Val Avatar Hello there! I’m D. Wilder, and I’m a dragon. Or maybe I just play one on the internet. I can never remember. Also, I’m an author. What do I write? Well, I like to say I write dragons for adults. More specifically, I write character-driven fantasy novels geared towards an adult-aged audience with both human and dragons as my main characters.
My work runs the gamut from light-hearted and comical, to heart-wrenching and dramatic, to dark and mysterious. And yes, I’ve even dabbled in erotica from time to time. Naughty dragon, I know, I know.
I tend to serialize my work and share it as I write, and I also have a tendency to bounce from project to project. I also spend far too much time on Twitter rambling about dragons, writing, coffee, craft beer, and dragons. Yes, I mentioned dragons twice. We’re fantastic.

#FP: What do you love most about writing? What drew you to it specifically?

DW: Can I say everything? …No, wait. I take that back. I hate editing, and that’s part of writing. So I definitely don’t love that the most.
Honestly what I love about writing is how much of an escape it is for me. When I get into writing, it is one of the most stress-relieving things I can imagine. It’s funny. When I sit down to write, it takes me forever to actually get started, to get past all the tiny little distractions and simply focus. But once I do, once I pop on my headphones and lose myself to the words running through my head…it’s…well, the cliché term would be magical. Cliché or not, it fits. For a little while, I forget all my worries, all my problems, and the only thing on my mind is my story. The only fears I have are for my characters. For a little while, I live their lives, and that is a wonderful feeling.

I was first drawn to writing in middle school. We had to do book reports, and I realized…I did not want to analyze someone else’s story. I wanted to tell my own. So I did. Granted, at the time, my own story was basically just 7th grade Dragonlance Fanfiction. But what do you expect in middle school? Later in life I took a short story class in college. For our final paper, we had tocritique of one of the stories we’d read. Again…I did not want to critique anyone’s story. I wanted to write my own. I got the professor’s permission to do just that, and sat down to write my story.

Actually, I wrote half the night before it was due, the other half the next morning. Nonetheless, that story earned me an A. I was pretty proud of that. I called it, A Better Man. Perhaps I’ll do something with it, some day.
Since then, I’ve wrote for my own satisfaction for quite a few years. Mostly on various half-finished fantasy novels. I write the stories that I want to read, and I’m simply thrilled to have discovered a small niche of people who seem to cherish them.

#FP: So, what have you written?

DW: Ah, this list could go on forever if I include all those half-finished novels. I’ve been writing for my own enjoyment for more years than I’d like to admit. On a whim I began sharing some work on an adult-oriented site, acquired a little fan base, and decided to test the waters with my more serious fantasy work. It was very well received. A good friend of mine, Theresa Snyder, encouraged me to start posting writing on blogs to share with a wider audience.

Currently I have three different serialized novels I’m writing. I do not yet have anything available for sale, though I have had a lot of people asking me to make physical copies and EBooks available. So, I suppose Amazon is in my future!
The Volunteer Maiden is my most comical, and light-hearted tale. I think of it as a sort of twisted fairy tale, a reversal of the old cliché of a dragon demanding a maiden. It concerns a not-so-legendary dragon named Galvarys and a lifelong servant named Elyra.

It begins with Galvarys going to collect his monthly tribute, only to find that the village has left him a young girl, instead. Naturally he’s put off by their assumptions about his “tastes”, takes the girl home, and calls the village mayor a pervert for sending him some youngling of another species. He gets it in his head that maidens equal status, so he demands a woman brave enough to serve a dragon.
Enter Elyra, a woman who eager to escape a life spent in service of perverse nobles. She volunteers to the dragon, and finds herself enjoying the life of dragon’s minion far more than she ever expected. It’s a comic tale of dragons, maidens, unexpected friendship, awkward situations, and ham.

Then I have The Black Collar, which is difficult to summarize without spoiling its many secrets. It’s about a dragon with a drinking problem named Alvaranox. He’s enslaved to the protection of a frontier town through the power of the titular artifact. Alvaranox has developed into a cranky, sarcastic, and foul-mouthed dragon who drinks himself into a stumbling mess because deep inside, he’s bitter and lonely. Also, he has a pet fish. The other main characters in the tale are Nylah and Kirra, Alvaranox’s handlers. They care for him, bind his wounds, get him whatever he needs, and so on. It also means they’ve become his only real friends in the many years he’s spent bound to their city.
As the story goes on, the Collar starts to lose its hold on Alvaranox, and in the process, Alvaranox starts to lose his grip on reality. Or has he ever truly understood his reality at all? The deeper the story goes, the less the poor dragon knows.

