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Tale As Old As Time

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The first thing Beca registers is the feeling of cold stone against her cheek. The next; that she seems to be lying on the floor. And finally; that the last thing she remembers is the sound of screaming.

 

She tries to move but her body is stiff and she wonders how long she's been here. She groans and tries to roll from her stomach onto her back, but pain explodes like gunpowder at her temple, igniting lines that criss-cross around her skull, and the pain of it keeps her in place. Makes her stomach churn. 

 

“Oh! Are you-- you’re alive!” A voice says, somewhere in front of her and to her left. “I was starting to worry you might not... Well, I was starting to worry.”

 

After a few failed attempts, Beca manages to open her eyes and is met with the blurry interior of a room she wouldn’t recognise even if her vision was clear. There’s a person there too, presumably the owner of the voice, their form clouded and hazy, but definitely real. 

 

“What….” Struggling against a wave of nausea that swells as she moves, Beca manages to get herself into a sitting position, resting with her back against the uneven surface of the wall, eyes closed again. “What happened? Where am I?” 

 

“You don’t remember?”

 

“No, I don’t--”

 

“--have to run, Beca! Go!”

 

“I can’t just leave!”

 

“Yes. You can. Go. Go now!”

 

Fire. 

 

There had been fire, smoke pouring out of broken windows in billowing black clouds that stained the sky and burned her lungs. There had been screaming and a roaring in her ears, and so much panic the air was thick with it. 

 

“Horses. There were horses and…” Beca frowns, trying to remember. There had been horses, riders too, wielding swords and evil snarls, demanding payment for protection they did not provide. Especially in that moment, because not only was their village being raided, but it was also about to be visited by-- “A dragon.” Beca sits up a little straighter and winces as her head throbs in protest of the quick movement. She lifts a hand to gingerly touch her fingertips to her temple and hisses in pain. She can feel the awful, rough texture of dried blood caking the side of her face.

 

“Here, let me help.” 

 

There’s a beautiful woman kneeling in front of her. 

 

Beca blinks.

 

The sky itself and the setting sun are here with her inside this unfamiliar room in the shape of sparkling eyes and shining hair. She’s crouched before Beca and in her hands is a white porcelain bowl that she places on the floor in the space between them. Glancing down, she sees that it’s filled with clear water and that there’s a cloth draped over the side of it. The beautiful woman picks up the cloth and sets it inside the bowl to soak up some water.

 

“I’ve seen you before,” Beca says, recalling the tune of a song, her eyes tracing the outline of the woman’s face as she bows her head to pay attention while wringing out the cloth. Her lips curve upward into a smile but it’s rueful, closer to a grimace than a grin. 

 

“I ran into you in the market. I was singing, lost in my own world, and you fell,” she admits, looking up, and Beca feels herself tip forward into cerulean seas. “I think that’s where you got….” The woman trails off, pointing to the side of her head in a way to indicate Beca’s own injury. “Bumped it pretty good. You were out cold and then….” She gestures to their surroundings. “May I?” She holds up the cloth. Beca nods dumbly, then grimaces and curses under her breath as the damp material is held against the side of her face. “Sorry.”

 

The icy temperature of the water starts to feel good after a few seconds and Beca lets out a small sigh as she closes her eyes. Then tries not to freeze at the feeling of fingers lightly gripping her chin and tilting her head up and a little to the left. 

 

“I’m Chloe,” the woman tells her after a few moments, beginning to gently wipe at the dried blood to try and loosen it from the skin beneath. 

 

“Beca.” 

 

“It’s nice to meet you, Beca.” She - Chloe - sounds genuine; Beca can hear the smile in her voice. “Would have been nicer under different circumstances, but beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose.” 

 

Right, Beca thinks, their circumstances. 

 

Opening her eyes again and looking over Chloe’s shoulder, Beca can see that they’re in a circular room built of stone. There are two small arched windows, their openings just big enough to let in a decent amount of light but not so big that a person could fit through, and a sparse amount of furniture. Wall-mounted candlesticks are stocked and ready for use and the floor is smooth, like it’s been worn down over the years by a thousand footfalls. 

 

And then there’s Chloe. Her blue dress, likely once bright and regal, has been turned dark with soot and dirt. The edges of her face are smudged with the same, as though she’s attempted to wipe most of it away but missed a few spots. Her hair, red beneath the ash that has turned it grey, is unkempt and falls about her shoulders in messy waves. 

 

She is indeed a sight for sore eyes. 

 

“Where are we?” Beca asks again, clearing her throat after a first attempt to speak fails. 

 

“You can’t see much out of the windows, but we’re pretty high up. Surrounded by sand.”

 

“By sand ?” Beca balks, jerking her head out of Chloe’s grasp to stare directly into her eyes. Chloe nods.

 

“But there are trees in the distance. You can just make them out over the dunes. There might be another tower, maybe the castle of a neighbouring kingdom? It’s hard to tell.” Chloe doesn’t seem overly alarmed by any of this but Beca’s stomach lurches and rolls unpleasantly.  

 

She’s about to ask something else when the building around them shakes with a loud thud, like something huge has slammed into the side of it. 

