Being a princess was suffocating.
Eunae huffed at the wall, kicking impatiently at the heavy skirts of the dress she was wearing- full regalia to meet the foreign prince she was to be betrothed to; like chattel used in trade.
Eunae was sure he was a great guy, from what little she’d interacted with him (a full 15 minutes of awkward introductions and standing silently next to each other while their parents chatted on), but she had no interest in marriage, not at this point in her life, anyway. He was nineteen to her twenty, and tall and good looking, she could tell that much, but she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life with him, living in his kingdom as they grew to loathe each other and the situation they were forced into. Her brother didn’t have to marry anyone, she thought bitterly as she stormed through the halls where no one could see her.
Dinner was an awkward affair throughout the appetisers, Eunae picking at her food grumpily, with as much grace as she could muster- as was befitting a princess.
‘If it makes you feel better,’ a low murmur came from next to her, ‘This wasn’t my idea.’
She glanced at the prince next to her, giving her a wry smile, and gave a small laugh.
‘Look, Your Highness-‘
‘Junhong,’ he interrupted, ‘Our parents want us betrothed, you can call me Junhong.’
‘Junhong,’ she conceded, ‘it’s not that I don’t like you- it’s just the whole principle of the matter.’
‘Married as a way to forge foreign relationships instead of any desire on the part of the parties involved, I get it.’ Junhong shrugged. ‘I’m not offended.’
She surveyed him with a critical gaze for a few moments, something occurring to her. ‘You don’t have a choice in this either, do you?’
The prince gave a resigned grin. ‘Not being the first in line means I’m probably just as much of a pawn as you are.’
‘Well, at least we’re on the same page,’ she muttered and he let out a small laugh he hid behind his hand.
‘I can promise you I’m not a dragon in disguise or something, waiting to take you captive’ he told her in mirth, ‘if that makes the situation at all better.’
‘If a dragon managed to pose as a prince, I’d be more impressed than anything else.’
‘Do you think they have a set human form to change into or do they just copy someone else?’ he wondered aloud and she shot him a glance.
‘What,’ he said, catching her look, ‘If we’re to be married, we might as well start becoming friends.’
Her shoulders slumped as she made a sound in agreement, figuring she might as well indulge this line of conversation.
Everyone knew the stories of the dragons; fearsome winged reptiles who soared through the sky and breathed fire, setting the sun alight each morning and demanding payment in the form of human flesh, which they took on their own accord. They shifted into human form and entered the towns, seducing men and women and enthralling children. Whenever a person went missing, a whisper of ‘dragon’ went around, and no one spoke to strangers for a while, shielding their eyes and avoiding people’s gazes.
After dinner, Eunae and Junhong shared a look of resignation as their parents commented on how well they were getting along, and Eunae privately agreed with Junhong’s barely audible mutter of ‘maybe we shouldn’t have gotten on so well’- they’d only encouraged their parents, it seemed, and now it was practically a done deal (it always had been, if she was honest with herself, but all that did was make her irritable).
She escaped from the castle as the sun set, heading through the grounds to the hay barn- she often hid up in the loft when she wanted a reprieve from royal duties, from having to be a princess. The moon shone through the large windows, giving her enough light to make her way up the ladder and she flopped onto the hay with a sigh.
Nothing was official, but it was only a matter of days before it became so, and Eunae found herself wishing she was born into a different family, a different life; one where she wasn’t married off to a stranger at her parents’ whim, no matter how nice they were., getting up to lean against the window edge and stare at the moon as if it was the one making the wedding plans.
Eunae started at a rustling in the hay, and she gripped at her skirts and looked around wildly for something to use as a weapon- not that she knew how to use one, she realised moments after the sound revealed itself to be a fox.
‘Hey, you’re cute,’ she said, crouching down a little. She hesitated as she reached out her hand. ‘You’re not going to bite me, are you?’ she asked, and jumped when the fox yipped in response, making her lose her balance and land on her ass on the hay.
The fox bounded forward and headbutted her hand, sniffing at it before scrabbling into her lap, front paws on her chest as it snuffled around, before giving out another startling yip and licking her face.
Eunae laughed, surprised. ‘You’re friendly, aren’t you?’ she said fondly, scratching behind the fox’s ears as the fox almost seemed to grin at her, reminding her far more of the puppies that had grown up in the castle boundaries than a wild animal. She could swear she saw intelligence and not a trace of fear in the fox’s glittering golden eyes.