Oh. And people keep trying to kill him.
My third and oldest current project is called The Dragon In The Dungeon. It gets its title from the original main character, an old dragon named Valyrym. Valyrym has been held prisoner inside a massive underground dungeon for so long that no one in the city above him even knows why he was imprisoned in the first place.

DitD is…sort of the elephant in the room, as it were. It’sa story that began as character-driven erotica, and has grown into emotion-drenched fantasy novels. It’s currently at 9 installments, scheduled to be 12 in the end. Each installment is essentially a self-contained online novella or novel that all continue the greater whole.

It contains, among other things, the single saddest, most heart-wrenching story I’ve ever put to page. It’s grown from a simple, naughty tale to an epic about the weight of parents’ sins settling on the shoulders of their children, and whether they can break a cycle of hatred and violence, or succumb to it. So yeah, just your normal erotica themes, right? It’s come to feature quite the ensemble cast including an extended family of dragons related to the title character.

It’s actually the story that most of my original “furry site” fans know me best from. It’s also the one I’m constantly asked when the next installment will be. Luckily for them, that’s what I’m working on lately.
I’ve also written a few pieces for erotica blogsites as well, and so I have a fantasy erotica short story, and a completed fantasy erotica novella entitled The Devil’s Deal. If you’re into that sort of thing, it was quite popular when it was released.

#FP: What are you working on at the minute? Tell us a little about it. What was the inspiration for it?

DW: Why, I’m working on this interview! …What, can’t a dragon crack a bad joke now and then?
I’ve been working on all three of my serialized novels, as I jump around a lot. Most recently I’ve been writing DitD 10: Rise With The Sun, but I paused it to work on a short story entitled Cold Hope to go with this interview.
Cold Hope is quite a departure for me. It’s a very short, very sparse story about a woman stalking a dragon in a blizzard. My preference is usually for long form storytelling and extensive, layered character development mixed with gradual, character-focused world building. So an extremely short story is a new challenge for me.
I guess you could say the #FP concept was inspiration for it. I wondered if I could write a (hopefully) touching story in a very short amount of words. Guess we’ll find out if I’ve succeeded or not!
Beyond that, I’m bouncing around between writing new chapters to my existing projects, and editing old chapters. I have two new chapters of Volunteer Maiden edited and ready to be posted on the blog. Guess I’d probably better get on that.

#FP: What draws you to this genre, to flash-fiction/ #FP? What do you love and hate about it?

DW: Good question. As I’d said earlier, my preference is for long form storytelling. I like to compare my workto a serialized TV show. Each episode is a self-contained story, but they each contribute to a greater story arc across an entire season. Then each season contributes to an even greater arc across the entire show’s existence. I see my work that way. Each chapter contributes to a greater whole, each set of chapters can have its own arc, and each mini-arc builds the overall story across the book. Or, each book builds a greater story across the series.
But with Flash Fiction and #FP? It’s exactly the opposite. How to tell a complete story in the least amount of words possible? It’s practically the antithesis of what I usually do. And yet, I’ve found it quite addicting. Many Fridays I’ve spent more time composing #FP’s than I have writing my main projects.

I think part of it is the challenge of making someone smile or laugh, gasp, blush or sniffle in just 140 characters. Doubly so if I can make them laugh or cry on behalf of a dragon in only 140 characters. In fact that’s something I love, being able to show so many sides to my favorite fantasy creature, and maybe help the readers see them a little differently, just like I do.

