Eloise drew a deep, shaky breath. She was standing in front of an unknown cave carved into the side of the German mountain. Mount Verwüstung. Slight wisps of dark smoke crawled away from a great cloud of smoke looming near the top of the cave, and escaped out the mouth of the cave, rising, eventually evaporating into the clear blue sky. Eloise stiffened her reserve.
She adjusted her shining plumed helmet, and reluctantly delved into the darkness of the cave. The light dimmed as she stepped further. The only sounds in the cave were small drops of water dripping onto the stone floor of the chamber, and the tinny steps of her iron boots echoing on the stone walls and ceiling. The inside of the cave smelled of rotting flesh and wood smoke. When Eloise could no longer see, she leaned her sword against the cave wall and withdrew a wooden torch and flint and steel from a leather pouch hanging off a strap around her waist.
She struck the flint and steel across each other twice. A spark eventually caught the cotton on the torch aflame. The fire lit the area surrounding Eloise. Great stalactites clung to the ceiling, and stelagmites taller than Eloise herself protruded out of the ground. Ignoring her surroundings, Eloise hiked further into the cave. Soon, the thunderous snoring of what sounded like a large beast sounded nearer. Her sword slipped in her hand from cold sweat, and her heart beat a furious tattoo against her ribcage. Nonetheless, she walked on.
Finally, the reason for her journey came into view. A dragon the color of a red sunset was curled around a handsome young man in armor not unlike Eloise’s. Both were snoring. Eloise glared vehemently at the beast. She was ready for a fight. Using all her strength, she beat the blunt side of her sword into the cave wall. If she was going to win the fight, she may as well win when the monster was awake. Both knight and the dragon jolted awake. When the dragon saw Eloise, he let out a triumphant roar. Eloise disregarded him, and sent the knight a seething expression.
The knight gave Eloise a humoring smile. “Ah. Come to claim your prize, have you?”
Eloise’s eyes flickered to the dragon, then back at the knight. Her former lover. “He’s not a prize. He’s a living, breathing animal.”
The knight nodded. “I know. A worthy prize for those willing to buy it.”
“But he’s defenseless.” Eloise said. “You won’t get any money if he has no fire.”
“This?” The knight taunted as he reached into his breastplate. He drew out what looked like a small test tube filled with a bright purple flame held by a thin gold chain.
Eloise’s glare dropped off her face, replaced by shock. “How did you-?”
The knight laughed. “It was simple. Just a spell.”
“Yes, the ingredients were difficult to find. Most difficult of all was the love of someone who could see past looks.” The knight drawled. “That, of course, was you. You love this dragon.”
“But how could you do that?”
“Simple. You were sleeping, I snuck into your room, and plucked a hair from your pretty, empty head.” The knight explained.
Eloise snarled. “That’s not what I meant.”
“You didn’t think I really loved you, did you?” The knight let out a humorous laugh. “You must be even more stupid than I thought.”
Eloise remained silent, but all she wanted to say could be seen within her. Even the dragon’s fire dangling from that golden chain was cold compared to the fire in her eyes. She dropped her torch.
“But no matter, the auction will be held at the bottom of this mountain by sundown. I will just kill you, and all this can be put to rest.” The knight said.
With a yell, Eloise surged forward, her sword raised.
The knight shot a ball of pure blue flame in her direction. It barely missed Eloise. She could feel some stray hairs searing off her head. She took off her battle helmet and flung it at the knight. The knight raised his hand, and it froze mid-air, dropping with a metallic clang onto the stone ground.
“You’ll have to try harder.” He drawled.
Eloise irritably flicked her mahogany braid over her shoulder, and ran forward. She was only several yards away, about to stab the knight, when he lifted a hand and held it in the direction of the sword. He flicked his hand over to the side, sending the blade flying from Eloise’s hand. It clattered pathetically on the ground. Eloise was left without defense. She desperately ran to the knight to steal his own blade.
The knight kicked her onto her back. The air was knocked out of Eloise’s chest when she hit the ground. As she was wheezing, the knight pressed his foot against her chestplate. “Cute.”
Eloise tried to reply, but everything came out as a dry squeak. Over to Eloise’s right, the dragon stood, but all four of his legs and his wings were shackled to the ground. He just settled for a desperate roar.
“It was entertaining, watching you try and defeat me. But I have run out of patience for this. The king decided, conjuring a ball of flame in his hand. He interestedly observed the fire with his head cocked to the side like a curious child. He began to say something else, but it sounded like a far away rumble in Eloise's mind.
Her eyes flashed to the small ball of purple flames flickering inside the glass. An idea rushed into her brain. “Not… quite…” She managed. The knight only had time for a look of confusion to appear on his face before Eloise reached up, and pulled on the chain. The knight could only make retching noises. Harder, and harder Eloise pulled, until the oxygen was choked out of the knight’s throat. The knight crumpled onto Eloise’s chest.
“Cute, huh?” Eloise croaked as pushed him off and stood. “I wasn’t even trying.” She snapped the gold chain off of the knight’s neck. She smirked with satisfaction at the red line around the knight’s neck from where she choked him. She cast aside the gold chain, keeping the glass vial in her hands. She reached forward and stroked the dragon on the leg. “Bottoms up, big guy.”
The dragon opened his wide pink maw. Eloise tossed the vial into his mouth. With a triumphant roar, the dragon belched a wide pillar of violet flame. With a renewed strength, he ripped the iron chains out of the ground. Eloise climbed up the dark spikes going up the dragon’s legs. She swung her legs over his back.
“Come on, big guy,” Eloise said, patting the dragon on the side. “You want to go for a ride?”
The dragon roared again, shooting a column of fire. His footfalls shook the cave as he barreled through it. He leapt out of the mouth of the cave, spreading wings the size of circus tents, and carried him and Eloise into the fresh wind, where they belonged. As for the knight, his corpse rotted in the cave with a chain of gold. He died with what he loved.