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in kind

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Tony woke to the sound of white noise, unsure as to whether it was from a river rushing nearby or just the ringing in his ears. The grass underneath him was warm from the touch of the midday sun, so he dug his fingers into it's strands, twisting and pulling, trying to ground himself. His clothing - a simple tunic and work trousers - had been torn in places, allowing the sun to scorch his skin, leaving it tight and sore, his mouth dry.

His stomach churned when he first tried to open his eyes. "Fuck," he groaned. Everything was too loud, too bright. He managed to roll himself onto his side, before once again opening his eyes, slower this time.

It took a while for his eyes to adjust to the light, but once they had, he was finally able to take in his surroundings. His hands shook, whether due to his aching muscles or to his fear, he couldn't tell.

He was in the middle of a small clearing, right outside the mouth of a cave. He'd never been this far into the woods before, but he'd heard tales in the village that people who came this far were never seen again. There were a few bones littered just inside of the cave, but Tony couldn't tell whether they were animal or human. He desperately hoped it was the former.

His head gave a sudden throb, making his hands shake, his tired muscles tremble, reminding him of the struggle he had put up last night. His father, the chief in command of the village, had asked him to give himself as the virgin sacrifice for the dragon, so the dragon would leave the people and the livestock of the village alone.

Tony had, of course, refused.

All the while that Tony had struggled against his father's cronies, Howard had reminded him of his duty to protect the village people. Telling him to obey, to be quiet, don't make a scene. But Tony had always been a disappointment to his father. So, he didn't listen. Instead, he fought back, kicking and clawing, biting and screaming, until one of them hit him over the head.

A faint red glow ommiting from the cave drew his attention back to the present. It seemed to be getting brighter with every passing second. It's coming nearer, Tony thought. He was frozen with dread, his body keeping him stiff on the ground, unable to move. He felt sick with the fear of what was coming. He always though it would be his father who got him killed, but he never thought that this would be the way he died. Eaten by a dragon whilst unable to even defend himself.

His panic surged when the red glow reached it's peak, a large, blood-red dragon emerging from the depths of its cave. It was smaller than what he had ever imagined, about as large as a wagon. Strangely, Tony felt a wave of calmness wash over him as he took in the unnaturally beauty of the creature. It's wings unfolded in a mighty flourish and it's scales gleamed in the sun. It's front left arm - arm? - was covered in a metallic armour, slightly duller than the rest of it's body. At least this is better than being eaten by a troll, Tony though.

The creature let out a loud, rumbling growl as it stretched out it's whole body, muscles tensing and relaxing, before finally setting it's gaze on Tony.

"Oh," said the dragon, surprised. "I didn't see you there." Tony could see flashes of the dragon's razor-sharp teeth as it spoke.

Tony blinked owlishly at the dragon, slightly unsure as to what exactly was going on. He didn't know that dragons could talk.

"Are you a human? You are awfully small," the dragon continued.

"Oh, well, I'm sorry that your sacrifice isn't quite big enough for you," Tony found himself snapping. He never did know when to shut his mouth.

"Sacrifice?" the dragon asked, tilting it's head to the side like a curious puppy.

"Listen, are you going to eat me or not?"

"Eat you?"

"Are you just going to repeat everything I say?" Tony flinched slightly at his own words. God, Tony, shut up, he thought.

Tony could've sworn that the dragon was laughing at him, enjoying the pre-lunch entertainment. Playing with its food, Tony's mind, unhelpfully, supplied. Its big brown eyes crinkled, Tony could only assume this was due to the hilarity of Tony talking back to it, y'know, a dragon. Tony sure did know how to put his foot in it.

"I am not going to eat you," the dragon's tone was tight with amusement, it's eyes sparkling with mirth, as if someone had told it a really funny joke. Tony supposed that dragons must not hear a lot of jokes.

Tony stared blankly at the dragon, dumbfounded.

"Oh, um, I'm sorry, how rude of me. Would you, uh, like to come in?" The dragon stumbled in its haste to get the words out. Tony wasn't aware of dragon dinner-table etiquette, but he was pretty sure people - dragons - weren't supposed to be polite to people they were going to eat.

The dragon folded one of its wings to the side, as if to point in the direction of the cave. Completely unsure of what else he could possibly do, Tony made to get up to let himself be guided by the dragon.

Tony stumbled as he tried to stand, his whole body screaming in agony. A warm, scaled tail wrapped around him, supporting him in his mission of standing up.

"Are you hurt, little human?"

Tony groaned, both at the pain and at the nickname. "My name's Tony."

"Well, Tony, are you hurt?" the dragon asked. The dragon's rough, lilted voice dragged out Tony's name with a huff, though it's tone was still coloured with concern. Tony wasn't sure what to make of that.

He tried to take a step forward, but pain lanced through his body, rendering him unable to move, to speak, making his head spin. He groaned.

"I will take that as a yes," the dragon said, as it scooped Tony up, supporting his full weight. Tony, energy completely drained, fell once again into blackness, letting his head droop as the dragon carried him into the cave.