A few of my previous dragon-based #FP favorites, if I may:

Triumph was a dead dragon, a vanquished terror. Triumph was short-lived. Regret was a terrified hatchling, crying into bloodied scales. #FP

When she had the dragon bloodied and beaten, he told her why he killed her father. In the end, she could not slay him. He knew her pain. #FP

They asked her how she could love a dragon. But they saw her weight, her scars. The dragon saw her kindness, and through it, her beauty. #FP

An army vanquished. A city destroyed. Chaos.Stinging wounds. All in a day’s work for a dragon hatchling playing in an ant hill. #FP

When the dragon seized maidens, the women promised payback. At night, they seized the dragon by his apples, and squeezed his surrender. #FP

The dragon awoke with a pounding head, filthy pictures on his scales and his testicles painted pink. …Those bar wenches could drink! #FP

Another kingdom conquered, another crown added to the dragon’s hoard. Another reminder that nothing could bring her back. #FP

The only thing I hate about flash fiction is not being able to spend the time I usually do on character development. I love to grow my characters layer by layer, then to strip those layers away and lay bare their wounded souls. Hard to do that in flash fiction, but hey, that’s what my novels are for!

#FP: Why do you write? What inspires you most about it?

DW: I write to tell the stories I always wanted to read, but could never find. I’ve had a fascination with dragons as long as I can remember. In first grade, our teacher read us St George and the Dragon. When the dragon died, I ran out of the room crying.

Growing up, I became a heavy reader. I wanted to read stories that treated dragons as real characters. Yet for a very long time, all I ever found were tales in which dragons were just monsters, villains, pets, animals, or tertiary side characters that gave some bland hero a ride, and then got shot down. There were exceptions of course, including the Pern books, the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, some of the Dragonlance books, Mercedes Lackey’s Elvenbane and so on. These books were a great inspiration to me, but they were the exception, not the rule.
In the end, I decided if I couldn’t find what I wanted, I’d have to write it myself. So I did, and have been doing so for the last…well, more than a few years.

I want my dragons, gryphons, and all my other non-humans be deeply characterized. Ideally, I want them to be among the main characters, with their own Point-of-View. In my writing, I strive to show my readers the many sides of dragons they may have never seen before. Their comic side, their moments of embarrassment or humiliation, their love, their laughter, their great tragedies, fears and sorrows.

Fantasy creatures should be just as individual as humans. They can be good or evil, and are usually somewhere in between. Volunteer Maiden, for example, I’m about to introduce the antagonist. He’s a gryphon, and he’s out to kill Galvarys, but I wouldn’t say he’s evil. He sees himself as a hero, and in most stories would probably be the main character.

Aside from writing to tell the stories I want to read, I write to make the snow fall. What does that mean? It’s a phrase I came up with last fall, when writing a special little soul-revealing story for my close friends and fans. Snow fascinates and enthralls me. The peace of it, the purity, the serenity. There’s nothing more beautiful and calming to me than a white world and snow gently falling in silence. When I write, it’s like the snow is falling in my mind. For a little while, I’m completely at peace, painting my pictures in the snow.

#FP: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you? Plotter or Pantser?

DW: Pantser! Absolutely, one hundred percent, a pantser. In just about every way. That’s not to say I don’t have an idea of where I want the story to go, how I want it to get there, and how it’s going to end. I do. Mostly. But once I’m actually writing it, once my characters come to life and take over, one by one all those ideas fall away. New ideas are constantly springing up to take their place, and inevitably the story is better for it. Really, I think my characters just like to screw me over. I’ve long since given up on trying to hold myself to any specific outline. I let the characters decide where the story goes, and how it ends. After all, it’s their story. I’m just telling it for them.

#FP: What is the hardest thing about writing for you?

DW: Editing! Definitely editing. I write first drafts very fast, and I rarely pause to read them back or fix things. I can crank out thousands of words a day, no problem. But editing? That takes ages. AGES. Just working on editing the first draft of cold hope…I spent nearly an hour fiddling around with the same couple of paragraphs, only to end up re-writing the entire first few pages anyway. Yes, editing makes your story better but I still despise it.

Heavy editing is new thing for me. My general mindset is that I don’t need to edit until an entire tale is complete. The new ideas I come up with and the new paths the story takes are going to change the way I edit the earlier portions. The problem with that is now I share my writing as I go, so I feel like I have to edit first. I didn’t used to do that. The 18 chapters I’ve shared of Black Collar have not been heavily edited at all. But the 10 chapters of Volunteer Maiden have been, so that’s my most polished work so far.

But it’s also this new desire to edit that keeps me from posting very much at a time. Volunteer Maiden’s entire rough draft is nearly finished, and yet I’ve only edited the first 12 chapters. Same with Black Collar, it’s got at least another 20 chapters written…but now I want to edit before posting, and so there it sits, on my hard drive…

#FP: What is your favorite motivational phrase or musing on writing, and why? What do you tell yourself every time it gets hard?

