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Once Upon A Time

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“Many years ago, there was the Kingdom of Gold. With its palace glittering brighter than the sun, its walls higher than the trees, and its guards glowering like wolves.”

The streets were as always covered in dust, far too crowded to walk through without bumping into a dozen or more people and dirtying any clothes you were wearing. The water from the well darker than dirt and the food scarce. Everything seemed to go to the palace. It was just a way of life that no one could fight less they be taken overnight and away with forevermore.

You lifted your head to the gleaming castle walls, trimmings of silver and gold, the coins of the people taken and melted down for decoration. With a sigh you lowered your head and muddled through the streets, heading out to find some cleaner water from the stream in the nearby overgrown forest.

It took time maneuvering the crowded streets. The biggest problem came with the guards as per usual, it took hiding behind crowds to avoid their power-hungry attitudes. Narrowly ducking out of the way multiple times until you all but collapsed through the gates to the kingdom. Avoiding the eyes of the guards you hurried on your way to the forest. Going the same route you had taken for years.

With the small creek as your guide, you were bound to reach the bigger stream soon.

When you heard rustling and deep grumbling growls ahead of you however you froze. Ears perked and eyes sharp, you braved creeping closer to the noises. Risking being caught you poked your head past the dense brush you looked into a clearing to see something you would never have expected to see with your own eyes.

A Dragon.

A great and towering Dragon almost as tall as the trees with scales of gold and black designs like ink from a quill swirling across its body, save for its underside. Its spine covered in layers of blackened feather-like spines with only the smallest gold streak. Its eyes, however, we’re closed.

What else caught your attention was the fallow deer that was standing ever calm in front of the creature, its back legs entangled in the vines of a thorn bush. The dragon was crouched down, its maw ever so gently pulling the vines from the doe’s legs inch by inch.

You leaned forward, settling your weight on a low hanging limb. Fascinated with the act of kindness from the giant creature before you. Wondering how it could work so efficiently and how the doe was so calm. You had become so enamored that you hadn’t noticed the limb you had been leaning against give way.

As you tumbled forward into the clearing the Dragon snapped to attention. Curling its head around the doe in a protective manner and snarling, facing you directly as if it knew exactly where you were.

You blanked completely and in a blind surprise only thought to quickly raise your hands in a show of surrender. “Sorry!” the words tumbled from your mouth before you could register what you were saying.

The dragon immediately stopped growling as its aggressive posture dropped. It tilted its head, pondering your response before turning back to the doe and pulling the last of the vines from her hind legs. She took a few tentative steps. Seeming pleased the doe reached up and nuzzled against the Dragon’s muzzle before bounding off happy and free.

The Dragon's expression was fond as it listened to the deer leave before turning back to you. What surprised you, even more, was when it opened its mouth and spoke. “What brings you here on this day, little human?” His voice was deep and relaxed.

“I came to fetch water for myself and my neighbors.”

The dragon stood tall and walked towards you, stopping only a few short yards away. He remained quiet as if asking you to continue.

“My neighbors are planning to make a stew; we share what food we have together to keep fed. I said I would collect the water for it,” Your words came out slow, your mind focused on the warmth you could feel radiating off of the dragon at the slight distance. A part of you wondered how warm he might be to the touch on such a cold day. You quickly shook away such thoughts, however.

“Is there not a source of water in your village?” The Dragon seemed genuinely curious now, almost concerned even. Sitting on his haunches and relaxing as he listened intently. His feather tipped tail curling and uncurling in a calm manner.

You let out a disgruntled sigh, the tension in your body slowly seeping out of you. “The only one we have is far too dirty to use without spending days trying to clean it,” the defeat in your voice evident.
The Dragon cooed sympathetically. Wither it was the non-aggressive nature that caught him by surprise or the look of defeat as you spoke of your home, it tugged at the beast’s heartstrings. You were just another creature in need of help that he could provide.

He knew of the greed of the neighboring kingdom. Holding back an angered growl at the thought of the ‘royals’ whose greed outweighed the greed of dragons themselves. Instead, he stood and gestured to the stream. “You can collect your water from here if you so choose. If you care to take a step into areas unknown however you can be lead to the spring even dragons drink from.”

