Centuries ago, the town of Vistoller was nearly destroyed by dragons, until the townspeople realized that the attacks ceased once a young maiden was swept away by the creatures. Since then, every year, on the cusp of the autumn moon, a virgin is prepared for the dragon's arrival, to ensure another bountiful season without retaliation.
Except this year, the creature has no idea what it's being offered when it's presented with Ilisi. Neither does Ilisi know what to expect when the creature takes her away.
They’re both in for the surprise of their lives.
Closer and closer the dragon approached. Its immense wings seemed to fill the sky as the creature loomed closer. Before too long, it blocked out the sun entirely, and Ilisi could finally look at the enormous monster as it dipped and turned to circle the site.
It didn't spout flames from its mouth, but she knew it could. And it would, if no sacrifice had been offered. It would have destroyed the whole town with a few simple passes, and no arrows or swords could touch it while it swooped overhead.
The dragon reached out with huge talons and grasped the edges of the old castle wall that used to sit on top of the hill. It was here where Vistoller had met its match centuries ago when the first dragons appeared. It was here at the castle's remains where the yearly sacrifice was offered. Where the dragons would land and claim their victims.
It was a powerful and terrifying-looking behemoth. Black scales covered it from head to tail, including the spread wings. Two massive horns curved upward from its forehead, giving the creature a distinctive, evil appearance.
The monster turned its long black snout from one side to the other as it stared long and hard at her. Oddly, Ilisi felt no fear. Only resignation.
Until she suddenly remembered something she'd heard last year.
"Hey. Aren't you supposed to be green? You were green last year."
The dragon gave a throaty huff, then reached out with one claw, snagging the chain holding her left arm. For the first time, Ilisi cringed, believing the creature was about to disembowel her. Or worse, rip her to pieces as it attempted to remove her from the cuffs. To her surprise, the monster snapped the chain, then did the same for the iron links holding her other arm. She was about comment about the release when the clawed foot grabbed her around the waist, and the dragon launched itself into the air, carrying her with it.
Although the claw was scaly, the foot was warm. With her arms freed, she folded them against herself and tried to brave the cold air by snuggling into the dragon's grasp. Her crown of flowers had flown away. Her hair whipped her face and shoulders, and she tucked the ends under her arms.
Below she could make out the tiny figures climbing to the top of the hill to make certain she'd been taken. Maybe they were surprised by the lack of screams. From what gossip she'd heard over the years, the women always screamed when the dragon arrived. Sometimes blood was found smeared on the walls, or droplets discovered on the ground. But there was never a body. Not even body parts. It was as if the dragon devoured the offering whole.
Now she knew better. The creature didn't eat its victim at the site. It flew away with it to return it to a nest or some such place it called home where it could eat her at its leisure.
They flew over more hills, across a vast lake, and soon approached a range of mountains she'd never knew existed. Mountains so high, their tops were covered in snow and clouds. Up here the air was almost brutally cold, but the dragon didn't seem affected. In fact, after it had noticed her trying to bury herself within its grasp, it seemed to understand why, and closed its other foot around her.
The monster flew between the mountain tops, over a deep orange gorge, then across what appeared to be a lush plateau covered in trees. In the far distance she would swear she saw the sparkle of sunlight on water, perhaps from a larger lake or perhaps an ocean. She never got the chance to be certain. The dragon banked to the left and began its descent toward another pair of tall peaks. Flying between them, it began to descend more rapidly into what looked like a lake of clouds.
The wind rushed upward as the dragon dropped through the white puffs, until they suddenly cleared them. Ilisi stared in shock at the sight below. They were inside of what looked like a ring of mountains, where the steep slopes were covered with buildings. Castles upon castles jutted outward from the rock. Turrets sprouted upward like carrot tops all over the mountain sides. And between them flew dozens of dragons. Dragons of all shapes and sizes and colors.
The creature holding her dropped even further, until it leveled off and headed directly for what appeared to be a wide balcony. Huge doors were open and waiting, leading into the sheer face of the mountain.
Letting her go with one foot, it landed on the wide banister encircling the balcony. Then it released her with the other foot. Ilisi stumbled and fell on the marble-like flooring while the monster remained sitting there, watching her.
Seeing that the dragon wasn't about to pounce on her any time soon and eat her, she managed to get to her feet. Behind her, the huge doors led into what appeared to be a bedroom. A strange idea came to her, and she turned around to face the immense black creature.
"What are you? Some kind of pet? Were you sent by whoever lives here to fetch me?"
The dragon tilted its ears forward but made no other movement.
"Where are the rest of the girls you've taken? Did you bring them here, too? Are they inside somewhere? Do they know I'm coming?"
She took a step backwards, closer to the doors. The dragon made no move to stop her.
"Who lives here? Are they expecting me? Hello!" She turned to face the bedroom. "Helloooo! Is anybody here? Hell—"
"You talk too much."
The sound of a human voice at her back shocked her, and she whirled around. The black dragon was gone, but where it had been stood a tall, gangly man with jet black hair.
A tall, gangly, naked man.
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