Her delight in the friendliness of the animal turned into disbelief and fear when the fox clambered off her and transformed before her very eyes into a slim girl a little taller than she with the same golden eyes and russet hair of the fox. The girl smiled brightly at her, completely unashamed in her nudity and Eunae felt the colour rise in her cheeks despite the situation.
‘You- you-‘ she stammered, eyes round and hand shaking. Dragon, she thought, followed by a dazed I always thought they had less fur.
The girl’s smile slipped into a concerned expression. ‘Are you okay? Oh dear, did I scare you? Are you more comfortable when I’m a fox? Is it because I’m not wearing clothes?’
‘I-‘ Eunae didn’t know where to start.
Before Eunae could really react, the girl had shifted again, leaving a fox yipping at her again and Eunae was glad she was already sitting down; because if she wasn’t she would have been very soon.
The fox sniffed around at her for a bit, seemingly worried, licking her cheek, yipping and nuzzling her hand again. All Eunae could do was stare in shock.
The fox (the girl? The dragon?) gambolled around playfully, and Eunae could only assume it was trying to set her at ease, bounding off hay bales and scrabbling in the loose hay.
Is this how they hunt? Eunae wondered, is this how they set their victims at ease? Why would they need their victims to be at ease?
Eunae looked up at some small snuffs, seeing the fox batting at her snout, looking bemused, before it sneezed, sending a small spurt of fire into the hay.
Eunae stared at the small flames, crackling as they took on the dry hay, not quite knowing how to react.
‘Oops.’ Eunae turned to see the fox had turned back into a girl, looking at the rapidly growing fire sheepishly, and Eunae had a wild thought that she didn’t expect her death by dragon to be accidental.
Well, I suppose this is one way to avoid princess duties.
The only sound for a few moments was the crackling of the flames as they grew higher, more hay crinkling into black fuel.
‘Run,’ the girl said, grabbing Eunae’s hand and pulling her towards the ladder, Eunae stumbling over her skirts as she was jolted into action, the girl waiting at the bottom of the ladder for her, hopping from one foot to another, grabbing her hand again as soon as she stepped down from the last rung, pulling Eunae along behind her, away from the barn, towards the forest. Eunae had no choice but to follow along, didn’t even think of trying to break away from the slim girl, hair flowing behind her as she ran, sure footed, through the grass, and in Eunae’s strange sense of calm she thought they must make quite a picture, sprinting across the grass in the night, her in her many skirted gown and the girl in nothing at all.
Eunae chanced a glance behind her just before they got to the trees, to see flames licking out of the top window of the barn, smoke billowing white against the black night, the full moon looking serenely down on the burning barn, a cat running across the lawn away from it.
They stopped a little way into the forest, the girl wrapping herself around a tree as she peered back, Eunae desperately trying to catch her breath as she heard shouting starting from the direction of the fire. She’d only managed to gulp down a few lungful’s of air when the shouting got louder and the girl gripped her hand again, pulling her on.
‘Come on,’ she urged, ‘Can’t be caught.’
Eunae had never run through the forest at night before, not had she run through it in a full dress. She hadn’t run through the forest at all for over a decade, and she could feel branches pulling at her clothes and tripping her up, and she felt terribly inelegant as she tripped over a tree root; ungainly next to the girl’s light, never failing steps. There was a moment of indignation before Eunae decided that the girl had obviously had far more practice than she had.
(She could only presume she was still in shock, with her thoughts being as flippant as they were- she was on the run from a burning building with a dragon, for goodness sake.)
They were a good portion of the way up the gradually sloping mountain that the forest climbed when Eunae’s legs gave out and she sank to the ground in a pillow of her skirts, gasping for air.
She had absolutely no idea where they were- she’d never been this deep into the forest, even when she was younger and had her nannies running wildly after her through the trees.
The girl got a few steps further before she stopped and bounded back to Eunae, sinking down next to her, looking windswept and Eunae felt her already short breath catch in her throat.
Maybe it’s a dragon power, she thought wildly.
‘Are you okay?’ the girl asked.
‘I don’t run that much,’ she gasped in reply, ‘pretty much ever.’
‘Oh.’ The girl grinned. ‘I’m Nahyun.’
‘Princess Eunae,’ Eunae replied automatically, and paused- what use did a dragon have for royal titles. ‘Eunae,’ she amended, ‘I’m Eunae.’