You could only stare up at the dragon, astounded at the idea of a spring. Shaking your head happily you finally found the words. “Yes! Yes please, it would help a tremendous amount!”

The Dragon nodded his head and turned around, walking a few steps before he paused and turned back in your direction. “Come along, little human,” His voice soothing any nerves you had of abandoning your route. Waiting patiently for you to follow along and follow you did.

As the pair of you wandered the two of you spoke of the kingdom, of its foul guards and poor homes. Of the ruler’s greed and of the overcrowded streets. Every now and then the dragon would become especially frustrated with what it had been told. When it happened, you could see smoke rising from its mouth as he spoke. You opted to change the subject after he snapped his teeth while speaking of the royals.

Instead, you spoke of the stories you both had heard. The tales you knew. The Dragon had an affinity it seemed for happy endings. Who knew?

After falling into a conversation, the walk to the spring seemed to pass by in only minutes. The Dragon could have been called proud of your reaction to the crystal clear and cool spring before you. It was just dark enough to see the fireflies wandering around the willow trees that leaned over the edge of the water, creating a sense of peace in the area.

You had jumped in excitement, immediately diving to raise handfuls of the clear water to your mouth to drink. A foreign feeling of strength and healing spread through you. You chalked it up to simply being used to different water sources. You sat on your knees at the edge of the water. Closing your eyes and breathing deep. Not noticing your companion silently walking up to you. The world was quiet for some time.

You were brought out of your daze by a deep warmth pressing to your side. You turned to see the Dragon nudging you with its muzzle lightly. You finally saw him as he sat only a few feet from your side. Tail curled around your form and wings spread out just enough to block the winds from behind you. You leaned against his muzzle for a moment. Stopping him from pulling away and freezing him in place. Enjoying soaking up the warmth for another minute before you slowly stood to your feet. Watching as his head rose once more.

“We should get you home, little human. It will be dark soon enough.”

“(Y/n),” you said with a tentative smile. “You can just call me (Y/n).”

The Dragon let out a pleased rumble before replying in turn, “You may call me the Host if you wish,” he stood slowly. Turning his head to the direction of the path you had come from. “Come along.”
You walked off in peace with your companion. Silently enjoying each other’s company as he led you back to the creek you had originally come from.

As you reached the clearing the Host stopped walking. “This is as far as I can go while remaining undetected, can you find your way from here?” He questioned with concern in his voice.

“I’ll be just fine, my only issue will be getting past the guards but that’s normal at this point.”

The dragon let out a slight growl at the idea of the guards. He seemed to be pondering something before reaching his head around to his side, prodding at the loose scales leftover from his shedding season.
You watch closely as he plucked off a dull golden scale and gingerly placed it in your hands. You could instantly feel the weight and sharpness of the scale that made you understand. It was big enough to fit in both of your hands, dull on one end but sharp enough on the other to cut deep into whatever it sliced.

“For your protection.”

You looked up in awe over such a gift. “Can I come back?”

The question made the Dragon puff up in pride as he nodded with a smile curled upon his muzzle at the request. You took a hesitant step closer, “Come down here for a moment, will you?”

The dragon was confused but complied none the less, lowering his head to where he would be eye to eye with you. He felt one of your hands settle on the bridge of his nose and he froze. He could feel a featherlight kiss being pressed to the side of his head, just above his eye.

The Host could only let out a deep sigh in response. Leaning his head towards you, following for a few inches as you pulled away. Listening to your footsteps as you darted off. The Dragon was left with his heart in his throat and a deep purr slipping out of him for the longest time. He would eagerly await your return.

 

The next day the sun had barely risen before he had found you in the same clearing as before, reaching for what few apples hadn’t fallen from an apple tree. Only a few remained towards the top. Out of reach but you were determined apparently. He couldn’t see you but he could in a way feel where you were. Feel your feet upon the earth, your hands braced against the tree as you stretched towards the higher branches.

He quietly walked up behind you, letting you try on your own for another minute before he swooped his head down, nudging your back legs so that you would fall onto his nose in a sitting position as he lifted you up to the top of the tree.

“Hello again, Host!” You exclaimed brightly as you reached out for the last ripe apple on the tree.

