[Reddit Prompt] You are seen as a weakling. To prove yourself to your tribe, you enter the dragon’s lair that even the hardiest warriors avoid. Amused by your challenge, the dragon takes a human form and duels you with a sword. After disarming you three times, it says, “come tomorrow and try again.”

“No,” I panted through gritted teeth. “I’d rather you killed me now.”

There was a moment of silence, then an older woman’s head appeared over me and obscured my view of the stone ceiling. She raised one thick eyebrow, and the corner of her lips titled down. “It’s not often I invite others–“

“With your reputation, I imagine not,” I interrupted, “but I’d rather you’d kill me now than prolong my humiliation further.”

“Oh? And what sort of reputation do you have, little one?”

Instead of answering right away, I rolled over until I was sitting crosslegged. I bit the inside of my cheek and pulled at my sweat-soaked shirt, eyeing the tears in the fabric and marveling at the fact the dragon woman hadn’t made a single cut on my flesh. Proof she hadn’t just held back during our fight; she had been toying with me.

I probably should feel angry, but I just felt empty. “Worthless,” I whispered.

The old dragon burst into rumbling laughter and dropped onto her butt. She pointed at me with a trembling hand while slapping her knee with the other. “Humans are so dumb.” She wiped a few tears from her face. “What is it you can’t do? Fight? Is that all there is to life?”

I opened my mouth, then shut it. For my tribe, strength in battle was all that mattered. No mattered the gender or the age. And I was at the bottom. I couldn’t fight. My body was too weak and frail. Yet here I was, desperate to prove I could be like the other warriors. I had to prove it, or they’d leave me behind in the next cleansing.

I looked at the dragon woman. Her long messy gray hair stood out in every direction. She did nothing to cover up her bare body, which had a mixture of human-like flesh and dragon scales. Her nails were black, long, and pointed, yet they made no marks as she grabbed my chin. She pulled me forward until we were inches apart, and I could feel the heat of her breath. “Worthless human, hmm? I’ve never met one. Do you think I would be here if humans were so useless?”

I stuttered, “I-I don’t know.”

She smiled then, her reptile eyes glowing, and I felt myself tipping forward into her like falling into a warm bath. I soon found myself standing in the same castle. Only it wasn’t as worn and covered in vines. Before me stood a bloody man glaring up at the walls where the dragon sat.

The man raised his arms and shouted in a language I had never heard until green light surround the land and filled the sky. The next moment chains of light wrapped around the castle and the dragon before the man faded into nothing.

I gasped and stumbled away from the dragon, returning to the present. “Return tomorrow,” she said, “and I’ll teach you what that man knew.”

“So I can free you?”

“No, so you can free yourself.”