How to Slay a Dragon

Illustration by Madeleine Ember

“How to Slay a Dragon” by Brie Barbee

Tobias had been tracking the dragon for several days now. His body ached, his feet were covered in blisters, and he wished nothing more than to return home to a large flagon of ale, but he was determined not to give up. Everyone was counting on him to slay the fire-breathing monster that terrorized Briarwood.

A renowned hunter, Tobias was chasing game in the mountains when the dragon first appeared in his village. Its people were defenseless against the powerful creature, who escaped unmatched as it tore through the tiny hamlet. Tobias returned several hours later to find the ruin and destruction.

He hadn’t been able to protect his village when they needed him most, an idea that absolutely gutted him. His father, the village chief, would have been able to stop the dragon in his prime. Tobias knew he had to protect his people now; his honor and reputation depended on it.

The next day, Tobias donned the finest armor available to him, crafted from the thick hides of the cattle the region was known for, and set off to find the giant lizard. The entire village gathered on the edge of town to wish him luck. The chief even gave his son his own sword to show his support. Tobias couldn’t believe the encouragement he was receiving.

But so far, he hadn’t found any success. He followed the dragon’s trail diligently, but the creature was quick and its tracks were beginning to disappear. He was also very tired and had to stop frequently to rest and find fresh food and water. He was losing more ground by the day, and the entire experience was taking its toll on him.

When Tobias first set out from Briarwood, he was nervous, but incredibly excited. This was the adventure of a lifetime, something that people would talk about for years to come. But as the days wore on and his exhaustion began to catch up with him, he became angry. He was angry at his sleeping conditions, at his sore muscles, that he was so far from home and there was still no sign of when he would be able to return. But above all, he was furious at the creature that had forced him on this journey in the first place.

His father was an old man now, so it was Tobias’ responsibility to keep the people of Briarwood safe from foreign invaders, to keep them fed, clothed, and sheltered. He couldn’t wait to shove his sword deep into the dragon’s belly, and watch the life drain out of its miserable eyes. He would return to Briarwood a hero, knowing that when he became chief, he could protect his people from danger.

Suddenly, the wind changed and he caught the smell of burning cedar — he was getting close. He pushed through one final stretch of smoking trees to the entrance to a cave, which looked as if it had been carved into the side of the mountain. Thick, white smoke poured from its mouth. Even from outside, he could feel an immense heat emanating from the cave. A deep, rumbling sound, almost like a cat purring, resonated from deeper inside the cavern.

Tobias wrapped his hand tightly around the hilt of his weapon. The leather felt comforting in his hand, like his entire village was standing behind him. This is it, he thought. My chance to defend my town and defeat a mighty dragon. He slowly removed his sword from its scabbard and entered the cave, his footsteps echoing dully off the walls.

He rounded a corner, and came face-to-face with the dragon. It looked directly at him, its huge purple scales expanding and contracting as it breathed, smoke pouring from its nostrils. It was much larger than he had expected, taking up almost the entire width of the cave.

“It is I, Tobias of Briarwood!” He shouted as bravely as he could manage. “I stand here in the name of my father, Lucan of Briarwood, and my entire village, to slay the monster that threatens our home.” He raised his sword out in front of him, pushing forward, to challenge the dragon.


The dragon sighed, a large swirl of smoke curling up from her nostrils. The cave she had settled into was still cool, but growing hotter with each of her warming breaths. A cold front had rolled in and she decided it was best to hide away until it passed. She could still feel her scales tingling as the unseasonable cold seeped into her core; she was not pleased.

She would have nested closer to where she had eaten, but some creatures attacked her. They threw rocks and sticks and yelled in a language she didn’t understand. She briefly considered eating them, but they didn’t pose any real threat to her. She was a dragon, after all.

Now she’d finally found a nice place to rest, a large hollow cavern where the heat of the earth warmed her internal fire and staved away the cold that clung to the air outside. She was exhausted and ready to go to sleep.

Just as she was about to close her eyes, she heard something in the distance. Had someone found her nest? She was annoyed at the thought of anything disturbing her sleep — she was in no mood to be messed with.

As she strained to hear the noise again, a tiny creature walked into view, a stick held out in front of itself. Creatures like this often tried to bother her. She never actively sought them out, but they seemed to cross paths from time to time. She had heard them called humans before, but she wasn’t sure if that was their true name. Not that it really mattered. As a dragon, she didn’t have much use for names.

She noticed that these humans — or whatever they were called — liked to move in packs, building shelters out of segments of fallen trees. They would also fight amongst themselves sometimes, a practice she found particularly odd. For some reason, humans never seemed to like her. They would attack her, swinging at her with sharp sticks that bounced uselessly off her tough scales. Every once in a while, she would eat one of them, causing the others to flee in fear, but she didn’t like to do that very often. They didn’t taste very good, too many bones.

The creature that had just entered her cave, despite being alone, was particularly brave for a human. She frowned and let out a heavy sigh, smoke blowing toward the intruder. It flinched, but didn’t run away, which was a surprise. It kept walking forward, despite the smoke and the low rumble vibrating from her chest. Shouting something, it suddenly rushed forward, raising its stick high above its head and swinging downward with quick precision. The stick caught the dragon between two of her outstretched toes. She roared, a small burst of flames shooting from her mouth.

The human cowered when she breathed fire, but continued swinging. The dragon was very angry now. Her whole body shook in retaliation, but she couldn’t do much more than shake wildly in such a small space; her scales scraping on the hot rocks of the cave. With one clumsy swing of her arm, she managed to hit the tiny creature and send it flying into one of the stone walls.

It slumped to the ground, and laid there motionless. However, after a few seconds, and much to the dragon’s disbelief, it got back up. It lifted its stick again and shouted, but before it could reach her, the dragon lifted her paw and crushed the human under its weight. When she slid her arm back and curled it under her warm, scaly body, the human didn’t get up. Had it really expected to take on a dragon? She grumbled and closed her eyes again, ready more than ever to take a long nap.

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