“Hello, little human,” He purred pleasantly while lowering you back to the ground. “Care to take a walk to the spring once more?” The Host questioned. Sitting back on his haunches as you thought it over.
“I’d like that very much,” your voice chimes out.

With that, the pair of you set out once more.

Walking the same route however proves to be different today, you managed to trip over two roots and one rock so far. Too focused on your apple as though you were starving. Each time you trip you would be caught by a clawed paw lifting you back upright or a stray tail catching you and setting you back up. Of course, it didn’t stop there though. In your focus on your food and company, you missed that patch of ice in the path and proceeded to slip once again, this time being caught by a giant maw catching the back of your shirt. Lifting you up.

“Thanks for the sav- Host?” Your words are choked off into a yelp as your Dragon companion lifts you up farther and farther off the ground. You can only manage to reach a hand up to wrap around the Host muzzle in an attempt to stabilize yourself. Holding on tightly until your placed between a set of leathery wings. In the center of the Host back. He sets you down gently and pulls his head back, listening to ensure you’re settled in. Feeling you shift slightly before going still. Holding tightly to the feathered spines along his back.

“Are you alright?” He asks with some amusement in his voice.

“I’d be better if I could get a little warning next time,” your voice comes out in quiet defeat only making the dragon huff out a laugh.

You sat right where you were, soaking up the warmth on the back of a surprisingly comfortable Dragon. Looking excitedly to the spring once it came into view.
The Host gingerly lifted you up once more and placed you at the water’s edge. “Drink and rest,” He states while stretching.

While you took your drink you watched your companion out of the corner of your eye as he laid down much like a cat would only a few feet from your side. Resting his head on the ground, watching the water. You looked over to him in curiosity. Wondering if you could get away with what you had in mind.

Taking a breath you let yourself relax. Acting as casual as ever while walking to his side, where his neck connected to his chest. You slowly sat down, leaning against the front of his shoulder and the base of his neck. His clawed paw splayed in front of you, a wing stretched slightly overhead and his tail curled upward towards where you were. The perfect comfortable resting spot. You watched for any reaction but all you got was a flick of an ear and a quiet grumble of a ‘Hello.’

You patted the side of his neck lovingly, resting your arms across your stomach and closing your eyes. Just a few minutes of rest. A deep gurgling resonated from your stomach. Loud enough that even your companion lifted his head and turned to you.

With a tilt of his head, he asked, “Are you still hungry?” His tone wasn’t mocking just curious, ready to find you more food is necessary.

You nodded slightly. “That stew I mentioned was more of a two carrot one potato five mushroom broth between seven of us.”

Your words made your Dragon almost jump up in confusion, only slowing enough to allow you to stand.

“With how many animals are hunted in these woods your entire kingdom should have more than enough, do you not receive your share?” His tone was growing aggravated. Not with you but the idea.
“It all goes to the palace; we get the leftovers of our crops and that’s about it.” You didn’t have a chance to add on before the Host began nudging you towards the water’s edge.

“This is a place of peace, remain here and nothing will harm you.” His tone sounded determined. A sliver of frustration seeping out as well as he began to storm off with a determined look about him.

You, however, jumped up and shouted after him in confusion, “Where are you going?” But no response came. You let out a huff and sat back down. Understanding that you had at least temporarily been left. “Damn Dragons,” you grumbled while wandering to the base of the closest willow. Still intending on resting your eyes. A little colder than before and a little lonelier than before. You hope he would be back soon.

You had apparently fallen asleep because when you next opened your eyes it was past midday and there were two rabbits dropped into your lap. Clean kills, no blood. Thankfully. You look up to an eager Dragon sitting in front of you. Hopeful that you’ll accept his gift.

“Host?”

“For your health.” Were his only words.

“Thank you.”

The walk back was less you walking and more sitting. You had been lifted onto your companions back once again. With the claim that it was too cold to let you walk, it was a long way and it was getting dark. At least that was his excuse this time around. You rattled off plans for cooking the rabbits, something that made him stand tall in pride as your words sounded with excitement.

