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“I just wish they would leave me alone with my books,” she thought as she trudged through the underground tunnel that led from the sea to her castle. Her back claws clacked on the cobblestones as her front claws crunched through the remains of long-forgotten meals - the bones powdered under her enormous weight. Yet another would-be hero had come to slay her and yet again he had failed. She had been the victor but she had not escaped unscathed. One of her massive wings hung limply to one side trailing behind her, the other was folded carefully against her scaly back. She hadn’t shifted back into her human form because she knew the pain of the broken wing would be almost unbearable in her other form. Humans were such weak creatures. 

 

She had lived for centuries as one of them but she had never grown to understand them. Hers was a life of solitude and learning but the humans’ lives were of blood and fire. Not only were humans physically weak but they were weak of the mind as well. She had never threatened a human life yet they continually threatened hers. She walked amongst them as a raven-haired woman in the light of the sun but at night she soared above them as a crimson beast. She ate only deer and sheep in her winged form and occasionally a wayward cow. As a human, she ate only things that grew from the earth. She had never preyed on men. Images of her strength and beauty were carved crudely into the walls of caves and flew high on royal banners yet she was not loved. Men had seen her human form high in the tower of her castle where she studied the stars and had formed in their minds a story. A story of a imprisoned maiden and an evil dragon - little did they know that their maiden and dragon were one and the same. 

 

She continued her trek to the castle. She knew she would have to shift before entering - the castle was large but the doorways would not accommodate her massive form. She reached the entrance to her home and shook the feathered mane around her neck. She had been dreading this part - she breathed deeply and shifted. 

The pain was excruciating - her vision swam - red blotted her sight. She felt faint. She tapped into the inner strength of her true name and willed herself to stay standing, to keep from fainting. She had endured many injuries at the hands of man. Scars etched her body in both forms. Her crimson scales were snagged and scarred with deep rivulets that flowed over her body like streams down a mountain peak, one of her antler-like horns was broken and stunted, and now one of her majestic wings was maimed. She hoped that the injury was not permanent. Her human arm hung limply at her side as she made her way through the dimly lit corridors of her fortress. She had dedicated her long life to academic pursuits, she was skilled in science, mathematics, and many arts, but medicine largely eluded her. She could make simple tonics and creams for small wounds but she was not sure if she could set her arm so that it would function properly in both forms. It would be better to shift and set her wing but she had no one to help her with the setting. 

She made her way to her study to fetch one of her medical books. She winced as she entered hitting her injured arm on the door frame. Her study was lined from floor to ceiling with books. There were books on any subject imaginable in languages just as numerous. Some of her kind hoarded treasure. She hoarded knowledge. She selected the book she was after from the top of her desk - luckily she had been mixing some creams for her talons and it was already out. She winced at the thought of trying to climb a ladder to retrieve it from its high shelf. As she flipped through the pages of the leather-bound book she absentmindedly scratched her neck. Sometimes she felt an itch in her mane, even in human form. 

As she made her way out of the study she was careful not to strike her arm against the doorframe again. Her workshop and laboratory occupied the deepest depths of her castle - they were the only rooms big enough to accommodate her natural size. She was going to attempt to set her wing - according to the text it was the only way to keep it functional. If she set the bones incorrectly in human form she could lose her flight. That, she could not do...

Far away from the books and learning of the crimson beast’s keep was a youth in dirty rags huddled in the corner of a dirt-floored shack. She shook with cold as her stomach growled with hunger. Her ivory face was smudged with soot and her eyes of luminescent green bore the pain of a thousand years and wisdom far beyond her age. Although she was covered in filth on a dirt floor her beauty shone through. Her hair, the color of golden wheat at sunset, lay in long strands over her face as she slept fitfully in the grime. She dreamed of adventure. She dreamed of treasure. But most of all, she dreamed of warmth. She dreamed of the Dragon’s keep and the raven-haired maiden. She dreamed of the sword and shield of blood and fire. She dreamed of being a hero... 

 

 

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