Bellator was anxious. Her hands clenched and unclenched. Heat beat against her body, and the cloth of her shirt stuck to her skin. What she would give for the protection of her leather jerkin, but today she would do without. Today was her chance to prove herself.
Today, she would kill a dragon.
The air was still, despite the thousands of eyes that watched her. Up in on the edge of the arena she could see The Master, his gaze fixed on her. Searching for weakness.
He would see none in her.
Beside the master was his daughter; the beautiful red haired sorceress, sitting like a queen – powerful and cruel. The sight of her sent a bitter taste into Bellator’s mouth. She too was watching her, blue eyes fixed as she clutched the sides of her throne. Bellator couldn’t tell if she was worried or excited. She suspected it was the latter.
A great roar broke the silence, and her ears rang. She clutched the hilt of the small knife she’d been given. A single knife against a dragon. The odds were against her. But she could do it. She had to.
A shadow fell across her, and she looked up, the muscles in her shoulders tensing. A great black shape filled the sky, descending upon her, forced down by the chains that bound it. It was a black dragon; a fire breather. Female. Bellator could see she was well matched against it. The metal cuffs on her wrists stifled her own magic, but her skill as a warrior was unparalleled. At least, that’s what she’d been told.
She stayed where she was, filling her lungs with air as the dragon landed in front of her. The dragon’s ruby red eyes flashed as it peered at the crowd. Scared, Bellator realized. She could use its fear against it.
One of the chains around the dragon’s leg tightened, digging in, and the dragon roared, the pain making it stumble. It blew fire in all directions. Bellator was ready, and sprinted toward it. She ran straight through the fire. Scalding heat enveloped her for a second before she was through to the other side. Her hair was singed and her skin ached with mild burns, but she was energized. She leapt at the dragon’s leg, using the chains to climb. The dragon turned, trying to shake her off, but she reached its neck, and used the spikes to climb up further still.
Fire blasted at the spectators as the dragon tried to shake her off. Bellator lost her grip as the dragon tossed its head. She flew upward, then fell, landing on the dragon’s neck. Blinding pain pierced her stomach, and she heard a gasp from the crowd. She tried to push herself up with shaking arms, blood making her hands slip against the dragon’s smooth scales. One of the spikes has impaled the flesh in her side – barely missing her internal organs, she suspected. She freed herself, but just then, the dragon tossed its head again, and Bellator tumbled to the ground flat on her back.
There was a roar from the crowd – deafening. Her head buzzed as she struggled to get up, but froze when she found herself looking up into the eyes of the dragon. Its teeth were barred, and it growled. She saw her knife nearby, and reached for it, seizing it in her hand. The dragon moved closer, hot air washing over Bellator. Just a bit closer, and Bellator would thrust the blade into the soft part under the neck. She would slay the dragon and win.
Yet something distracted her. The dragon had stopped, almost as if it sensed her motives. And looked at her. The fierceness faded, and Bellator could see fear again. The dragon was trapped, forced to play a game she didn’t want to play; to be the sport of another’s victory. In the dragon’s eyes, Bellator saw herself.
Bellator’s own fear faded. She lifted a bloody hand, slowly, to the dragon’s muzzle. The dragon didn’t move – but watched her carefully.
“You are young,” Bellator noticed. “Young like me.”
The dragon made a sound in the back of its throat.
“I don’t want to hurt you…”
The dragon’s breath grew cooler, and its hackles lowered.
“They want me to.” Rebellion flashed through her, and she turned her head to look at the spectator’s booth- right to her master. “He wants me to kill you. Compassion is a weakness.”
When she looked back, the dragon was pulling back. There was meaning in her deep, intelligent eyes.
“But this isn’t weakness,” Bellator interpreted. “This isn’t compassion.”
She stood up slowly, blood running down her leg. Once again, she charged the dragon, and climbed up its side using the chains that were wrapped around it. The crowd watched, breath bated, but the dragon didn’t fight. Bellator reached the dragon’s neck, and crouched down low, putting her hand on the dragon’s head. “Ride with me,” she whispered.
And then leaned to the side. The dragon began to turn.
“What’s this?” The murmur of the crowd rose. “Has she tamed the dragon?”
No, not tamed. This dragon was strong and wild, just like her. She couldn’t be tamed either. They’d simply come to an agreement.
Together, they strode the length of the arena to where her master sat. The dragon raised its head, and Bellator stood, crossing her arms and glaring. For once, she was powerful too.
A bit of a smile twitched The Master’s lips, while shock betrayed his daughter’s cold demeanour.
“Well done, Bellator. As usual, your performance is most unexpected.” For once, there didn’t seem to be veiled malice in his voice.
Bellator bowed, hardly feeling the pain in her side amid the glory of his approval.
“A dragon has never been tamed before, young one,” his daughter’s voice said, approval in her tone as well if not in her expression. “You are a truly remarkable warrior. You do credit to your Master.”
“Thank you,” Bellator said, smiling to herself. She’d keep their secret; her and her new friend’s. One day, together, they’d be strong enough to make their own way. Then no one could cage them again.