DW: “Just keep writing. You can always fix it in editing.”
This is pretty much my mantra. Without this, I’d never get anything done. I long ago gave up editing myself as I go, gave up worrying about whether it’s “good” or not on a rough draft. Now I just write. Usually, I write as fast as I can. I thrive on story momentum as a writer. The more often I write, the faster I write, the more “in the zone” I get. My connection to the story and characters deepens, the writing is better, and the more ideas I get. I tell myself it doesn’t matter how poor this section is, or how many mistakes that section has, or how broken that continuity may be…because I know, I can always go back and fix/revise/improve in editing. In fact, it’s a necessity.

#FP: What advice would you give to aspiring writers? What helped you make it to this point?

DW: First, I’d tell them to write the story they want to read. Don’t write for anyone but yourself. If you try to write a story you think will appeal to everyone, all you’re doing is selling yourself, and your story, short. You’ll come up with a bland character and a boring story. Remember, you will never please everyone. It is impossible. Some people simply will not enjoy what you write. And that’s fine.
If you try to avoid offending anyone, you’re going to bore everyone.

If you really want to be motivated to write, write a story you have to know how it ends. Hook yourself first. If you write the stories that you’re desperate to read, you’ll always want to keep writing them because you’ve got to know how they end. And whatever story it is, there’s an audience out there for it.
But bottom line, you are your own target audience.

Beyond that, when it gets difficult, remember my mantra. Just keep writing! You can always fix it in editing. You can’t properly edit till you know where the story is going, and you won’t know that till you’ve written it. Keep in mind, rough drafts will never be perfect. That’s why they’re called rough drafts. So don’t worry about plot holes, errors, mistakes, continuity, or where it’s going to go during a rough draft. Just. Keep. Writing.If it meanders too far and takes too long to reach its conclusion? Who cares, it’s a rough draft. Cut out the excess in editing.
But until you’re done, just keep forging ahead. Just keep writing.

#FP: What genres do you find yourself most drawn to? In your books and in your #FP’s?

DW: Fantasy. Really, unless you’ve skipped ahead to this question, you impatient reader, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. And if you have skipped ahead? …My poor draconic ego. You’re just asking to be incinerated.
Fantasy simply enthralls me. A good part of this is that my absolute favorite is non-human POV characters. And fantasy is often the best place to find non-human POV. For my purpose, I lump dwarves, elves, hobbits, etc in with humans. Because really, they’re just humans that are extra short/stout/tall/thin/pointy-eared, etc. Dragons of course, are number one for me, followed by gryphons, and any other sentient non-human. I also enjoy sci-fi, because all those alien possibilities means a lot of interesting POV.

I like all genres of fantasy, but lately I find myself especially appreciative of fantasy with creatures that are less magical and more biological. I don’t mind high fantasy with complex magic systems and fancy rules governing the use of magic, but…to be honest, that sort of thing tends to bore me. Magic shouldn’t be math. It should be mysterious, like a force of nature. And to me, personally, I’m much more fascinated by some gritty, flesh-and-blood dragon just trying to survive than I am some mystical ancient with sparkly magic blood passing out wisdom to wizards with funny hats.

#FP: How can readers discover more about you and you work?

DW: Why, you can find me on twitter at @OfTheWilds. Do say hello. A dragon can never talk too much about himself, after all. Bring a tribute, won’t you?

You can find some of my novels in progress for free right here:

The Black Collar: If you were a dragon enslaved to the protection of an ungrateful frontier town, you’d be drunk too. An ever-growing mystery, friendship, heartbreak, fever dreams, hallucinations and a pet fish.

The Volunteer Maiden. Tired of damsels in distress? Then meet the maiden who kicks the dragon in the balls. A twisted comic fairy tale featuring not-so-legendary dragon with a big mouth, a woman taking control of her own life, and an unexpected friendship for the ages.

Or if you’re in the mood for something much naughtier, there’s my fantasy erotica novella, The Devil’s Deal: A daring, cunning thief. A dangerous, unpredictable dragon. Some bargains should never be struck.

