He approached the dragon, sword drawn. He'd made his way through the treacherous caverns that led to the dragon's lair, and now finally stood before her. She was massive, incomparable to any beast he'd ever seen. Not for the first time, he wondered if he was up to the task of slaying her. He'd never fought a dragon before, being more accustomed to hunting outlaws and protecting villages from bandits and the like.
But he'd taken the dragonslaying job. Mostly because of the money, though partly because of the fame that would come with it. The era of the legendary Dragonslayers was long past, but people still honored them in story and song. If he were to slay this dragon, his name would be added to the ballads and epics and he would be remembered long after his death as a man of great honor and courage. And given the way his life had gone up to this moment, he could do with that sort of remembrance.
"So, cold-blooded murder is what gains a man honor in these days, is it?" The dragon's voice echoed up from the floor of her lair to the alcove he'd thought was hiding him. "I don't suppose this should surprise me, given how my kind have been treated by yours in recent centuries."
"How YOUR kind have been treated?" His outrage was so great, he forgot entirely about stealth. "Tell it to the children you've taken from their beds in the night, to the maidens whose virtue you've fed upon and the villages you and YOUR KIND have razed to the ground!"
A low chuckle rumbled across the lair. "Stupid human fool. Setting aside for the moment the logistical impossibility of actually feeding on something as ephemeral as a woman's virtue, what possible use would we have for human children?"
"Food, most likely," he retorted.
"My my," the dragon replied, amused. "We dragons certainly do have a varied diet. Children, women's virtue... tell me, little man, what else do we eat?"
"Do not pretend to innocence, beast," he said, angrily. "Everyone knows that dragons will devour an entire shepherd's flock or cattleman's herd if they cannot get their claws on human flesh."
"Then everyone is as ignorant and stupid as you, human," she growled. "For one thing, dragons do not eat flesh of any kind, nor plants either. We feed on minerals."
"Put simply, in deference to your limited education," the dragon explained patiently, "rocks."
"Dragons eat rocks?"
"Essentially, yes," she said. "Why do you think we build our lairs underground? For that matter, how do you think we manage to carve our lairs out of solid rock?"
He was confused. "But I thought--"
"Clearly, you did not."
"Why did I attack that village? Simple. Revenge."
"Revenge for what?"
Suddenly, the dragon's enormous head was mere inches from him. He expected an overpowering stench, but she actually smelled rather pleasant.
"Tell me, little human," she asked quietly, "did you perhaps notice the dragon bones so proudly on display in the village square?"
He backed away as far as the alcove would allow. His sword seemed such a small and ineffective thing all of a sudden. Also, being the topic of heroic sagas did not hold the same allure it had mere moments ago. "Y-yes..." he stammered.
"Did you notice anything odd about them?"
He thought a moment. "Now that you mention it," he said, "they did seem awfully small."
"I believe we were speaking of atrocities against children earlier," the dragon whispered.
"Your children?" he gasped. "But, why would the villagers... how could the villagers..."
"They came upon me as I lay my eggs," she said, a note of terrible sadness coloring her voice. "As I lay there, spent from birthing, the men of the village stole my eggs from me. They brought them back to their village, cracked them open, and ate my unborn children!" That last came out an angry hiss, along with a burst of steam from her nostrils. "So, I think you'll agree I was well within my rights to rain destruction down on the whole miserable lot of them."
"But then, why..." He was so very confused. This was not at all what he had been taught.
"There was a time," the dragon explained, "when dragons and humans respected one another. There are many dark powers in this world, and it has been the task of the dragons since the first days to protect humanity from the creatures spawned by such forces. It is they, the goblins and demons and other such things, that steal away human children for food and sport, and take humans' virtue against their will. In days long past, there were enough of us to keep them away." She sighed. "But now, such fiends grown in number, while ours dwindle. Soon, there will be none of us left, and humans will be at the mercy of evil." She fixed him with a stern gaze. "And you have only yourselves to blame."
"But, I still don't understand," he said. "All my life, I have heard tell of the evil of dragons, and the need for their extermination. What drove this wedge between us?"
She looked down, then back at him. "Ages ago, humans worshipped different gods, of male and female aspect. Gods of this land, of the earth and sun and moon. In recent centuries, however, a new god was brought here from lands far away, and the people turned against the old ways. They were taught that dragons were creatures of evil, made by an unholy creature in defiance of their new god. And so, we were hunted." She sighed, and a warm breeze filled his alcove. "Still we protected you from harm. It was our purpose. But as our numbers decreased, and your kind crafted new horrors to visit upon us, we found ourselves unable to continue our struggle. And so the world will fall into darkness."
"Perhaps it will," he said, a grim determination filling his eyes. "But you will have justice. This, I promise you."
And he left the cave then, returning to the village under cover of night. Once there, he slaughtered the men, young and old, and ordered the women and children away before putting the torch to each and every structure.
The dragon landed near him as he watched the village burn. "You have my thanks," she said. "This is more than any human has done for a dragon in hundreds of years."
He looked at her, a righteous fire in his eyes. "I fight for those who are wronged," he told her. "And I deliver justice upon those who deserve it."
She smiled, her forked tongue flicking out between her fangs. "How wonderful," she purred. "Then you will die dishonored."
His eyes grew wide, and a cold thing slithered down his spine. "What?"
She brought her face to within an inch of his own. "I have lied to you, little human insect. All that you have been taught of dragons is true. There are no foul creatures of darkness that prey on human kind." She laughed. "Except us." Her laughter grew more caustic. "I've never even had children," she said. "The bones you saw are the skeletal remains of giant eagles, killed by those idiot villagers and dressed up like dragon bones to fool the gullible and ignorant." She smiled mockingly. "Like you."
"But...but..." His arm felt like lead, and his sword fell from fingers numb with shock. He could not even turn to run.
"Haven't you heard, manling?" she asked with vile mirth. "Dragons are masters of deception. I thought everyone knew that."
And then, with a single bite, she ate him whole.
She was still hungry, though, so she flew off in the direction of the fleeing humans. Children always made a delightful after-dinner snack.