I can hear the rumbling of your throat before you even come out of your cave. I am sure you spotted me miles ago and waited, watching, assuming I would turn at some point. Because I couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to keep walking towards you, could I? No, that would practically be suicide.

If I could tell you what brought me here, I am sure you would understand me better. Too bad you won’t take the time to listen. At least that’s what I’m counting on.

I ripped out a man’s throat with my teeth, tore open his gut and clawed out all his innards, spreading them along the sand for the vultures and wild dogs to snack on. I tore him limb from limb even after his screams of agony had died away, sank my teeth into his arms and legs, stripped all the meat and fat from his bones, gnawed on his ribs like they were chew-toys, just to make sure there was nothing left but a skeleton.

I’m sure someone like you could have done worse things, but my kind considered it violent on an unspeakable level.

Once the meat was scattered – a gift to anyone desperate enough to eat that filth – I pissed on his bones to make sure no one would ever touch them. I wanted his bones to stay there in the sand and char below the sun for all eternity.

That’s how I find myself closing in on your part of this godsforsaken corner of Redmerrow with the sun beating down on me.

My pack didn’t approve of my actions home in Merrowmeadow. Simple revenge they would have understood – a life for a life – but it was the overkill, the unnecessary pain I caused the man that crossed the line. I debated that the pain had been very necessary.

But they still banished me, turned their backs on me like they didn’t even know me, like I haven’t been a faithful and loyal member of our pack from the day I was born, as if I wasn’t brother and friend to all of them. Like I didn’t have perfectly good reason for what I did. I’m sure they’ve forgotten about me already, so easy was it for them to cast me out.

They don’t even care about my pain, do they? All they care about is honour. We are werewolves, they told me as one by one they turned away from me. If we do not have our honour, we are nothing but wild animals.

Screw their honour. I would rather be a wild animal than show mercy to the likes of that man.

Who are they to judge me, anyway? Have they had the joy and life and spirit ripped from their hearts by that monster who dared call himself a man? Were they the ones approached under the pretence of peace and co-operation by the harmless-looking warlock wanting to increase his knowledge of the werewolf? Were they the ones he had betrayed?

Had any of them been forced to watch as that innocuous professor pulled every tooth from their mate’s mouth as he writhed in agony, while they were tied down with silver chains, powerless to stop it? Had they seen their mate’s blood pain-stakingly drawn through syringe after syringe, and poured into glass flasks. Had they seen him fall weaker and weaker from the slow, strained loss?

And finally, when his body was too drained and fatigued for anything else to be taken from him, were they the ones who had looked into the eyes of their mate as the warlock stuck the needle filled with liquid silver into his veins, and held his gaze until the life slowly faded away and his soul departed, leaving nothing but an empty vessel behind?

No, they hadn’t experienced any of that. I was the only one who had been forced to endure that hell. And it had left me broken.

Maybe if you could hear me out, if I could tell you all of this, you wouldn’t be so confused and angry at my intruding into your territory. Maybe you would understand. Maybe you would ensure it was over quickly. I know you won’t, though. You’re the most powerful kind of creature in all of Hurst – you don’t hold back, you don’t ask questions; you just act.

It’s why I chose you.

Any other creature, I would have to give them a reason, I would have to engage, attack, destroy. I don’t have enough energy left inside of me for that, not anymore. That spirit was taken away from me. He’s waiting for me to join him now.

With you, all I have to do is walk close enough and you won’t hesitate. I must be a threat, right? Why else would I come strolling up to your cave? Why else would I dare to come anywhere near your home when I know this time of year you will have eggs that you must protect at any cost?

You don’t care that I want you to kill me. You don’t care that I want to die. You will kill me if I want to or not, and you will make it painful. That’s another reason I sought you out. You’ll make it hurt. You will engulf me in your fire or crush me with your strength, but either way, there will be pain.

It’s not logical, is it? Then again, I’ve never been much for logic. I blindly follow my instinct, listen to the rhythm of my heart, and right now it’s telling me to die in agony, like he did. I don’t want to go easy. I want to be filled with the kind of pain he must have felt. Because it’s not fair if I die easily when he had it so hard.