Also, this monstrosity should link you to my G+ account:
I haven’t yet bothered to upgrade it to a custom URL for DWilder, but I suppose I’ll get there eventually.

Thank you to Friday Phrases for honoring me with this interview! I’m so thrilled you enjoy my flash fiction so much.
Do stick around and read Cold Hope, won’t you? If you enjoy it, please let me know on Twitter!

D. Wilder

Everything was white.
The snow that fell in ceaseless cascade all morning now came in driving waves. Pine boughs bent and creaked protest against the howling gale. Rhi trudged through the frozen forest, her fur-lined boots crunching in the powdery snow. She kept her hood drawn tight and her black hair hidden.

This was the worst storm Rhi had seen this winter. All day long, the wind’s fury grew as the temperature fell. Whipping winds sculpted the snow into dunes snaking between the trees. It painted the pines in the same ghostly shade, leaving only hints of green-blue needles peeking out. The tempest pierced the thick tundra fox pelt lining her hood. It numbed her nose till she could scarcely smell the pine that mingled with the scent of frost and winter’s anger.

Rhi cursed the blizzard for the tenth time since she left the warmth of her isolated home. Braving the storm would be worth it when she returned from her snares with fresh meat.
Rhi stopped when she saw the blood.

Blotches of crimson ice marred the white ground, near the frayed rope of a shredded snare protruding from the snow. Something had beaten her to her trapped prey yet again. Rhi knew the beasts needed food too, but they were starting to threaten her own survival in the harsh northern winter. Rhi glanced around, squinting against the stinging snow. At least she saw tracks this time.

Rhi crouched to study the prints. Any distinctiveness was long obscured by the blowing snow, reduced to little more than misshapen sinkholes among the drifts. Whatever left them was big, though. With large paws and a lot of weight atop them.Certainly larger than a wolf. Rhi scowled. A bear maybe, though they ought to be hibernating. Or a snow gryphon.

A howling gust of wind drove a spray of powdery snow against Rhi. She shielded her face and turned away, glancing at her own tracks. It wouldn’t be long before the blizzard’s wrath buried them. She’d be left with nothing but her sense of direction to get her home. It was dangerous to rely on instinct when the whole world was a white blur. Still, she needed to know what was robbing her snares. Something about those tracks put her ill at ease. At least if she determined what manner of creature it was, she’d know how to hunt it after the storm.

Rhi followed the tracks deeper into the forest. The storm seemed angrier with every crunching footstep. Clumps of snow clung to the layers of tundra fox pelts she wrapped herself in. Ice formed on the edges of her hood where warm breath met frozen air. The white coating would help camouflage her from whatever beast she stalked. Though the wind stung her face, at least her quarry was upwind. Rhi was glad for the woolen underclothes she wore beneath her furs and cloak.

As Rhi pushed on, she watched for signs of the creature beyond its tracks, any clue to the beast’s identity. She’d left her hunting bow behind due to the lack of visibility. But if she could find the animal’s winter den, she could return with her bowand take the beast down from a safe distance after the storm.There’d be fresh hides, sinews, and meat to last weeks. But if the tracks went on too much further, she was going to have to turn back.

Rhi slipped past an ancient aspen, its barren boughs clawing at the white sky. Her boot thumped something solid and she glanced down. A shard of broken wood jutted from the snow at her feet. She crouched and brushed the snow from several other half-concealed forms, revealing a few more chunks of splintered wood and some papery bark. Rhi turned back to the aspen and spotted a place where gouges marred its trunk. She wiped away the snow obscuring them, revealing a familiar set of distinctive ruts that nearly stopped her heart.

Rhi gasped, stumbling away from the tree. Her blood froze in her veins despite the warmth of her layered furs. Sweat broke out across her, turned the wind into icy daggers. No. No. Gods, no. Rhi’s belly tightened, pressing against her spine. Memories, horrible and terrifying, flashed through her mind. Her knees wobbled, and she dropped to the snow with a hand pressed to her belly. She clenched her jaw, panting, fighting a wave of nausea.
Only one creature could gouge a tree with markings like that.
A dragon.

Memories of the war flickered through her mind in a stream of terrible images and with the coppery stink of blood. A great army of monsters and dark magic. Her people gathered in a desperate stand to protect their lives, their homes. Cities in flames.Claws and teeth and spines.Screams.