‘Nice to meet you,’ Nahyun greeted sunnily.
Eunae gave a distracted nod, trying to catch her breath a bit more. ‘Are you going to eat me?’ she asked, and Nahyun looked bemused.
‘Why would I eat you?’ she asked, and Eunae gestured helplessly.
‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘isn’t that what dragons do?’
Nahyun laughed widely, and Eunae felt even more confused.
‘Are you- you are a dragon, aren’t you?’ she hedged and Nahyun nodded carelessly.
‘I didn’t realise dragons looked like foxes,’ she offered awkwardly after a few moments, not knowing how else to continue.
‘Oh, that wasn’t my true form,’ Nahyun told her with a grin, ‘It’s just smaller and less noticeable. For some reason you humans never got used to us in our true forms.’
‘Because you eat us,’ Eunae said and Nahyun pouted a little.
‘Most of us don’t.’
‘Oh,’ was all Eunae could think to say. And then: ‘Can I… see your true form?’
Nahyun’s eyes glittered golden as she gave Eunae a cheeky smile. ‘Promise not to freak out?’
Eunae nodded enthusiastically, and Nahyun gave a laugh before standing up off of Eunae’s skirts and backing up a bit.
Her skin seemed to ripple, her being seemed to shimmer and her form twisted again, but instead of shrinking into a fox, she grew a bit; lengthened into a tail, wings stretching out and then folding against her side, a sleek, majestic creature probably only a head or two taller than Eunae if she stood up on her hind legs, with the golden eyes Eunae had gotten used to, her entire body covered in shimmery scales in a similar golden bronze as her hair in human form. Long gold edged pristine white claws dug into the earth, sharp white teeth filled her mouth, and a ridge of almost translucent scales traced down the middle of the entirety of her back and tail, matching the gossamer gold of the webs of her wings.
Eunae was speechless.
Nahyun-the-dragon let out a small roar- more of a rumble really- and reared up slightly, extending her wings and flapping, rising off the ground just enough to twist twice into the air before landing gracefully, front feet first, shaking her head as her wings folded back against her side.
Eunae reached out with a slightly trembling hand, hesitant, not sure if she was allowed to touch, taking a small step towards the creature in front of her. Nahyun abolished all of her hesitation by bounding forward, an endless ball of energetic friendliness Eunae was having some trouble coming to terms with, and shoving her head into Eunae’s hand, leaning against her so she had no choice but to stroke her.
Do dragons like being stroked? Scratched? Eunae wasn’t sure of procedure.
Nahyun pressed up a bit more, moving so Eunae was touching the nub of her wing, pressed a bit more insistently. Eunae scratched hesitantly and was rewarded with a sound akin to cat purring- if a cat purring sounded like a low rumble that seemed to vibrate in the earth.
Eunae scratched contentedly for a few more minutes, fascinated at the feel of the scales under her fingers- cool, but like the coolness on the edge of something heated.
Eunae yelped in surprise when Nahyun moved, rearing up and placing her front legs on her shoulders, nuzzling into her cheek. Taken off guard- and also because Nahyun was heavy- Eunae toppled over, gripping onto Nahyun’s front legs in an ill-conceived attempt to thwart gravity.
She landed heavily on the ground, Nahyun landing on top of her and knocking all the air out of her.
I have spent far too much of this night breathless for unappealing reasons, Eunae thought as she wheezed.
Her mind blanked when Nahyun shifted back into a girl on top of her- far lighter than her dragon form- smiling sheepishly and biting her lip, hair falling over her shoulders and into Eunae’s face, moonlight casting light on her nakedness, and Eunae was sure if she had any breath in her she would have lost it at that, and she felt the heat rise in her cheeks.
‘Sorry, I forget my strength,’ Nahyun apologised.
Eunae could only just manage a faint ‘Not at all,’ in response.
‘And I’m sorry for burning your house down, the hay tickled my nose.’
Eunae blinked at her, before- ‘Oh, that wasn’t my house. No one lived there.’
‘Oh.’ Nahyun’s face brightened and she pushed herself up and off Eunae, allowing her to struggle into a sitting position. ‘Well, that’s good.’
‘Why were you there?’ Eunae asked, the question occurring to her and Nahyun shrugged.
