The icy wind cuts deep through my leathers as what seems to be a solid wall of snow barrages me on this mountain path. I’m on my way to the caves. They said this was where it would end, with me. The cave. I remember telling the last dragon to leave me alone. I remember telling the last dragon to leave the forest alone. It doesn’t get my job done that way.
I hear the roar of a massive beast that could once have been a man. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing, but I try to be careful not to get trampled underfoot as I climb the steps. As I draw closer, I can start to make out the silhouette of a dragon coming towards me, but there are too many of them and they’re coming at me from all sides. I know I shouldn’t get too close, but I can’t turn back now. I charge forward.
My blood is blazing and every muscle in my body is screaming at me to stop. I’m not even trying to be faster, but I can see that no matter how fast I run, the beasts keep coming. I can feel myself getting older and more frail. The cold of my old age is creeping up my spine. I know the cave is only a few more steps away, and then I’ll collapse on the floor with a broken bones or something. It’s not like I’m that young. The only reason I’m taking this job is that after the cave fell, the dragon’s hoard got more than it bargained for. I’m glad I’m about to get payback, and I’m thankful that I got to do it on my terms.
The roar of a dragon is much closer now, much louder than I remember from that morning, as if it’s right up behind me. I take a deep breath and turn to face the beast.
I know it’s coming, but it takes me a moment. I try to tell myself that it can’t be, and I try to think that it should be a bad dream or hallucination or something else. It doesn’t seem to help.
A huge clanking and scraping sounds off in the distance, and I realise a second too late that I shouldn’t have come all this way. I don’t even have time to move before I feel something sharp tear through my skin and go through me. The pain is almost all I can feel, and I feel that I am getting weaker. I barely manage to reach out an arm in front of me before I feel something warm trickling down my chest. No time to think, I just scream for it to stop.
I know I’m dying. I know that I’m never going to see my daughter or my sons or my daughters kids again. I remember when I was young and I took out a hunter on my own. We fought for three days to the very last breath. But his blade was long and heavy, and I couldn’t kill him, no matter my will, no matter how much strength it took. It took him a year to die, but he couldn’t kill me. I knew it was over. I knew I was finished. But it was just a small taste of what my life had in store for me. I’ll never see my children grow. I’ll never fight another dragon again, no matter how far I may get, no matter how much blood I’ve shed. All I have is the pain in my chest. I can feel myself fading away. I can feel myself getting colder and colder. I want to scream at the unfairness of it all, but all I can manage to say is “Thank you.”
I feel the sword pierce through me. I feel the cold in my chest spreading over me like a blanket. I feel the life slipping through me, like a leaf on the wind. It’s over. It’s really over. And a tear rolls down my cheek and lands in my arm. I smile. I’m ready.