Rhi pushed herself back to her feet, trembling. She swallowed a few times, trying to ease the parched burning of her throat. Gods, a dragon. Here. During the war she’d killed them, she’d lost friends to them, and she’d hoped to never see one again. It had been ten years since she’d come north seeking only peace and solitude.

On wobbling legs Rhi returned to the aspen. She reached a shaking hand to the tree, running cold fingers against the smooth gouges. There was no doubt in her mind. She’d seen similar markings plenty of times before. Only the curved, sturdy spines adorning the end of a male dragon’s tail made markings like that. They could do a lot worse, too. Rhi cringed. She’d witnessed those spines punch through armor and bone alike as if they were no more than paper.

That was it, then. She had to turn around right now before…before what? Before the dragon found her? Rhi’s heart sank into the pool of fearful ice that was her belly. The dragon would find her. It was what their kind did. The beast was already desperate enough to steal small meals from a human’s snares. He’d soon seek bigger prey and shelter. With the storm settling in,it was only a matter of time before the dragon came for Rhi herself. The smoke from the fires warming her home and barn would draw him in like the scent of blood drew wolves.

If Rhi went home now, it would be inevitable. Before the storm abated, the dragon would come for her. She knew she’d either be driven from her home and left to freeze, or she’d fill the monster’s belly. Only one of them would make it through this storm alive.

Rhi steeled herself. She grit her teeth and squeezed the hilt of her sword till the braided leather bit into her palm. She had no choice. So be it. Rhi pushed forward, following the tracks deep into the frozen forest as the blizzard raged.

With each step her heart pounded harder, blood pounded in her temples. Cold sweat built beneath her furs and wool underclothes. Memories of monsters and death drifted through her thoughts like blood-stained ghosts. Dragons were not easy creatures to kill, but Rhi told herself she could do this. She had done this before.
The trail ended at a circular copse of towering pines. Rhi knew them well. She called them the Emerald Sentinels. Their massive, gnarled trunks were spaced in a great circle with enough room amidst them for even a dragon to find a measure of protection.

Shelter from the storm.Was that all the beast wanted? She set her jaw and tightened her grip around her sword’s hilt.
Rhi used the howling wind to cover her advance as she crept closer. Several large, greenish tree limbs lay in the snow, snapped off where the dragon had pushed through the pines. A coating of white already dusted them. Rhi drew her blade as she approached the edge of the Emerald Sentinels, careful to stay downwind. The gusts blew through the trees, carrying the scent of pine, and hints of blood.

Silent, Rhi eased under the outer layers of pine boughs, weighing her options. If she could get onto his back, she could plunge her sword through his spine. The last time she’d tried that, her aim was off; that dragon had killed a lot of her people, but his scream still haunted her.With any luck she’d end this one more swiftly. Maybe she could just cut his throat. Dragons were soft under the jaw and they died as swiftly when their throat was opened as any other creature did.

Rhi slunk forward beneath the trees till she had her first good look at the dragon. He lay half-curled in the midst of the ancient pine copse. The beast’s scales were glossy ebony and dark gray. Rich green dappled his back and wings like moss on dirty granite.Lighter gray striped the heavy plates protecting the front of each limb. One of the ridged horns that crowned his head was broken off not far from his skull. Curved gray spines tipped his tail. Faded scars marred his hide alongside fresh pink ones. His kind had scarred Rhi, too.

When the dragon sat up onto his haunches, Rhi tensed. The beast rubbed his forepaws together. His whole body trembled, his scales clicked and rattled. She didn’t know dragons could shiver. He stretched his neck, peered at his own shaking forepaw. He licked his pads a few times, then pawed at the earth to clear some of the snow that had penetrated the piney shelter.

The dragon rose to his feet. He turned a half-circle, struggling to remove the snow. Rhi scrunched her face. She’d never seen a dragon so slender before. She couldsee his ribs through his dark scales. She glanced at the ground. Broken boughs, rabbit fur, and splatters of blood marked the snow. From the looks of him, that stolen rabbit was the biggest meal he’d had in weeks.

The dragon gave up on removing the snow. He eased back onto his haunches, groaning. One of his wings didn’t sit right. The joint where it met the dragon’s body was swollen, distended. Something protruded from it, crusted with hints of blood and seepage. Rhi winced. An arrowhead the dragon couldn’t get out.