‘I was poking around and got tired this morning and it was warm, so I had a nap. It was comfortable. You woke me up when you came in.’
‘Sorry,’ Eunae said uncertainly and Nahyun laughed.
‘Oh, I wasn’t upset. You’re really pretty.’
Eunae scratched at her neck awkwardly. ‘Thanks. Uh.’ She cleared her throat. ‘So are- so are you.’
Nahyun smiled at her, a softer smile than her previous bright grins and it sent Eunae’s stomach twisting into knots. She swallowed and twisted her fingers together in her lap, looking down to avoid Nahyun’s gaze.
‘I suppose you want to go back,’ Nahyun said after a bit, ‘I shouldn’t have dragged you with, it was just- it was on fire and then there were lots of people and that’s generally not good for an unprepared dragon. I can take you back.’
Eunae was mid-way through a nod when she thought about what awaited her at the castle. Obligations and responsibilities that would require her to wear suffocating clothes for the rest of her life and marry Junhong- which wasn’t horrible, granted, but with Nahyun sitting in front of her Eunae was keenly aware that she would never be entirely happy in that marriage. There was a pang of wistfulness at the thought of her brother and parents but it faded quickly in the face of her resolve.
‘No,’ she said, ‘Don’t.’
‘I don’t want to go back,’ she explained, ‘Can’t I come with you? I mean, if that’s at all possible. If you’re okay with that.’
A smile started pulling at the corners of Nahyun’s lips. ‘I’m very okay with that. Are you sure?’
‘As long as you don’t eat me for supper,’ Eunae added hurriedly and Nahyun laughed.
‘What about dessert?’ she said playfully with a flick of her hair, and Eunae flushed at the tone of her voice.
The next day, Eunae realised that perhaps she hadn’t thought it through as much as she could have as Nahyun bounded through the mountain, switching between fox and human effortlessly as Eunae struggled through the rocks, getting frustrated at the layers of clothing she was wearing and very tempted to follow Nahyun’s lead and do away with clothing altogether- but then she didn’t quite have the shamelessness, or the inner heat to ward against the natural elements.
Nahyun sat on a rock, soaking up the sun, watching on amusedly as Eunae tore at her skirts in frustration, needing to get rid of at least most of the layers.
‘Where are we going, anyway?’ Eunae asked, trying to find something sharp enough to rip the lasy layer of skirt.
‘I have a cave a few mountains over.’
Eunae stopped. ‘You have a cave.’
‘Well, I know of a cave,’ Nahyun amended. ‘I use it quite often, it’s quite cozy.’ Nahyun grinned. ‘Did you expect a house?’
Eunae stared at the material in her hands for a few moments. ‘I honestly didn’t know what to expect,’ she admitted, ‘But that does make the most sense.’
‘You still want to come?’
Eunae looked up at Nahyun, her hair plastered to her forehead messily and her dress in a tattered mess. ‘I’ve come this far.’
Nahyun grinned at her, her eyes curving into crescents, and she nodded at the skirt. ‘Need some help?’
Eunae looked down. ‘I need something sharp,’ she said something helplessly. There was a clatter as some rocks fell, and Eunae looked up to see sunlight glancing off golden scales. ‘Oh.’
Nahyun’s claws skittered against the rock she was on as she moved towards Eunae, and Eunae tried not to squeal as sharp claws tore at her last layer of skirt, squeezing her eyes shut, jolting when she felt a cool tongue lick her cheek.
She cautiously opened them when she heard laughter and she stumbled to her feet, looking down at the skirt brushing her thighs.
‘Is that okay?’ Nahyun asked.
‘It’s… a little shorter than I was going for,’ Eunae admitted.
‘Whoops,’ Nahyun said airily, her smile unrepentant, and something jumped in Eunae’s stomach.
She swallowed a few times, her throat suddenly feeling dry, and she gathered up some of the extra material to use as a blanket.
‘I can- We can move on,’ she said, the heat rising in her cheeks as Nahyun tilted her head with a cheeky glint in her eyes (the sun made them shine like no jewellery Eunae had ever seen could, pools of molten gold).
Nahyun gave a shrug and hopped off the rock she’d perched on. ‘Okay.’
Eunae missed her bed a bit that night as she was trying to get comfortable on sand, with a rock as a pillow, but she liked being able to look up and see the stars, hearing Nahyun’s soft snoring a metre away, until eventually her eyes fluttered closed and she drifted off to sleep.