As you slid off of his back once you reached the clearing, you asked your question once more. “Lean down please?” You didn’t get a chance to finish before he was eye to eye with you, inches away as if he had been waiting for that question. You stifled a laugh and placed your hand on the bridge of his nose once again, pressing a quick kiss between his eyes this time. Able to feel the strong vibrations from his happy rumbling.

You began to step back only to feel one of his paws behind you, keeping you in place as he nuzzled against your form for a few moments before finally releasing you. Listening closely to the sound of you running off home. Tomorrow he would be here waiting for you to return.

The night came and went, The Dragon making his way to the clearing before the sun had its chance to rise. Ears perked and pointed towards the creek, waiting to hear your footsteps. Laying down and stretched out. Ready to wait for as long as need be.

After some time had passed, he heard just what he had been waiting for and quickly stood tall.

“Hello, Host!” Your voice chimed out as you made your way over, seeming brighter than ever due to a good meal and spring waters.

“Hello, (Y/n),” he greeted warmly. Walking over and leaning down, pressing his head to your side in greeting. Feeling your arms wrap around him in a hug. “Come along, off to our spring.” The statement brought about warmth into both you and your companion as you began to walk along.

You fell into easy conversation of last night, how you and your neighbors had a feast, how you had snuck the rabbits in through the gates in comical coat hidden fashion, how you all had great joy over the meal and the ridiculous stories you told each one different from the last when asked where you caught such game without being caught yourself.

You were so caught up in your conversation you hardly noticed when the Host stretched out and curled up like before along the edge of the waters, gently goading you to the edge to drink as he spoke his piece of the conversation. You hardly thought about it as he gently pulled you closer to where you were resting against his chest as he loomed over you, anything but menacing.

You did finally realize where you were once a nosey frog jumped from the banks of the water into your lap with a loud croak.

“…Hello,” you stated in amusement of the little creature. Reaching down to gently pet it. Surprised when it didn’t even flinch.

Your Dragon seemed less than amused however as he leaned his head down towards the brave little frog and let out a huff of hot air that sent the poor thing scrambling back to the water.

“What was that for?” You questioned teasingly. Waiting for an answer from the grumpy looking Dragon.

He remained silent while placing a paw across your lap to keep you in place. Leaning down and setting his head against your side once more. Grumbling quietly as you let out an amused laugh. A stray breeze broke up your laughter and you instead fell into shivers despite the warmth of your Dragon. You shifted slightly, trying to soak up more warmth and wrapping an arm around the Host maw in an attempt to keep him in place.

He seemed confused for only a moment before shifting slowly as to not let the cold winds bother you. Curling tightly around you, folding his wings downward to block the winds and curling his tail around you as well. Nuzzling against your form in an attempt to warm you up, even blowing the slightest bit of steam.

“It’s going to be hell sleeping tonight if the cold gets worse,” You voiced your concerns. Wanting to just remain in your bubble of warmth but knowing you would have to return home before dark came close unless you wanted to freeze. Old clothes only acting as so much of a protection from the said cold.

“Is your home not warm enough?” His voice sounding as worried as your own.

“Not even close honestly. I’ll probably bunk with one of my neighbors, conserve heat. Its what we normally do.“

At that, the Host actually growled. The deep reverberations rattling your very bones, striking a momentary chord of surprise and fear into you. It was quickly rid of by his comforting cooing, however. A quick change of tune once he realized what he had done.

Once the wind died down once more, you were lifted up not by a maw but settled in a clawed paw, holding you gently and close to his chest as the Host began to quickly walk with determination.
“Where are we going?” Your curiosity was unable to contain itself.

“The Host will ask you to keep your eyes closed as he is taking you to somewhere very special to retrieve something.” He sounded nervous almost. Unable to contain the shake to his words.
You looked up to him in concern before curling up in his hold, resting your head against his chest and resting your eyes as he walked on.

You focused on the feeling of his movements. Able to detect that he was climbing upward with ease thanks to the powerful muscles in his legs. On occasion, you would hear a gust of wind and feel a smooth momentum that told you he had flown up slightly. Mostly the movement was avoided due to the wind from it, thankfully.

Once the ground seemed to even out in his walking, the wind entirely disappeared, you could tell that it was darker and far warmer wherever you were. Keeping your eyes tightly closed you heard metals clanking. Light jingling here and there and echoed footsteps like you were in… a… He had taken you into his home his cave. Wasn’t that a big deal?

