This is the third part of a story that I am going to continure, from here on out, on my Fiction Press account. You can follow it here, if you’re interested:
The captive of the crying castle put on a brave face.
His interactions with the dragon had been few and far between, thus far. And always very…tense. The creature would peer in through the window whenever it felt like it, murmuring disquieting things that were a bit like a psychopath’s sweet nothings… And then when he, the prisoner, attempted to ask it questions, the beast would ignore him entirely. Or laugh. Or tell him what a pretty treasure he was.
Because the creature was terrifying. The dragon was large enough that it could bite him in half if it wanted, with its gigantic jaw and long, sharp teeth. And…could it breathe fire? Probably, the captive recalled that as being true, about dragons…though he’d never actually witnessed one doing it. For good reason, too. Very few people lived to tell the tale of having seen a dragon breathe fire in person.
Though the captive supposed that he was in no immediate danger of being eaten or incinerated by this dragon in particular. That would defeat the purpose of having kidnapped him, if it were to just kill him in his tower.
…Somehow, this fact was of little comfort to the prisoner.
The soft sounds of the dragon’s talons against the stones was getting louder. The captive took a deep breath, forcing himself into a calm that he did not actually feel.
He should have expected that greeting, but no matter how many times he heard it, the dragon’s rumbling voice never failed to make him shudder. Its eye appeared in the window a moment later—a scarlet iris with a slit, black pupil.
The prisoner focused his attention just above the window. He didn’t want to get lost in that stare and be lulled into some unnatural, hazy trance.
He cleared his throat, blushing. That probably was not the most impressive way to begin a conversation with a dragon. Then again, he thought, there really was no formal etiquette for this kind of situation. Most human-dragon interactions probably involved a lot more screaming and running than anything else.
The creature said nothing to his single, muttered word, only stared. The captive continued to look somewhere directly above the window. “Has anyone come looking for me? …While I’ve been asleep, I mean. To try and save me.” The dragon’s eye narrowed. It pulled its head away to fully gaze at him, seemingly wary. “Unless you made that up,” the captive went on, shrugging. “And I’m not anyone special, after all. A pretty lame treasure, if that’s the case.”
There was a long pause in which the creature merely analyzed him. The prisoner resolutely did not make eye contact.
“…Yes,” the dragon finally answered.
“Really!?” the prisoner yelped, but then quickly shook his head and composed himself. “I mean…just one person, huh? That’s not so impressive.”
“Three people,” the monster elaborated. It grinned crookedly before adding, quite smugly, “…knights.”
“Y-yeah?” The captive tried not to sound affected by that. So there seriously were knights in shining armor trying to save him… Or there had been at some point, at least.
“How long ago was that?” he inquired lightly.
“Over a year ago.”
The captive’s face drained of color. He swallowed thickly before forcing himself to ask the question he really didn’t want to put into words. “And…and what did you do to them?”
“I burned them.”
Well, that shouldn’t have been a surprising answer, but the captive still felt nauseous. The beast laughed, a deep and gravelly sound.
“I…guess that makes you a very powerful dragon, then,” the prisoner said, cautious with his flattery.
It worked better than he thought it would. The creature’s reptilian grin widened, and its low voice was a satisfied purr when it spoke next. “Yes,” it agreed, preening. “I am the most powerful being in the world. The largest and strongest of my siblings… I have never lost a treasure.”
“Siblings?” the captive asked, genuinely distracted and curious. “I didn’t think dragons had siblings. You’re not born from other dragons, are you?”
He was fairly certain he already knew the answer, some odd recollection that was not tied to a specific person or place, but the creature explained, anyway. “No. Dragons are immortal. We do not mate and reproduce like lesser creatures… We are born from the land. The center of the world breathes its fire and life into us, and when the Mother Earth decides the world should be graced with another dragon, it pushes us to the surface. We are born in a cascade of fire from a mountain top, painting the landscape with our lava and brimstone…”
The prisoner gaped. He couldn’t help but be a bit caught up in its words; this was easily the most the dragon had ever said to him.
He also couldn’t help but let his attention flicker to the monster’s red, glowing gaze. It really was quite lovely, wasn’t it? With its shiny scales and those bright, mesmerizing eyes…
The captive gasped, snapping his eyes shut. “Stop that!” he yelled. “Quit doing that, that creepy, entrancing thing with your eyes. You’ve already got me here, in your tower, haven’t you? There’s no need to…to subdue me any more than you already have.”
