"I'm home!" Juan called to his wife, throwing his keys on the desk. Isabel came out of the hall.
"Did you get it?" she asked, squinting her eyes in curiosity.
"They still won't promote you?"
"Apparently not. I swear they like me where I'm at and as long as I'm there, they're not going to let me move forward. I'm sick of it!"
After a short evening of silent brooding, Juan and Isabel went to bed.
Suddenly, Juan woke up. He sat up and looked around. It was pitch black. He looked at his bedsheets only to find they weren't there. He was fully dressed: pants, boots, long-sleeve shirt. He was in a dark chamber, a dungeon perhaps. There was something familiar about this place.
Then, someone ran into the chamber, a torch in his hand, and he waved urgently at the man.
"It's time! We have to get out of here!"
Juan stood up and ran over to the torch-bearer. He did not feel tired, at all.
"What's going on?" he asked.
The torch-bearer replied, "the Orcs brought you here, but we took them all out and managed to find you. We were almost out the gate when they took you. Now you just need to get us the rest of the way out. Come on!"
Juan had no idea who this guy was or how exactly he was going to get him out. Where even was here? And did that torch-bearer just say 'Orcs'?
Something seemed very familiar about this whole situation, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.
"This way!" the torch-bearer called softly behind him as he wound his way through the dark caverns. A light appeared in view as one of the tunnels curved toward an exit.
When they reached the chamber at the end of the tunnel, Juan and the torch-bearer came upon a small crowd of people huddled together, eager to get out, but unwilling to take the first step, as if they were afraid of the light.
"Give me your sword," the torch-bearer said.
"My s--?" Juan looked down and found a scabbard tied to his hip. 'When did that get there?' He took the belt off and handed it to the torch-bearer.
"Better give me the shield, too," he added. "Don't want to feed the dragon new trinkets. He thrives off metal, you know."
Juan searched himself and then found a shield strapped to his back. He took it off and gave it to the torch-bearer.
"Good, now you distract the dragon while the rest of us sneak out."
"… the hell?!" Juan exclaimed. "How am I supposed to fight a dragon with no weapons and no armor?" He raised his arms like a scarecrow, indicating the simple shirt and pants he was wearing.
"You have to," pleaded the torch-bearer. "You're our only hope. Only you know how to defeat a dragon without weapons!"
"I'm almost certain I would have made no such claim!" Juan said. "The only way I would know how to fight a dragon is with weapons!"
"Please," cried someone from the crowd, "we want to get out of here. We need your help."
Juan sighed, frowned, and looked out the tunnel. Across the courtyard was the gate. Somewhere out there was the dragon.
He stepped out, hugging the wall, searching for the beast. He saw the shadow first, and then he heard the roar, a powerful blast of thunder like a volley of booming cannons. It swooped overhead, and the man took off for the gate like a squirrel toward a tree. The dragon dropped in front of him, kicking up chunks of earth. Juan’s eyes and throat burned as he coughed through the thick lake of dust.
When the dust settled, he looked up and saw the face of the dragon staring right at him. It was as horrifying as any he had seen in books, and its sheer size only made it more terrible. The dragon shook its head, and Juan, by instinct, dove to the side just in time to miss the rays of its fiery breath. The man was afraid, yet somehow, he felt the confidence he needed to defeat this dragon, even if only with his bare hands.
He remembered when he fought the Green Dragon of Kalhoon and Forgar the Maneater of Illiore. He remembered bringing down the Red Dragon of Vessland with nothing more than the trees surrounding them. He was known as Juan the Dragon Slayer.
But then he also remembered why this dragon was so deadly. Its black and silver skin was able to absorb metal, rendering any swords completely useless against it, and the skin was still so thick that wooden spears were no match to penetrate it.
Juan rolled out of his dive and leapt for the dragon’s extended wing. The dragon flapped and flailed, but the man hung on tight and clawed his way to the creature’s back. The dragon took flight, soaring up high, and Juan called out to the villagers below: “Go now! Run!” But no one moved. They stood around. Terrified? Awestruck? He had no idea. The beast couldn’t be more distracted. “Go!” he shouted again, but no one moved.
Then, the dragon swept low to the ground and in the midst of a barrel-roll, scraped the man loose from his hide. Juan tumbled to a halt and watched as the dragon again landed between him and the gate. He looked once more at the idle people and shot them a questioning look. They offered no response.
The dragon thundered once more, challenging the man for another round. Juan got up just as the dragon pressed his head forward, teeth bared, a flying bed of spikes. He stepped aside and then caught onto the creature’s upper jaw. The dragon again bucked, trying to shake loose the human barnacle, but with no luck.
“Go!” he cried again, but still the people did not budge. They only stood and stared, now emotionless, as if they were more interested in watching the fight, maybe even watching his inevitable doom.
Finally, the dragon flung him to the ground. Juan did not feel any of the pain, though he was certainly excited. He got up on his elbows and looked at the people once more. He remembered something the wizard Satine once told him: “One day, you’re going to meet a dragon you can’t beat. Make sure you know when you’ve met him, and you might live to fight another day.” Maybe this was that dragon. And if this was that dragon, these people needed to be out of here. But it was their own fault for not running when he told them to.
Juan rolled from his position, just in time to miss the dragon’s deadly kiss. Now under the dragon, he sprinted toward the gate. If the people were not smart enough to run when the dragon was high in the air, then they were going to have to be on their own. This dragon was not dying today, and neither was he.
As Juan ran for the gate, it began to drop shut. He reached it just in time to dive under before it slammed shut. The dragon no longer paid him any heed. It was satisfied with its victory and needed no further convincing that the battle was over. The man looked through the gate at the people staring from the tunnels. They still showed no expression. No fear, no worry, not even any concern for the dragon who also seemed to disregard them.
The more he thought about it the more he realized, maybe the only reason the dragon fought him was because he was looking to fight the dragon. Maybe the dragon didn’t care one way or the other about him.
Juan turned and walked toward the setting sun. He looked back once. The crowd and the dragon watched him, but there was no fear, no malice, nothing. He turned back around and walked as the sun grew brighter.
And then he woke up. He was back at home, in his bed, and daylight was starting to glow in the window.
‘What a strange dream.’ Strange, but enlightening. Something in his mind — or was it his heart? — knew what he needed to do. He had made up his mind, one way or the other. He had done all he could for his company and he was no longer seeing the forward momentum he was promised all those years ago. There was only one thing left to do.
Juan smiled as he thought about how he walked away from the dragon. He may not have been able to kill the beast, but he certainly gave it his all before he let it go. Who else can say they wrangled an invincible dragon and lived to tell the tale?