You hear the footsteps coming nearer, the sound echoing off the what you perceive to be the walls of a large chamber.
You immediately droop back into an apparently unconscious state and wait.
The footsteps stop right beneath your slightly swaying body. You can hear chuckling...
"...and then I said 'Swab you!'" says a gruff, drunken voice.
"Swab you?" a squeaky voice inquires.
"You know, when you wipe someone's face on the floor...?"
The guards suddenly stop talking. And you can feel their curious stares focus on your limp form.
"So that's what a weredragon looks like," says Mr. Gruff.
"Careful, it's said they are mighty ferocious," warns Mr. Squeaks.
"Well, he seems pretty harmless to me. Let's have a bit of fun, shall we?"
Mr. Gruff raises something up to you. You hear the soft roar of a flame and see a faint glow as the object comes nearer. The heat from the approaching torch warms the shroud over your head.
The thunderous voice brings the approaching flame to a stop millimeters from your covered face. You can smell the shroud covering your head begin to smoke.
"What do we have here?" you hear Mr. Gruff say.
"Release that poor creature," the new voice replies, softer but no less commanding.
Creature? you think in disgust.
The torch lowers.
Curiosity overcoming caution, you slowly untie the rest of the knot tying your hands and carefully loosen and lift the edge of the shroud.
You see that you seem to be in a high, dank dungeon chamber.
You begin to work on the knots tying your tail.
The two guards (judging by their uniforms) are below you, one short and pudgy, the other tall and thin. A rather cliché pair, you think with a smile. You notice that both wear the colors of the King's Royal Guard.
Before you can wonder about the possible implications of the Crown's involvement, the strong voice commands once again.
"I shall repeat this only once..."
You feel the knots loosening.
You now notice with relief that the guards have their backs to you, their attention focused on the figure in the doorway.
And what a figure! you think.
The woman wears a flashing silver gown of exotic but unknown make, but the flash hardly hides the lean curve of her shapely legs, the perfect hourglass curve of her hips, the luscious curves of her fulsome breasts, and...
You blush furiously and almost fall off the rope, saving yourself only by grabbing the rope with your tail.
The woman's eyes are ice blue, hard as agate and equally cold, piercing and calculating. Her lips, though beautifully formed, frame a mouth set in a firm line of unbreakable purpose. Her hair falls in fanciful white-blond tresses, but glows an eerie silver from the crackling energy emanating from the silver tiara resting on her brow.
She lifts her frost-white face in silent condemnation of the two ingrates and continues, "Release the creature."
"Well, sure, my little blossom," Mr. Gruff replies, oblivious to the woman's antagonism. "Just as soon as you give us poor workers a little smooch of appreciation."
Mr. Squeaks shivers and pulls Mr. Gruff back. "I don't think we should do that. I don't like the looks of her."
Mr. Gruff, annoyed, turns to Mr. Squeaks. "Aw, c'mon, you wimpy blaggard. Look at her!" He jerks his head in the woman's direction. "What's not to like?"
As Mr. Gruff stalks away from his unwilling cohort, you suddenly note with surprise that Mr. Gruff is the tall and thin while Mr. Squeaks is the short and pudgy.
The gangly Mr. Gruff sidles closer to the silver woman, cajoling her. "C'mon, dove, just one little smooch."
The silver woman tenses and raises a pristine white hand as if to ward off the lustful guard.
Fiet! she cries and a large white ball of lightning, crackling with furious energy, slams into the two hapless guards.
You hear Mr. Squeaks' pitiful "OOF!" as Mr. Gruff's limp body knocks the breath out of him, and see both fly by below you.
The sound they make against the far wall is deafening.
The woman looks up at you critically.
"Well?" she says. "What are you waiting for?"
Knowing that the sound surely woke up the whole castle, you change into half-dragon form to better protect against attack and glide silently down.
The woman nods approvingly. "Good choice of form, dragonling."
Your scales bristle at the name given for the babes of your species. At a full 19 years, you are hardly a babe.
The woman notices your displeasure and quirks her mouth in amusement, though her eyes remain cold.
"Believe me, dragonling. You are much younger than you think."
She looks you in the eye and for a brief moment, her eyes reveal the wisdom of countless centuries hidden behind their icy exterior.
Awed, you suddenly do feel young and foolish. But you quickly shake the feeling aside. You don't have much time for self-recriminations.
The silver woman seems to agree.
"Come, we must leave." And she turns a corner and goes up a narrow flight of stairs.
You start after her, but you stop and look back, inquiring "The guards...?"
"Are alive," the woman says. "The ball I threw was more of a signal than a lethal strike."
You growl under your breath and walk faster to keep up.
"You mean, you WANTED the whole castle alerted of our presence?"
The woman continues to walk in silence.
Confused and suddenly frustrated, you stop and call to the woman, "I am not going another step until I get some question answered. Why are you doing this? Why did you come to my aid, if indeed it is aid you offer...?"
The rest of your questions die on your lips as the woman stalks back down the steps to face you.
You suddenly realize that though she was a step above you, the silver woman's head only barely reaches your chest, but the will she exudes makes her seem ten meters tall.
"You fool," she reprimands. "This is no time for conversation. We must be away from this castle at the appointed time"
She sees the confusion and hurt in your eyes and her face softens ever so slightly.
"As to why I am doing this?" Her hands move in an all-encompassing gesture. "Let's just say I am doing it ... for a friend."
Without another word, she turns and walks back up the stairs.
With more questions now than ever, you resignedly follow after her.
At the top of the stairs, you enter a lavish hallway covered with tapestries and lined with porcelain figures and ornate chairs. You give your wings a much needed stretch from the cramped stairway and look around. From the prevalent theme of the royal insignia, you decide that you must be in the Royal Castle.
A flash of silver catches your eye and you see the silver woman motioning you to another cramped stairway.
You sigh and quickly follow.
The climb is not as arduous as before, thanks to the fresh air coming in from the window slits of the outside wall. You see through the windows that you are climbing up towards the castle parapets.
Once on the parapets, you breathe in the fresh morning air and see your town down below, black and smoldering. You suddenly wonder how your parents are faring. If you did not save them, then who did? If only...
There comes a shout. And the silver woman curses. You turn, not sure which surprised you more, and find a battalion of soldiers wearing the colors of the Crown charging toward you.
A second shout echoes. And from the other end of the battlements, another battalion of uniformly-garbed soldiers rumble forth.
You look between the two armies, slightly panicked, and wonder fleetingly how the inn is going to feed all those people.
You look down at the still smoking town and remember that you have wings.
You can glide down to the town and, hopefully, to safety, provided you are quick enough and the soldiers aren't great shots with their bows.
You turn to the silver woman to suggest your idea, knowing it would be more difficult to carry her but dishonorable not to save her, as well.
But the silver woman is studying the armies. Giving each of the approaching armies an appraising look, she then turns to you, face unreadable.
"Dragonling, do you trust me?"
"What?" you say, shocked and surprised.
The armies rumble closer.
"I said, 'Dost thou trust me?'"