You squeezed your eyes tight, pressing yourself closer against him and earning a comforting cooing noise. After a few minutes, you felt him turn around and walk back out. Back into the cool weather you went. But… Something warm and incredibly soft was wrapped around you, blocking any cold from coming close to you. You kept your eyes closed still but held tight to whatever it was and wrapped it tightly around you. Letting out a deep sigh of relief.

“For your comfort.”

You could only hum in delight as you felt the downward motion of the Dragon headed back from where he was. It didn’t take long for him to speak.

“You can open your eyes now.”

You did just that and looked to what was wrapped around you only to find a huge dark brown bear pelt. It would more than keep you warm. You could only breathe out a soft ‘thank you’ with closed eyes and nothing but relief written on your expression. You could feel the proud rumbling vibrating through you and couldn’t stop the smile from growing on your face.

The familiar clearing was almost disappointing to see, the thought of having to leave your Dragon didn’t seem right. None the less you were carefully set down with a certain Dragon’s head already lowered and pressed against you, waiting for your goodbye kiss. You couldn’t hold back the laughter at his eager actions over a little kiss. Wrapping both arms around his head you pressed a kiss ever so gently over both closed eyes. Your actions were met with your Dragon all but melting. His body drops to the ground, wings splayed flat accompanied by the loudest purr you had ever heard.

“You’re such a cat, Host,” your amusement evident in your voice as you trailed your hand over the small scales on his head.

His purring only grew somehow or another. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Host.”

“Tomorrow, (Y/n).”

The Host never left the clearing. Waiting for his human to return to him. Hoping that they could keep warm. Humans were so cold without protection, it worried him through the night.
He felt the warmth of the sun rising and his excitement grew. His usual great patience gone as he eagerly awaited his companion’s return.

 

The morning came and went. No sign of his human, no worries, you might be busy or running late. Maybe you even slept in, that would be good you had seemed so tired last night.
Half the day went by. No need for alarm. Humans got sidetracked and had jobs to do. He could be patient. He could wait for his human.

 

The sun was setting and now he had reason to be concerned. You had said you would be here tomorrow and you didn’t seem the type to lie. You had been risking punishment by the royals of your kingdom, the sneaking out, the gifts. Had you been caught? If they had laid a single hand on his human every royal every guard every brick of gold and silver would be reduced to ash.
The Dragon let out a guttural growl. With heavy breaths, he raised his wings. Opened his eyes. And took off into the night sky.

 

The dungeon was shockingly cold after having adjusted to the warmth of your dragon along with your bear pelt. Your cell held some faces you recognized and some you didn’t. People of all ages from the elderly to the middle-aged to the young adults to even the only child, a little orphan named Ollie who was sitting in your lap, scared of what was to come. You remained huddled among those trapped with you. A silent sort of rebellion, care for each other and a refusal to give up any single one of you at a time.

You held Ollie tightly as he whimpered over the sound of the doors to the dungeon opening. Hiding his face in your shoulder. You thought of your Dragon. Was he waiting for you? Would he ever know what happened? Would you ever feel the safety and comfort he always brought with him? You didn’t know but it wasn’t looking bright.

When the screaming from above began, however, you hesitated. When you began to hear the captain of the guard barking orders in a panic, your thoughts shifted. You stood up and looked through the cell’s bars, Setting Ollie down and holding his hand tight.

That’s when you heard the first roar. A deep sound that made the ground itself shake. The sound blanketing the entire kingdom and blocking out any other noise. Followed by the sound of the very foundation of the walls surrounding you cracking and rumbling angrily.

An inhuman roar sounded, louder than before. No words that could be understood by your human ears were sounded but there was another language within the noise.
And for a moment. All was silent.

Until the first explosion of heat rang out.

Quickly followed by the second then a third. Someone was here to burn the damn palace to the ground apparently.

The guards had grown quiet now.

The very roof of the building you were in was torn away in one swift motion. Hovering above you was one giant Dragon, chest heaving, smoke pouring from his opened maw, Claws stained red, scales burning in the light of the surrounding fires, and eyes wide open and glowing gold.