Her eyes fluttered open as the first tendrils of dawn crept over the horizon, and she glanced down at the warmth at her chest to find Nahyun in her fox form curled into her, slipping under her arms. A small smile pulled at her lips and she closed her eyes again, cuddling her a little closer.
She woke up again a little later to a lick on her chest, slipping a little into her cleavage and she startled awake to a fox scampering away, becoming a giggling Nahyun hiding behind a rock, and Eunae’s cheeks burnt hotter than they ever had before as she sputtered.
‘Why?’ she yelped, her voice breaking from sleep.
‘Why not?’ Nahyun returned and Eunae found she didn’t have an answer to that, so she chose to hide her face in her makeshift blankets instead.
She only managed to broach the subject when they settled down for the evening, being unable to look Nahyun in the eye for a lot of the day (which wasn’t hard when they were scaling the mountain, since Nahyun was always ahead and Eunae found herself with flaming cheeks every time she looked up from more than just exertion and slight sunburn).
‘Why did you say yes to me coming along?’ Eunae said hesitantly and Nahyun tilted her head to the side.
‘Why do you think?’
Eunae shook her head. ‘I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking.’
‘Why did you want to come with?’
Eunae chewed at her lip. ‘My parents wanted to marry me off and I wanted a choice in my life-‘
‘But why did you want to come with me,’ Nahyun interrupted and Eunae fell silent.
She didn’t have an answer for that. Well, she did, honestly, but ‘you’re one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen and you’re always naked and it’s distracting to any kind of rational thought’ wasn’t something she could bring herself to say just yet.
‘You know dragons like hoarding beautiful things, right?’ Nahyun broke the silence and Eunae glanced up. ‘You’re the only thing I’ve wanted to hoard. That’s why I said yes to you coming along. I want to keep you all to myself.’
‘Just… to look at…?’ Eunae hedged and Nahyun’s burst of laughter surprised her.
‘Hardly,’ she murmured, eyes glinting and Eunae’s breath caught in her throat.
‘But we’re both girls,’ Eunae protested weakly, just a token statement, because Eunae knew that that was inconsequential.
‘You know, you humans are the only ones who are concerned about that,’ Nahyun said, and Eunae let herself smile.
The subject was dropped, and it was only halfway through the next day when Eunae cracked and snuck up behind Nahyun to press her lips against her cheek.
Nahyun let out a small laugh that before she cut it off herself by pulling Eunae towards her and Eunae squeaked into her mouth as Nahyun’s lips met hers enthusiastically.
(They didn’t get much further that day.)
A few days later and they were hiding behind a crop of large rocks, breathing heavily and shushing each other gently, Eunae reaching for Nahyun’s hand as the clatter of horseshoes against stones drew closer.
Eunae held her breath and Nahyun crouched, ready to shift, as the horse rounded the corner, the rider pulling at the reins.
The rider made a sound of surprise and Nahyun made a low growl in the throat, Eunae reaching forward to grab her back at the last minute.
‘Junhong?’ she said in surprise and Nahyun glanced at her in confusion.
‘Princess Eunae,’ he said and Nahyun, seeing that there was less danger, subsided and curled behind Eunae, wrapping her arms around her waist possessively. ‘You’re looking far more underdressed than the last time I saw you.’
‘Walking through the mountains will do that to one.’
Junhong looked at Nahyun. ‘Golden eyes…’ he murmured, and his gaze returned to Eunae with a wide grin. ‘You found yourself a dragon.’
Eunae shrugged, her mouth curling into a smile. ‘She found me.’
Junhong laughed. ‘I’d feel offended that the idea of marrying me was so horrible you felt the need to run away and live in the mountains, but…’ His eyes travelled to Nahyun again and he smiled at Eunae with nothing but cheeky support. ‘I’m obviously not your type.’
Eunae laughed. ‘Sorry.’
Junhong waved it off. ‘Which way are you heading?’
Eunae looked at Nahyun, who pointed off into the distance.
Junhong nodded. ‘So I’ll lead the men in the other direction, then.’
‘Thank you,’ Eunae whispered, and Nahyun kissed her cheek and cuddle her closer.
‘Live well, princess,’ Junhong said, before turning his horse around with a kick of his heels and disappearing into the mountains.
‘So now?’ Nahyun whispered, and Eunae leaned back against her.
‘Now I’m all yours.’