up on top of each other, with diseases that needed to be healed by the clerics every single day to avoid contagion, blessing the water so that they could drink it, with scarce food and literally no place to stretch your legs.
It was her whole life.
Actually, she realised this was the farthest she had ever been from the walls in her life.
Her seeming short life, but an achievement nonetheless. Betty took the wins as they came.
The dragon pushed his head inside the entrance.
Betty felt her chest lighter, she breathed better despite the stanky air in here, she thought that the dragon couldn’t get inside.
But then the damn lizard crouched down and squeezed in, pushing the entire construction. Debris fell, the entire temple shook like there was an earthquake, dirt fell from the ceiling and the dragon crept closer and closer.
Betty’s shoulders slumped.
She was dragon food, she could see it now. The damn lizard could actually fit in there. She looked around, her eyes panicky. There must be something she could do. Something.
She stared into the abyss.
Perhaps that was a better option than getting stuck between the dragon’s teeth.
The said teeth broke a column, snapping it in half and made way for the rest of the body to fit through. He covered the incoming sun, throwing the temple into darkness.
And in the darkness, a single blue light, the tip of her staff.
It only lit up when he was close.
The dragon coiled its body and darted forward, lunging at her.
It all happened in slow motion.
She jumped in the air, throwing herself into the dark chasm.
The dragon opened his jaws, saliva dripping from his enormous teeth.
He reached out with his claw to slash her leg, and extended his neck to snatch her staff.
Betty knew just then what she needed to do.
The dragon was going for the staff. Even as she fell to her death, on the high point of her jumping arc, she focused her mind on the staff. The magic items made by the clerics were easy to use, you just held them and prayed for them to work, literally.
Betty prayed, she prayed harder than anything before in her entire, short life.
The staff glowed, and she felt tipsy. Just like after taking a swig of the secret ale, stolen from Brother Ike.
She saw the world a different way just then.
She was a lizard, big and strong. Her wings were uncomfortable, tightly wrapped around her body. She was opening her mouth, and her jaw snapped shut, grabbing just air.
The little girl in front of her plunged into the darkness.
Vanished in an instant.
She stopped her momentum, digging lines with her claws on the marble.
She barely stopped over the edge. Her body was bulky and she basically wrapped her wings on the protruding ledge, finally having some space to spread them.
She finally came to a stop and looked around.
The temple was still shaking, the columns breaking and ready to collapse. The girl with the staff was gone into the dark.
No, not the girl. They had swapped places, she was certain. The dragon bait was the dragon now and the dragon was the girl. She was certain.
She stood up on her powerful legs. It felt amazing.
She had done it! Woohoo! She had survived, the stupid staff had worked, and she was now the dragon. Was this permanent? Oh no… She liked her body, she had lots of fun with it. You might say she was kinda attached to it.
As she thought about it, she felt herself shrink.
It all became a blur of magic and scaly things going inside her orifices, that was not a good feeling.
And then there she was, standing, Betty the dragon bait. No staff.
Betty swaggered out of the temple. There was a loud crack and it began to collapse behind her.
She didn’t feel scared anymore. She knew she was tough now. She knew she could transform, she could fly, she could breathe fire.
Oh yeah, she was giddy about using that one sometime soon.
Betty walked out of the temple’s entrance, her hair blowing forward by the gust of the collapsing columns.
Her mind though, her mind… Her very thoughts, they ran different.
For starters, she really wanted to eat a young woman.
Now, where would she find one around these parts?