By the movement of his ears and how his head turned you knew he couldn’t see still so you called out to your dragon. “Host!”

He focused directly on you. Landing along the torn walls of the building and leaning down to where you were. Tearing the bars down with ease, ready to swoop you up and take you far from here but he froze as he heard a child cry out in fear. Your soft words attempting to comfort the young human. The Host let out a deep breath, calming himself slightly. “Can you lead those here and any who live in the village to the clearing?” His voice was shaking with a rage barely covered in those moments.

“…I can.”

He hated how quiet you were, how fearful you sounded. He would have to make it up to you but for the time being, he had a castle to burn.

 

The way out had been cleared for you by one Dragon who had taken off with a fire in his eyes. With Ollie in hand and a group of people following you, you found everyone you could and took off to the same clearing you had left to each day. Focusing on getting everyone out and safe before your Dragon truly began to rampage.

It was easier said than done, dozens upon dozens of rushing humans trampling through a forest like a herd of deer running from wolves wasn’t easy to control. Once the clearing came into view you began to slow, the crowd behind you gradually following suit.

You listened in silence to the distant sounds of a crumbling kingdom. Knowing that the bodies of the royals and guards lay among the rubble somewhere.

The group looked to you, waiting on what to do next. You managed to settle them down, encouraging everyone to sit and rest while waiting. No one had voiced against your orders so far. Might have something to do with the dragon that seemed to place you in charge of the air of respect that was given to you by these people.

A deep silence settled over the group as well as the distant kingdom… ex-kingdom. The sound of smooth wingbeats grew overhead as a familiar Dragon landed a short distance away, standing tall with a cold expression in the face of so many strangers.

“Host,” you breathed out in relief and quickly made your way to him. The sound of your voice and approaching footsteps caught his attention, he quickly lowered himself to where you were with a soft comforting rumble. Smelling heavily of smoke. With how he was cooing over you however you couldn’t bring yourself to care. He was safe, you were safe. It would be alright now.

“You’re not hurt, are you?” His voice quiet but laced deeply with an almost frantic concern.

“No, no, I’m alright, I’m ok.”

“Thankfully,” the words rumbled through you as deeply as his radiating warmth did.

You were interrupted by someone tugging on your shirt. You turned quickly to see Ollie, looking up at your dragon in awe while speaking. “What are we gonna do now? We don’t have our homes.” His little voice sounded scared. Catching yours and the Host’s attention.

“Worry not little one, you will be taken somewhere safe until new homes can be built, an entirely new village in time.” The Host spoke softly to comfort the child. Loud enough for the others to hear, however.
And for the first time in what felt like forever, the kingdom’s subjects felt a spark of hope.

 

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“During the winter the humans and the Dragon settled by the spring, drinking from the waters that held its magic in health and keeping warm from the cold by the willows surrounding them. During the warm months, the odd colony built up a small town that soon grew into their very own kingdom. Ruled with care by the ever-brave human and their Dragon. Leading to many years of peace and prosperity in a kingdom hidden in the forest. A secret that to this day still remains hidden from the world.”

“Host? What are you telling the children?” you walked close to your dragon who was laying comfortable before the group of children, telling the story of how their little kingdom was formed many years ago to the starry-eyed young children. The group lounging by the spring, happy as could be.

He looked to you sheepishly, Ollie poked his head out from behind the Dragon’s front paws. Knowing that both the dragon and child were supposed to be out searching for more fallen trees or firewood for the coming winter.

“… I tried to convince dad that we needed to leave but he got too involved in his stories again!” Ollie chimed out, running to you in mock innocence.”

The Host, however, looked aghast, “The Host was only acting on the wishes of his child’s want for a story!” The dragon quickly stood and made his way to you leaning down to your height.

“I don’t know, it does sound like you,” a playful tone rising as you spoke, Ollie giggled along with the other children witnessing the display.

“…The Host mate is ever cruel to their love for entertaining when asked to by his own traitorous kin.”

The giggling only grew. Yours as well. You set a hand on the bridge of his nose with a smile. “Alright, come on now, I believe you.” Pressing a kiss between his eyes, making the dragon rumble in happiness, easily forgetting the pretend betrayal.

“I believe you.”