Caw! Alejandro nearly jumped out of his armor when a bird flew overhead, rustling the leaves and causing a terrible rustling sound. Taking deep breaths, he patted his cheeks and kept walking. “Calm down, Ale…just try to remember why you’re doing this…”
Indeed, the young knight had a reason to dive headfirst into this potentially haunted forest. On the king’s order, every knight was deployed to this very forest to clear it and make it safe to pave a road. That’s right, they were to slay the dragons that lived in this area.
The dragons have always been opposed to coexisting peacefully with humans, Alejandro thought back to his teacher’s words which reflected a sentiment repeated to him many times throughout his school career. In the future, it will be only dragons or only humans that survive.
“And the humans must emerge victorious…” Brushing some bramble aside, the man stepped over a spiky vine and continued his trek, the dim moonlight through the canopy his only guide.
Startled, Alejandro stumbled and fell, thankful that his armor prevented any scratches before leaping back onto his feet, sword drawn. His heart dropped when he saw the silhouette of a monster taller than the trees.
“Your people are looking for us.” With a gentle flap of its wings, the branches shook, revealing a beast with glistening scales glowing beneath the starlight. “I am here to warn you to begone.”
Dragons can talk? Alejandro always thought they were thoughtless killers. Shaking off his hesitant thoughts, he stammered, “I was sent here by the king to slay you and your kind!”
When the dragon exhaled, all the leaves before Alejandro blew into a tornado of sharp edges before fluttering back onto the ground. The creature invited itself to lay on its stomach, meeting Alejandro’s quivering brown eyes with its jeweled emerald ones. “And what have we done to deserve that?”
“We need to build a road through this land!” The knight shouted. The dragon’s docile actions made him regain confidence and he raised his sword again. “If we don’t do it, then the people of the south will starve! This is the only way. It’s either you or us, and it needs to be us.”
The dragon’s jade eyes glinted as it swayed its tail. “The people of the south are not starving, young one.”
“…What?” Alejandro subconsciously lowered his sword. I couldn’t have been fed a lie, could I?
“The king, that dithering old fool you answer to, is just as selfish as his father and the king before him.” The human was suddenly very aware of just how old this beautiful, intelligent creature was. “It baffles me how you humans cannot see just how incompetent he is. He is threatened by our existence and wishes to exterminate us once and for all at the cost of your lives while he remains at the castle, rested upon his throne and piles of gold.” The beast snorted. “Fools. All of you.”
Angered by the statement, Alejandro raised his sword again and shouted at the dragon. “Humans are not fools! The fools are the ones occupying this land and terrorizing other species with their unwelcome, dangerous existence!”
“You seem to think you know a lot about us; think we are terrible creatures who terrorize your race. But which of us was pointing a sword at the other?”
Alejandro’s face flushed. Disarmed both physically and mentally, he struggled to stammer a response. “But we can’t build a road here if your kind still live here…”
The moonlight was fading as dawn approached. Alejandro had spent far too long talking and too little slaying, but his mind was twisting from the new information being presented to him.
“Then simply build it somewhere else. Roads can be rebuilt. Trees can be planted again. But if you humans band together to exterminate my race…” It sighed deeply, sending the leaves beneath it into a flurry again.
“You were right about one thing. If dragons and humans clash, only one species will remain. And if you kill us, we will truly disappear. All dragons, innocent and undeserving, reduced to nothing but ashes and soot.”
The knight stared at his feet, cheeks hot with shame.
“And who will be the monster then?”
Even after the sun rose and he returned to his camp, Alejandro could not stop thinking of his encounter. What if everything he knew was wrong? That dragon had every opportunity to kill him yet let him walk free.
Dazed from his encounter, the knight rolled up his pants and sank his feet in the cold river as his fellow knights ambled about, trying to use the startling sensation to stay awake. He didn’t get any sleep at night, after all. Or did he? Was the encounter all a dream?
“What’s going on?” Hugo sat down beside him, plunging his feet into the icy water as well. “You’re so down.”
Alejandro kept his eyes on the rippling water. “What if dragons were good?”
After a pause, Hugo began guffawing and slapping his shoulder. “Have you gone mad? Dragons are evil, Ale. They want to take over the world, they burn down cities, they eat humans, and all those other awful things.” He waved a hand dismissively. “This is for the good of the kingdom. Don’t get cold feet now.”
“But have you ever seen a dragon do those things?” Alejandro insisted, looking his fellow recruit in the eye.
There was a short pause as Hugo shifted his gaze awkwardly before changing the topic. “We head into the forest at noon. Try and eat something. You’re too tired to act like yourself right now.”
But I feel more awake than ever. Alejandro simply nodded and let him go. After a while of continuing to watch the ripples in the river, he made up his mind, dragging himself from the lake to pack his bags. He would not help slay the dragons. He needed to see the truth for himself.