Elmira gazed at her reflection in the mirror, turned left, turned right, marveling at the foreign image before her. I am beautiful, she mused in wonder. Over a white silk tunic, tiny platinum links gleamed in the sunlight streaming in through the window. Similar chain covered legs that sparkled like the diamonds encrusted into the tiara atop her head. And yet, even with all this adornment, how could she hope to worthy of his magnificence? His strength? His opulence?

She was nothing but a girl who scraped and clawed her way out of the lower city, quite literally. An analogy he would likely appreciate. It took weeks to fight her way across the valley, her competitors better educated, better trained. But she refused to accept defeat, and so she punched and slashed her way across the valley. Her fingernails had bled, and muscles burned. Scars covered her body. Thankfully only a few marred her face.

The memory of finally climbing out of the valley and cresting the edge to claim the scimitar that would prove her victory was so strong that in the mirror before her, it layered itself over the present clean and bright picture. Filth and muck dried on her brown skin and turned it gray. The hair that had been in a long braid weeks earlier hung in matted ropes to her waist. Her shirt flapped open where a gash split the skin of her belly. But she had made it. When she looked over her shoulder at the landscape and enemies behind, she thought, I am powerful.

Even after presenting herself on one knee, offering the prize with lifted arms and bowed head, the journey didn’t end. Exhausted as she was, she climbed Mount Risha to the temple where she was soaked and scrubbed, healed, painted, and perfumed with sweet oil. When she drank the ceremonial tea made of herbs, mushrooms, and magic, she fell to her knees. She burned inside and out as if she’d been transported to Helios itself, and then swallowed a mouthful of its radiant mixture of gases. It left her stronger than ever.

Now as she marched around the side of the temple, attendants fussed over her. The horizon stole her breath with its clear blue sky, green hills in the distance, and its promise of freedom. A priest in red robes waited at the gazebo at the end of a long path. And then she dared to cast her eyes on him.

They had said dragons were only creatures of myth. Not of myth. Of prophecy. But those were tales for children and people with hope. Not guttersnipes from the lower city. Yet, there he was. Onxy scales shimmered with an iridescent overlay. He sat towering twenty feet above the gazebo, tail wrapped demurely around his haunches. At his side, Elmira was no bigger than a toy.

Venumir had come swooping out of the sky one day. He was the only one of his kind, but he said more would come. He repeated the prophecy about the one warrior who would ride with him and protect the realm from a threat amassing on the other side of those tranquil mountains in the distance. He turned to Elmira now, “There you are.” The low frequency of his voice made the ivy leaves on the trellis tremble.

Elimira’s heart galloped. In awe, she repeated the words given to her by the priest. Then the dragon—her dragon—offered his claw to lift her gently onto his back. A saddle anchored her behind the row of ridges at the base of his long neck. She held on tight as he shifted and crouched. There was no fear. Venumir bounded into the sky with his sworn rider until death parted them. It all seemed like a miracle until she acknowledged all the hurts she’d endured to get here, and conviction filled her heart. I am worthy.

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