The dragon tilted his head back.He stared up through the pine boughs as if begging the sun to shine. Rhi wondered why he didn’t just make fire. But what was he going to do, burn down his only shelter? Besides, she knew dragons needed to eat well to make their fire, and it must have been months since this one had a full belly.
Rhi caught a glimpse of his eyes. They shone a strange, silvery-white, like polished coins reflecting the snow. As the dragon gazed up at the clouds, he made a sound that was half growling sigh, half drawn-out whimper. It was an unfamiliar noise, but Rhi understood it just the same. A sound of resignation, fear.But what did he have to be afraid of?

Rhi watched him shiver a moment before understanding dawned on her. Her throat clenched. She wasn’t going to have to slay this dragon after all. Winter was going to do it for her. He was just too weak and too malnourished to survive a night in this blizzard. The dragon eased himself to the ground. He curled up in a scaly ball, squeezing his wings around his body. The monster looked as though he was ready to just go to sleep and let it happen.

Rhi eased back a few steps. That made things easier for her. She’d return home and let him die peacefully. She’d feed her goats and sheep, stoke her fire, and crawl into her warm bed and put this whole day behind her.
While the shivering, frightened dragon slowly froze to death, alone in the cold.
It didn’t seem right, even for a dragon.
Maybe she should end him herself, as she planned. Make it quick for him. Yes, that seemed–

SNAP! Rhi stepped on a dry stick obscured by snow.
The dragon’s head jerked up, his spiny frills flared, flashing a crimson warning. In an instant, the dragon was on his feet, pivoting towards her, his jaws spread. Rhi lunged to the side.Was she wrong about his fire? She dove into the snow, braced for the searing pain of dragon flame. But if his flames missed, she’d counter attack before he could bring to bear his claws and teeth and…
No fire came. No claws or teeth, either.

Instead, the dragon just stared at her as Rhi rolled to her feet, sword raised. The crimson burst of his spread frills faded as his spines settled back down around his head. His ears drooped. His whole body sagged like the trees weighed down by so much snow. The dragon’s breath came in heaving pants that painted the air in clouds of swirling steam. His silver-white eyes fixed on Rhi, and all he did was stare.
There was no fight left in those eyes.

Too weak.Too cold. There was no anger, even as he gazed at her sword. He had to know, and yet all she could see was a strange sort of terrified hope.
“Please…” The dragon’s voice came as a strained, trembling whisper. A struggle to fight back the tears she’d never imagined dragons could shed. She saw them now, glimmering in his eyes as he stared at the end of his own life. “I don’t want to freeze. Just…make it quick.”
I don’t want to freeze.
In the end, a quick death was all the dragon had left to hope for. It damn near broke Rhi’s heart.
She opened her mouth, tried to put voice to her thoughts. Tried to promise that quick end. Just lay his head down, close his eyes, and think of warm sunshine on his wings. But the words died in her clenched throat.

Rhi lifted her sword. It trembled. A few snowflakes drifted between the pine boughs and settled on the cold steel. She took a deep breath, and braced herself. She raised the blade, and the dragon closed his eyes. Brave. She had to give him that. In his place, would she be so brave, facing her own end?

A few tears ran down the dragon’s black cheeks. The war was over. He was no threat now. He was…just some creature who didn’t want to die out here. Who didn’t want to freeze to death, frightened and alone.
Maybe…maybe he didn’t have to. Maybe she’d killed enough of his kind. She kept her barn warm in the winter, for her livestock. She knew he’d fit. He trusted her to make his end swift. Maybe she could offer him something better. Rhi turned her blade, and pushed it back into its scabbard.She sniffed, swallowed the lump in her throat, and waited for the dragon to open his eyes. When he did, Rhi held out her empty hands, palms up.

The dragon looked at her hands. His ears twisted back in confusion. His frills flared. But that cold, hopeful shine in his eyes slowly grew into something beautiful. Rhi didn’t know how she’d keep them both fed now, but it didn’t matter.

“Come on.” Rhi smiled, beckoning for the dragon to follow. “Let’s get you somewhere warm.”
When the hope in the dragon’s silver-snow eyes exploded into joyous, thankful sobs, Rhi knew she was doing the right thing.