I can count on you to make it hurt, can’t I? I can count on you to make sure I suffer, whether I put up a fight or not. You’re exactly what I need. Unbeatable. The perfect choice.

A red dragon shows no mercy.

There is still a long distance between us when you emerge from your cave. I can see the smoke streaming out of your nostrils and feel the earth tremble with each step you take. When you spread out your wings and show your true size, I even feel a trace of fear. Enough to convince me I made the right choice. I should feel fear.

He felt fear, didn’t he? Every time the forceps were brought slowly back towards his mouth to take another tooth, I had seen it in his eyes. He had tried to be so brave, for me, to somehow make it easier for me to watch, but I had still seen the fear.

I howl, just to make sure you know I’m really here for you. Showing of your size and strength isn’t going to scare me away. Your crimson scales glisten in the sun, reflecting those warm, gold rays. It’s as if the fire doesn’t just flicker inside you, but as though your being is manifested entirely of roaring flame.

Had I any sense left in me, I would run. Too bad grief has washed away any sense I once had. I won’t deny that same grief has driven me mad. I’m all too aware of it. I don’t care. I just want to be with him again.

I know there’s an intelligent brain behind your monstrous, merciless façade, and I’m sure you’re wondering about my intentions.

I won’t give you time to ponder.

Without warning, I charge. You don’t expect that, do you? No one has ever been stupid enough to initiate an attack on you, so you pause for a moment, tilting your massive head as if you’re wondering if I am real, or if the heat has gotten to you after all your years in the desert.

I move with all the speed in my body. I was the fastest runner in my pack, from the time I was a pup. The elders always told me, “slow down, brother, or too quickly will life pass you by”. Right now that’s exactly what I want.

Because you are unprepared, I manage to get close enough to your titanic form to leap at your long neck, my fangs bared. I dig them into your soft throat where there are no scales to ward against me piercing through, and clench. You screech and fling me off as if I am weightless. I have such a firm grip on your jugular that I take a chunk of your flesh with me as you rend me tumbling onto the sand, but you hardly seem to notice the wound. Your eyes flare with fire and fury now.

I spit your meat into the sand – your flesh tastes burnt, like ashes, leaving my mouth acrid and itchy. My side hurts from slamming against the ground, but I’m back on my feet in moments, back in fighting stance, and you look down on me as if I’m insane, which is entirely right.

I run for your front feet, wrapping my teeth around your ankles, which are surprisingly thin given your size. I feel my teeth give. I’m using too much force, and your skin is too strong here just above your claws. I feel some of my fangs crack. Good. Yes, mar my teeth. Let me feel his pain.

One flick of your leg and I’m thrown right off, back down in the dirt. My grey fur must be matted all red by now, from the sand and the scrapes I get every time you throw me down. I’m not done yet, though.

By now you’ve realized that I’m not backing down. You make the first move this time – your massive tail swings towards me so fast I hardly have time to notice before it smacks into my side. I hear bones crack underneath my skin before I feel it, and hear the whooshing of wind as I fly through the air and finally land so hard I make a wolf-shaped imprint in the sand.

I try to move, and everything hurts now. That should stop me, I suppose – should keep me lying here, weeping for mercy and for the pain to end, but I’m not finished. This pain isn’t enough. I force myself back up. My entire body fights me, tries to keep me down, but I am the one in control, and I make myself stand, through the cracking and whining of my bones, and make myself move towards where you still stand at the mouth of your cave, staring at me.

As I limp closer, I notice a change in your eyes. Your wisdom flickers there, and I wonder if you have figured it out yet. Figured out that I want you to kill me, that I want you to make it slow and painful.

You let me move close to you – I clearly can’t make any rash movements now, in this state. I can’t surprise you anymore. I still bare my broken and cracked teeth at you and growl as threateningly as I can, and it’s enough. You whip that large, powerful tail of yours again, and this time you send me flying into a rock wall with such force that I cause stones to loosen and trickle over me as I fall to the ground, raw and bloody.

I can feel it now, the pain, and the injuries that are already causing life to seep out of me. I feel your eyes on me still, and with my strong sight I look back at you and search your expression.

