The hunters are coming now.  I can sense them, taste them in the air.  Why won't they give up…?  The blackened and scorched remains of the last party should be enough to warn them away but still they come.  I can see them now.  There's twelve of them, carrying pikes and swords and crossbows.  As if those will do any good.  Twelve youths out to make a name for themselves and win glory and riches.  And let their bones litter the cave entrance.

            Some of my kind consider them amusing.  A small divergence from the dreariness of steady routine of the eons.  But to creatures who can sing the song of the stars, how can life be boring?  Others consider them amusing.  I find nothing about them amusing.  Not their sharp steel weapons or their stubborn determination to die.  It is a pity, a terrible waste of that spark we call life.  I call these hunters fools, idiots.  Vain little beings destined to die. 

            Enough contemplation.  The hunters are almost upon the path now and it is time for me to play my part.  I have done this countless times and none have yet turned back.  But I shall try again and pray that my words do not go unheeded.

            I gesture and in an instant I am transformed.  A young female human with white hair and strange pale eyes.  Long graceful ears that end in a point.  Anything but human.  It cannot be helped – there is no other shape I can take.  Hopefully they will still listen.  They usually do, mistaking me for one of the fey or fairy kind.  Yes, they will probably listen, but I doubt they will do what I bid.

            I gesture again and with a blink I am at the base of the mountain, sitting on a boulder adjacent to the mountain path.  I wait.  The hunters come around the bend, talking in hushed voices.  Twelve, too young, too bold, and too inexperienced.  They stop as one upon seeing me.

            I do not move, merely keep my delicate hands folded in my lap, resting gently on the folds of my white gown.  I cannot imagine what is going through their heads right now; at the sight of this ethereal being of white skin, white hair, pale eyes, and ears much too long and delicately pointed to be elven.  Unearthly beauty.

            Finally one of them steps forwards.  He must be their appointed leader.

            "M'lady," he says, sketching a respective bow, "We have come to slay the dragon."

            "I know you have," I lilt in a musical voice, "Many come to slay the dragon but none triumph.  Did you not see the remains of the last hunters?"

            "We saw.  And we have vowed to avenge them."

            "Everyone makes those vows.  And everyone meets the same fate."

            "No m'lady, we shall not die with the rest.  We have weapons blessed by the priests and coated with dragonsbane."

            "Dragonsbane is a myth and the priests blessing will not affect this beast.  Besides, what have you to gain from killing it?  Gold there is plenty of.  Find it elsewhere, where you need not risk yourselves.  The dragon does not burn villages, destroy crops.  If an occasional livestock goes missing, what of it?  No other large predators dare infringe on the dragon's territory.  Would you rather have the wolves of winter to deal with?"

            "It is a dragon," the boy says resolutely, "Dragons are a danger."

            "Dragons are ancient beasts from when the world was young," I reply, "Do you really wish to extinguish the light of a creature that has seen the stars be born and die?"

            They look among themselves now, thinking.

            "Bessie," one mutters to his companion.

            They both nod.  So a girl is involved then.

            "And will this girl of yours be satisfied with gold bought at the price of blood?" I inquire gently.

            He glares at me, his chin set resolutely.  The others follow his example.

            "Very well then," I say, rising gracefully to my feet, "Ascend the peak and die, if that is what you wish.  The gold you seek is an empty prize.  The dragon has never failed, not in the millennia of its long life."

            I gesture and am gone.  Back in my cave, one more gesture, and I am myself again.  I stretch my wings until their tips touch the rock walls of the cave.  I raise my horned head and open my lizard-like snout.  I issue out a roar that shakes the stone and reaches to the very roots of the mountain.  If it is battle they so greatly desire, then let it come.

            From then on it is a waiting game.  I perch on the wide ledge outside my cave entrance.  I dislike being caught inside without room to maneuver my bulk.  Although I am nearly the size of a house I am extremely agile and need room to move.  I curl up like a cat, the sun reflecting off my shimmering white scales.  And still the hunters come.

            They had probably intended to catch me unawares.  That obviously did not happen.  As they near I take to the skies and dive, breathing out fire upon them.  Their shrieks rend the air and my heart is saddened.  Four die out-right in my first strike.  I circle around and breath fire upon them again.  It burns on the rock and two more are utterly consumed.  I land then, upon the ledge, and wait.  Would the other six flee?

            They come at me at once, spread out with their pikes held at the ready.  I can see the green venomous coating of the so-called dragonsbane.  Fools, they should not be listening to those legends.

            The first one charges at me and I catch his pike and pull it from his grasp.  He falls to the ground with a strange cry and I catch him up with my claws, tearing him in two.  His companion raises his crossbow to fire but I snake forwards and snatch him up with my jaws.  A slight pressure on his back and his spine is broken.  I drop his lifeless body and turn to the other humans.  I do not want to kill them. 

            A blinding pain bursts in my wing joint.  I howl and twist, feeling the point of a pike shifting deep into the muscle of my back.  I growl and pull it free with one clawed hand, using the other to knock the offending human off the side of the mountain.  The fourth boy takes that opportunity to stab for my neck with his pike.  I leap into the air and twist, sending my tail crashing into his chest.  The spikes on the end embed in his chest and I pull back, sending the boy toppling to the ground with a spray of blood.  The backstroke of my tail catches the fifth would-be hunter and flings him against the mountain side.  He hits hard and falls, his skull striking against stone.  He does not move.  What a waste.  I regain my feet, towering over the last remaining member of the ill-starred hunting party.  He scrambles away from me, snatching up the pike once more.  I lunge past it, snatching him up in my jaws.  I am a little rough I'm afraid, and feel blood in my mouth. 

            Carrying the sobbing boy in my mouth like a cat carries a mouse I trot back into my cave.  Through the twisting tunnels and to a sealed door.  My wing joint throbs and I can feel the blood running across my pristine white scales.  Blood petals in snow.  I ignore my injury and reach the back-most wall section of my cave.  I press my hands against two runes and the twining patterns of my spell light up with gold fire.  The stone vanishes and I walk into the room beyond. 

            I drop the boy and he hits the ground with a cry of pain.  I notice blood on his chest and when he coughs blood trickles from his mouth.  He does not have long to live.  It is my fault.

            "Behold the treasure of the dragons," I say sadly as he gazes about him.

            He looks, his eyes unbelieving.  All around him lay the artifacts of his people, the fairy folk, and the elves.  All artifacts wrought for one purpose: death.  Over the millennia much evil has been seen to arise, destroy, and fall.  I bore the remnants of these tragedies to my cave and have kept them safe from human hands for eons.  As have all dragons. 

            "The – these are…" he gasps, kneeling in a growing pool of his own blood.

            "Weapons of evil and destruction.  Nothing good will every arise of them.  That is why we keep them safe from the world.  We are not beasts to be destroyed, human, we are ancient beings that have flown among the stars.  We have seen much sorrow and anguish in our long lives and have accumulated much wisdom."

            He coughs again and doubles over.  I keen softly and lift him up in one hand.

            "I tried to warn you," I say gently.

            He gasps and looks into my pale eyes.  And then he dies.