The dragon laughed, promising nothing.
“Unless…there is a reason to subdue me,” the prisoner continued. His tone was hedged, as he knew he could, potentially, be treading into dangerous territory with these words. “Unless I really am some kind of God…and you’re afraid of me.”
“I am afraid of nothing!”
The reaction was instant and vicious. The captive recoiled at the furious snarl, retreating towards the back of his small room in the tower until his back was flush against the sticky, weeping walls. The dragon’s eyes, which had been alight with a gentle, soothing glow moments before, were suddenly a fierce, bloody red. “You were taken by me! You are mine, now!”
“O-o-okay,” the captive stammered. His heart raced in his chest under the monster’s glare, which was definitely not trying to make him feel safe or calm, now. He put his hands up defensively, where they visibly trembled. “I-I’m sorry, I j-just… I don’t know, how great a-and powerful you are, what you did when you t-took me, because I d-don’t remember.” He took a few quick, shaky breaths. The dragon’s glower softened slightly at his prisoner’s obvious terror and small compliment, so he quickly went on. “I have no idea how cunning and destructive you were, or even why it would b-be impressive, to have caught me… You made me forget all of that.”
There was a long stretch of silence as the dragon contemplated this. Its eyes darted over its captive’s trembling body, and it was clearly pleased at how frightened he was. Its smug expression returned, though its eyes remained the same threatening, bloody hue. “I melted gold and reduced walls of stone to ashes for you,” it said proudly. “They tried to hide you, under the jade floors… But I found you…”
The prisoner shuddered. “Why me?” he gasped. It was a question he had tried asking the dragon before, of course, but never in such a terrified whisper. People had tried to hide him, people who must have cared for him…
People who were surely dead, now…
The dragon’s intense stare lightened, becoming deceptive and alluring once more. The prisoner was too shaken to think to look away in time. He felt suddenly lost in it, entranced, and his muscles relaxed… He stopped shaking, and why was it, exactly, that he had been afraid? This creature was so beautiful, so kind… It would never hurt him…
“Because they cherished you…” the dragon crooned. “Because they called you Lord, because they worshipped you…”
“I… They did?” the captive breathed. His body had begun to feel very heavy, and he knew it, in the far recesses of his mind, that he was being forced into slumber again. He desperately tried to resist. “But…why?”
“Because you were their master, their God…” it said. “And now you are mine, beautiful treasure.”
“Stop, please,” he said, his limbs growing heavier by the second. “I don’t want…”
The dragon chuckled in amusement at the captive’s feeble attempts to remain standing. He sunk to the floor, racking his brains as he tried to think of what he could say that would stop the dragon from putting him back to sleep again. Begging had never worked before…
So he tried a new, potentially very stupid tactic.
The dragon’s eyes widened, and the prisoner swiftly continued before he lost his nerve. “I bet you’re not very powerful, that it’s all you can do to keep me in here. And that’s why you keep making me sleep.”
The dragon’s glare returned with a swift vengeance. The drowsiness dissipated entirely, and the rush of adrenaline that exploded in the captive’s veins made him instantly lucid. “I am more powerful than you could ever comprehend, human!” it snarled, dragging its talons along the outside of the bricks and making a horrible scraping sound reverberate in the cell. The hostage jumped to his feet and stood in the middle of the room, feeling surrounded. “I am an indestructible force, I am fire incarnate! I could incinerate an entire kingdom in a single breath!”
Then, to the captive’s utter terror yet undeniable fascination, the dragon reared its head back, roaring as it turned to look away from the tower, and—
The fire that it exhaled was horrible, magnificent. Ferociously glorious.
Even though it was pointed in the opposite direction, the heat wave made the air feel suddenly warmer than the hottest summer day. A steady stream of flames in violet and indigo shot across the colorless sky, an impossible conflagration that surely would have put the stars and moon to shame, had it been night.
It lasted only a moment, but witnessing a dragon breathing fire and crying out towards the heavens had him dumbstruck. When the creature fixed its murderous gaze on him again, he felt too numb with awe to be properly afraid.
“That was incredible.” The words rushed out of the prisoner’s mouth, reverent and whispered. And though they’d been spoken without any thoughtful intent, they had a very welcome effect.