I have impressed you, haven’t I? Despite my suicidal stupidity. Put up a longer fight than you’ve probably had in years, simply because I kept trying. I wonder; if I limped and crawled away now, would you let me? Would you consider me a worthy opponent and allow me to live although I had come so close to your cave, to your eggs?

Doesn’t matter. I don’t want you to let me live.

I hold your gaze, and you hold mine, and it feels as though a long time is passing as we stare at each other, you measuring me; me praying for you to spread your wings and fly closer for the final blow, because I don’t think I have the strength left to get up and walk over to you again.

And then, between my eyes and yours, I see another visage appears. The blood loss and beating must be getting to me. I see the face of my mate, I see him placed above your calculating eyes, and he looks at me with so much sadness. His dark eyes, so filled with pain when I last looked into them and watched as life slipped away from him; now they look at me with disappointment.

I feel his question ring through me. Why are you throwing your life away for me? Do you think this is what I would have wanted?

I don’t care if it’s what he wants. It’s what want. I don’t want to stick around in this dead world that feels so empty without him in it.

And then I see you open your mouth wide. There is a glow deep in your throat that grows brighter by the second. You continue to stare at me, and I wonder if you have made up your mind to kill me or not. I wish you wouldn’t drag it out any longer now. I have seen his face again; I don’t want to lose it. I want to join him.

Even if he will hate me for it?

What was meant to be a statement to myself is somehow turned into a question in my mind. I do still want this, don’t I? I can already feel my injuries weakening me, and I know in my heart that I still want to die. I want to join him. I want to leave this wretched void behind.

Then why this doubt in my stomach, suddenly?

It is because his face is still there, looking at me with such sadness. He doesn’t want me to die like him, does he?

The knowledge breaks my heart. He would rather I be miserable than be with him. Doesn’t he know what life will be like without him? That I will forever be empty and lost on my own? I have no desire to be here anymore.

But I can see it in his eyes. He doesn’t care, does he? Even if it breaks my heart and hurts me every day of my life, he wants it to be a long one. He wants me to stay here, because he would rather I be alive and in pain than dead and happy.

The embers in your eye-sockets and the furnace in your throat have not changed, and I realize what you’re doing. You’re giving me a chance, aren’t you? You’re hoping you don’t have to kill me. You’re hoping I will surrender, lie here until I get strong enough to move, and then limp away and get on with the rest of my life.

I don’t know why you care, but I don’t want there to be a rest of my life. Yet his face is still there, the eyes that I love piercing me, telling me to stay away from you, from the place he is now. It will kill me to stay alive. But it will make him happier, wherever he is, won’t it? As long as I’m alive, it’s all he cares about.

And if I allow sanity to take hold of me for a moment, after having pushed it away for so long, would I not want the same if our roles were reversed? For him to keep on living without me?

As I realize that it’s true, my heart shatters. I would want him to live, no matter what. I wouldn’t want him to miss out on the rest of his life just because I wasn’t in it. And here I am, broken and beaten, refusing to do the same.

I gaze into your glowing eyes, and you lower your head, your look questioning. Am I going to make you do it, you wonder? I find myself wondering the same thing. Am I going to make you kill me? It’s what I came all this way for.

I see his eyes on me one final time before he fades away into nothing and leaves me alone in the world for a second time. Now the only face left is yours.

They say dragons have strange, strong powers, the depths of which nobody truly knows. Did you peer into my mind and find the image of my mate? Are you trying to stop me by showing me the one thing I want to see more than anything?

Whatever you’re doing, it’s hanging over me now. That look in his eyes, and the realization that he would want me to suffer and live rather than die and join him, it weighs on me, heavier even than the desire that led me here, for you to kill me painfully.

And the more I think about it, the more it tears me up. When he was alive, when we were together, could I ever deny him what he wanted? Could I ever turn my back on his wishes? Should I really pay him less respect simply because he was dead?

Am I willing to give up my happiness and stay alive for the sake of the one I love?

I look into your eyes, and the glow there dies away. You nod your heavy head, and I bow mine back at you, and as you turn your back on me and walk back into your cave, I lean my head down upon the sand and wait to regain my strength.

When it has returned, I don’t know where I will go, but all I know is this.

There is nothing I would not do for the one I love. Even live.