Once upon a time, there was a young dragon. It was small and would hide in the woods, in the high grass, between craggy mountains and in dark caves. The dragon was hungry, and so it would eat humans every now and then. But this was a tricky prospect. Humans were clever and there were many of them; and only one dragon. So the dragon was careful and chose the weakest targets, the ones that could not hurt it. It would eat the frail, the very young and the isolated. It was eat the sick and diseased, even though they made it ill as well. And for a while its hunger was sated, but it never lasted. The dragon would be hungry again, and it would search for something else to eat. Luckily there were always more humans.
There were always more humans, and their numbers kept increasing. Instead of huddling in small groups they built large cities. The dragon had grown with the humans. It had grown big and strong. No longer did it need to hide. But it was still hungry, and so the dragon came to the cities, where the humans so very thoughtfully had gathered together so that it didn't need to track them down individually. The dragon ate well, and it kept growing.
And then something curious happened. The humans started to interact with the dragon. Before, they had only run away and screamed and been eaten. But now warriors came to fight the dragon. Alchemists created strange concoctions and threw them at the dragon to banish it. Wise men thought of riddles and games to which they challenged the dragon – for their life, the life of their family or for their town. Others sought to poison the dragon, to hide from it, to flee far away, to outrun it or otherwise overcome up.
The dragon was delighted at this change in its routine. It had become bored over the many years, and hunger no longer seemed such a pressing issue. True, it was always hungry, but there were just so many humans around that it could always find one to eat. Being well-fed was no longer a challenge. And so, to have something to do, it indulged the requests and accepted the challenges humans would come up with.
It had grown strong over its long lifetime, fed by so many humans, and so won the combat challenges. It incinerated what arrows were fired at it, and tore apart knights.
It had grown clever, out of necessity to match its prey, and so solved the riddles and won the games. It had simply had too much time to think of things and seen too much for these wise men to outwit it.
It had grown resilient, after eating the sick and diseased for so long, and so was unaffected by poison.
It had grown to know humans better than they knew themselves, hunting them for so long, so it always found those that hid and surprised those that thought themselves safe and far enough away.
The dragon was having the time of its life.
Eventually, the novelty faded. Humans had to learn everything from scratch over and over because those who already knew things had been eaten by the dragon. And thus they were slow to come up with new things. But every now and then there was a new surprise, something to keep up the dragon's interest. For these moments it kept humoring the challengers.
And then one day, a young girl came before the dragon. It studied her curiously. Usually humans would spend years training or studying before attempting to challenge it. But sometimes they were impatient and rash.
“You are a bit young to challenge me, are you not?”
“That is not why I am here.”
The dragon paused. It looked around the hill where it had laid to rest for the afternoon. There was nothing interesting nearby that it could see. Nothing the girl might want. But maybe there was something new humans had discovered that it didn't know about. They were terribly clever, after all.
“Tell me, then, why you are here.”
The girl fidgeted with her hands, not quite meeting the dragon's eye.
“I didn't quite catch that.”
“I said: I wonder what it's like to be eaten.”
The dragon paused once more. This was strange and new. Novelty yet again! Ah, what a day. While it reveled in the feeling of witnessing something surprising, the girl went on, desperately trying to explain herself.
“I mean, everybody gets eaten, right? But nobody knows what it feels like. Nobody even really talks about it. They just say that their brother was eaten or that they will stop you from eating their lover. But I think it's fascinating. Maybe especially because you can only know once, and you can't really describe it. Or at least nobody has tried so far. Too busy with screaming and begging to be left alive, I guess. But don't you think it's beautiful? That there is something we can never know until we experience it for ourselves? I suppose that technically hold for everything new, but being eaten by you isn't new, is it? For everything else there are stories and accounts, tales and legends. But not for this. You can get told what it's like to watch, what you feel when somebody else gets eaten. Even the day leading up to it, preparing yourself to face off in a final battle... but never are you told what it's like to be eaten because people aren't around to tell you about it once it happens. Isn't that amazing? Something that happens to everybody and yet we must wait to experience it for ourselves?”
The dragon nodded thoughtfully. The girl was rambling a bit, but there was a core to her argument that it found intriguing.
“And I will never know at all. I know so much; I have never found a thing I could not learn. But now, this, the feeling of being eaten by me, is not something I will every experience. Indeed, it is fascinating.”
“I never considered that! But of course, you will never be able to know that it is like to be eaten by... well, you.”
She sat down, and looked up at the sky. The dragon followed her gaze, and saw clouds drifting by. They looked strange, from down here. It was used to flying through and above them. The dragon rarely looked up, it looked down. Because that was where its prey was.
“There are so many things about you I've wondered. People talk as if they know you, but their stories often contradict themselves. Worse, they often fail to ask themselves why you do things, concerning themselves just with what you do. In general people don't ask Why nearly as often as they should. But now that you're here, and I could just ask... I somehow fail to find the right words.”
The dragon hummed, moving its gaze down from the sky to the girl in front of it.
“I wonder why that is.”
The girl snapped her head around to stare at the dragon, and slowly a smile started to bloom on her lips.
“Exactly! You're actually catching on! You have no idea how good that feels. Instead of just repeating my point to people who say they understand and then fail to actually act on it, thereby proving that they didn't understand at all. As for why I can't find the right words... I don't know. But I have some ideas. I think there's a difference between having a question about someone and posing a question to someone. Even if it's the same question. There is all this... extra baggage, or something, where you have to worry about social conventions and subtext and context and body language that come into it when actually asking somebody. As opposed to a much cleaner and less messy question that just is in your mind. But that also makes it less real, you know? Because reality is messy, and you can't take the clear perfect thoughts in your head and jam them into reality without bending and smudging them. Or maybe it's just the immediacy of an interaction. When you think of a question by yourself, you can go over variations, tweak it, repeat it over and over with minor variations until you're satisfied with how it sounds. You don't have that time, that flexibility, when talking in person. Oh! Or maybe the problem is that I'm wary of actually getting answers. There is some anxiety tied to the thought of getting a definitive answer that will throw out most of my theories as to the matter at hand. Perhaps I just don't know where to start. You know, like when you have a choice it's actually more difficult than when you just have one option. Or...”
The dragon settled in to listen, and offered its own opinions on possible causes. From there, the conversation drifted, much like the clouds above them. They talked about the latest challenges the dragon had gotten, discussed the meaning of life, wondered why grass was green and whether that greenness was subjective, especially with regards to its position on a different side. And on and on. It didn't really seem to matter what the subject was, the girl's enthusiasm in understanding and dissecting it was infectious.
Eventually the dragon grew hungry, and excused itself before flying off to find some humans to eat.
It was only while it was devouring a village that the dragon came to a startling realisation. There had been a human right in front of it while it was hungry, and it had not eaten her.