The dragon blinked once, surprised at the unexpected compliment, but then its vicious demeanor vanished. It was preening again, looking very self-satisfied at how impressed its prisoner was at such a display of power. “That was nothing,” it said. “I could fill the entire sky with my flames, if I wanted.”
The captive swallowed audibly at that, equal parts amazed and, now, frightened. Which must have been the epitome of everything the dragon liked to see in its hostage, for it smiled crookedly. The prisoner decided to go with it—anything to avoid falling asleep for another long stretch of time. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said, his voice shaking slightly. “I’ve never seen a dragon breathe fire or… Or fly,” he added suddenly, as an idea came to him. He craned his neck in an obvious attempt to see the beast’s body better, though the window was so small that this was difficult.
To his pleasant surprise, the dragon actually shifted when it saw that it was being examined. It moved so that more of its long, shimming body was exposed through the opening in the castle wall. The prisoner hardly stopped himself from smirking. This really was a very proud, vain creature. “You are so beautiful,” he gushed, and though it felt strange to call a murderous monster this, the dragon obviously enjoyed the attention. “Your scales are stunning, like obsidian gems. I imagine that it must be such a magical sight, to see your wings stretched wide, soaring through the air…”
But although the dragon clearly relished his flattery, it was not stupid. “Cunning human,” it said. “I will not leave this tower, just to grace you with the vision of my magnificent flight. I am staying right here, curled around my fortress and protecting you…my beautiful prize.”
The captive masked his feeling of disappointment. Well, he thought, it had been worth a shot. “I w-wasn’t thinking about that,” he lied, regardless. “But…you just called me human.”
The dragon’s gaze narrowed, and the prisoner jumped, suddenly remembering not to look directly into its eyes. “You called me a human,” the hostage repeated. Which was, of course, what he knew he was, he had to be, but…
“I thought you said I was a God.”
“…Yes,” the dragon answered vaguely.
“So, which is it then? Am I a man, or a God?”
“You were…many things.”
“Ah. Well. That clears that up, then,” the captive muttered sarcastically.
The dragon hissed wordlessly in response; a chilling, warning sound. The prisoner’s eyes snapped up to the beast’s at the noise despite himself. “…Dragons do not often covet humans, you know. I now see why. Treasures should not be able to talk.”
And then those scarlet eyes darkened, glowing gently. The captive nearly swayed as the drowsiness washed over him, much stronger than before.
“Wait, wait,” he gasped, though his knees had already buckled. “I…want to know… Please, tell me my name.”
The weight of sleep lessened slightly. The dragon looked confused at the request. “My name,” the prisoner quickly went on. “A God, a man, whatever… What’s my name? Who am I?”
The dragon tilted its head to one side, appearing genuinely thoughtful…but then it laughed again. “You no longer need a name,” it said. “You are my treasure now. And that is all you ever will be, forever. Mine.”
“Aw, come on,” the prisoner groaned. “What harm is there in my knowing my name? It’s not like there’s anyone I can tell…” He gestured around to the bleeding walls, frowning.
“Precisely,” the dragon agreed. “You have no one to talk to, and therefore no need of something as useless as a name.”
“I take it that you don’t have a name either, then.”
“I have a name,” the dragon responded casually. “I was born with three others…and so we have names for each other.”
The prisoner’s brows shot up at that, incredulous. “Well what is it, then? I mean, if you’re planning on keeping me here for all of time, we should at least be on a first name basis, don’t you think?”
“No,” the monster answered. “For there will be no more discussions between you and I, my precious prize.”
The exhaustion began to crash over him again. The hostage shook his head, trying to fight it off. “But…but don’t you get lonely?” he said. “Making me sleep seems like…like a wasted opportunity to…” he paused, unable to stifle a long yawn, but he persisted afterwards. “To have someone witness your power, and your beauty… Such a tragedy, to be alone, down there…”
The dragon’s gaze, which was pulsating with such a mesmerizing warmth, flickered. For a split second, the prisoner thought that maybe it would work, that maybe the monster would allow him to remain awake…but then his eyelids became far too heavy to keep open, and his muscles relaxed against his will, making him slump forward and fall to the floor completely.
“Don’t… Wait…” he gasped, reaching forward with the last of his swiftly vanishing strength. But he could sense the presence of the dragon there, peering in through the window with its enthralling gaze still fixed on him as he drifted off to sleep…
“…Gold,” the beast murmured, its voice deep and quiet. The captive clung to the sound, even as the darkness rose up to consume him.
“Your name is Gold.”