 

Which, it turns out, is exactly what has happened. 

 

Because when Beca looks around to try and determine the cause, she spots a huge eyeball peering in at them through a window. 

 

Naturally, she screams. 

 

Which prompts Chloe to look in that same direction.

 

And then she screams as well. 

 

“Ladies, ladies, please.” A voice booms, loud and clear, though there’s something about it that suggests the words are not being spoken aloud, but rather manifesting inside their minds. “There’s no need for yelling. I didn’t mean to alarm you.” The eye - an impossibly bright, unearthly green colour surrounding a gold pupil that is solid in the centre but then feathers out into a dusty spiral - blinks at them, then moves slightly so that it’s looking at where Chloe’s hand is hanging in midair, still holding onto the blood stained cloth. “Oh excellent, Damon was able to bring you a few amenities. I instructed him to go in search of food also, berries and such, though the boar are rampant this time of year, so perhaps he’ll strike it lucky with some meat--”

 

“What,” Beca barks her interruption, making Chloe jump and the eye blink again in surprise, “the hell is going on?! Who are you?! Why are we here?!”

 

Silence, heavy and thick, and then….

 

“Yes, of course, of course. My apologies. I don’t normally do this.” The voice inside Beca’s head sighs. “Typically, I only grab one damsel at a time, but everything was on fire and I’m afraid I got a tad… mixed up, shall we say.” The eye shifts and there’s a flash of colour - scales, Beca thinks, potent blues fading into iridescent purples - before another eye is focused on them, the same in all but the swirl of gold that spirals in the opposite direction of it’s twin. “I usually have people for this sort of thing, you know? Alas, times are tough and I’ve had to let almost everyone go. I’m frightfully lucky Damon agreed to stay on as pro-bono, otherwise who knows what state the tower would have been in when you arrived.” 

 

A rich, throaty chuckle echoes off the walls of Beca’s mind. 

 

“Okay, that’s,” Chloe pauses, seemingly to gather her thoughts, “that’s great, but it doesn’t explain who you are or why you brought us here.”

 

“Ah, yes. Quite right.” The eye moves, the room around them shudders, and Beca realises this thing - the dragon, the one she’d seen at the village - is perched on the tower itself, causing it to shift whenever the dragon moves. “I’ll start with introductions; my name’s Allan. That’s with two L’s. And the reasons are a little embarrassing really. I’m sorry to say, but like everything, this is about money. My treasure pile has dwindled down to almost nothing, you see, and so I really must bring out the longswords, as it were.”  

 

“So, what? You’re holding us for ransom?” Beca furrows her brow. While her mother isn’t destitute, she’s sure she doesn’t have the coin for such a thing, and her father… well. They aren’t on the best of terms right now and Beca isn’t sure he’d even want to pay to get her back.

 

“Oh goodness me, no. Nothing so seedy.” Another deep chuckle. “I’m unsure how familiar you are with Dragon lore, but we do love a good tournament. Will use any excuse, really, to engage in some friendly competition, and it just so happens that there are a series of games beginning on the eve of the next full moon. The prizes--”

 

“Let me guess,” Beca cuts in, “treasure?”

 

The eye watching them brightens. 

 

“Correct! So, you see, I’ve been scouting for someone to take with me to the games and that’s when I happened upon your village. I was drawn there by the most beautiful singing voice, though I admit, I’m not certain as to which one of you it belonged.” 

 

“Her.” Beca points at Chloe, remembering the sweet melody. “I don’t even sing.” 

 

“Ah, so it’s you that bears the voice of gold,” the dragon coos and Chloe blushes. “Truly, I’ve never heard a voice so….”

 

“Angelic,” Beca answers, quite without thinking, and she feels Chloe’s gaze shift to her, seering into her already burning face. 

 

“Exactly! That’s exactly right. Perfect for the tournament.” 

 

“What is this tournament?” Chloe’s attention turns away from Beca then, allowing her to breathe once more. “Some kind of singing competition?

 

“It’s more of a talent show, really.” 

 

“A talent show?” Beca’s question is dry and disbelieving. “You’re telling me a group of dragons pluck a human of their choice out of their home just to hold them in a tower until they can... enter them into a talent show?”

 

“Well, it does sound a little silly when you say it like that.”

 

“Do you… eat the losers?” Chloe asks, tentatively. 

 

“Eat them? No! Why would you-- no. We simply return those that do not win to their villages.”

 

“And the ones that do win?” Beca can’t see the creature’s mouth, but she gets the distinct impression that it is smiling. 

 

“I did mention treasure, did I not?” 

 

He leaves them with that, citing a need to run errands as a reason for leaving. What kind of errands a dragon needs to run, Beca does not know, but she also doesn’t have the energy to question it. Allan leaves and Chloe finishes cleaning Beca’s wound while they trade short sentences about their situation. 

 

It’s only when exhaustion from the day’s events creeps over them both that Beca really accepts that Allan had indeed made a mistake in grabbing the both of them. There is, very clearly, only one of everything in the room. 

 

“I don’t kick, I promise,” Chloe jokes. 

 

Beca feels butterflies begin to flutter in her stomach. 

 

Of course there’s only one bed.