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Choose Your Own

C.J. Lavigne is the author of the urban fantasy novel In Veritas (NeWest Press, 2020). Her short fiction has appeared in On Spec and Fusion Fragment. Her hobbies include petting the cat, drinking coffee, and being Canadian. Find her on her website at cjlavigne.com or on Twitter @seajaylav.

1. You need to get to the market, but there are dragons waiting.
It's all right; you know how to deal with dragons. You've been thwarting them all your life. You know the rules: don't reveal too much flesh. Don't try to hide. Don't contradict a reptile when it is speaking, but assert yourself early, and often. Smile. Never smile too much, or too widely. Be polite. Be bold.
You wish there were fewer dragons in the world, but things are as they are, and you are prepared. You will travel swiftly and in daylight. What will you wear to the market?
* If you wear a flowing princess gown, go to 2.
* If you choose a practical outfit with sturdy boots, go to 4.
* To dress yourself in plate armor, go to 6.
2. You dress in gauze and diamonds; it will ensure you're treated well at the market, and you can get the best prices for your eggs. Your skirt is sparkling, your glittering slippers light, and you love the swish of luxury against your calves. A sparrow sings to you.
It does occur to you to wonder if this gown might be too fancy for a dragon to resist. Will it cling to you too pleasingly when it flutters? Will its jewels catch only the light, or unwanted attention? You had better plan a safe route. How will you get to the market?
* To take the quiet mountain pass, go to 3.
* To take the busy road, go to 5.
* To sneak through the caves, go to 7.
3. The mountain path is the best choice. You might have taken the road with your friends, but you've heard there are predators in the crowds. The endless dark of the caverns is no choice, either; there's no one to help you if you encounter trouble.
There are fewer dragons here in the forest, since there's little prey for them; it's less likely that you'll be bothered as you make your way through the trees. Above, sunlight glistens through dancing leaves. The breeze is light, and you find yourself humming a little. You walk along, swinging your basket and thinking about your market list.
You have a bad feeling, though; there's a whisper on the air that seems like more than branches in the wind. You speed your steps; you hear something scrape through the trees. A wing flaps. A whiff of brimstone drifts. You should have known better than to be walking alone.
* You have caught the attention of a dragon. Turn to 8.
4. You choose an easy, practical outfit with sturdy boots. Your vest protects you against the elements, and your breeches have pockets. You are comfortable and prepared; you could cross a fiery death gorge if you had to, and you like the way you look in the mirror. Still, you wonder if the vest might fit you too well; if a dragon's attention falls on you, will these laces highlight the promised meat on your ribs? You had better plan a safe route to the market.
* To take the quiet mountain pass, go to 3.
* To take the busy road, go to 5.
* To sneak through the caves, go to 7.
5. You take the busy road; you know that a dragon is most dangerous if it finds you alone. You might have liked some quieter time with your thoughts, but the mountain pass is uncertain and you don't fancy being alone and vulnerable in the empty darkness of a cavern. You wave hello to your friends and walk the dusty path, swinging your basket.
Soon, though--not very far from the market--you have the sneaking suspicion you're being watched. It starts just between your shoulder blades. You turn to call to your friends, but are horrified to see that one has drawn too near, following too close, his new cloak shimmering with a hint of dark scales. You spot reptile eyes.
You have walked with this beast for miles. Your friends are laughing at its jokes. Only now, inches behind you, does it reveal the sharp glitter of its fangs.
It is too late to cry out; a great, leathery wing has enveloped you, cutting you off from the crowd and pushing you to the roadside. Your feet skid on gravel. You should have known better than to think yourself safe.
* You have caught the attention of a dragon. Turn to 8.
6. You gird yourself in armor for best protection, and it is heavy and cumbersome but it makes you feel invincible. You are strong, and the world will know it. Still, you wonder if the light glittering off your steel plate might prove irresistible to a dragon. Would some beast see it as a challenge? You had better plan a safe route to the market.
* To take the quiet mountain pass, go to 3.
* To take the busy road, go to 5.
* To sneak through the caves, go to 7.
7. Everyone knows that dragons have wings; you'll be safe in the caves, where nothing so vast can soar above. You might have preferred the road where your friends are, or the pleasant mountain pass, but you know the cavern will be secure. You light a lantern and carry it through the darkness, and your feet are careful on the stones.
You can see the twinkling light ahead, and the final path to the market beyond, when you feel the weight of some hidden stare. You hear a scrape, rough scales against smooth stalagmites, and then something wide and leathery blocks your exit.
You should have known better than to take the caves. It's too dark here, and there is no one to hear your screams.
* You have caught the attention of a dragon. Turn to 8.
8. You have seen dragons before; they come in many shapes, but they all have razor jaws, sharp fangs, and sinuous lies. This one has colored ridges along its spine, like a dying sunset, and its claws are broken and ragged. You do not trust it.
The dragon smiles at you. It has entirely too many teeth. You look frantically left and right, but all you see is wings and darkness; there is no one to help you. Dragon scales smell like ash and disappointment, and they rasp as the beast writhes closer.
* Tell the dragon, firmly, that you are not interested: go to 9.
* Attack the dragon: go to 10.
* Smile at the dragon: go to 11.
9. "Thank you, but no," you inform the dragon. You make sure to set your shoulders back and speak clearly, raising your chin so there is no mistake about your intentions. You know there is no need for violence or false appeasement; if you tell the dragon to go away, it will.
The creature rears back, crystalline gaze going wide; its jaw stretches, and its breath reeks of acid disdain.
You have made a terrible mistake.
The dragon, it turns out, was /only trying to be friendly/. And this is how you respond?
Too late, you raise your hands, palms out; you attempt a smile. But the great claws are sweeping downward, and the offended roar is the last thing you hear.
* Turn to 12.
10. Your only recourse is attack; you know a dragon will not be dismissed or appeased. But you are prepared for this; you've been taking classes. You make a firm fist, and you keep your thumb tight against the outside. You do not hesitate. When you strike the dragon's scaled nose, the beast rears back, its shriek affronted.
You have made a terrible mistake.
The dragon is large, and now its hiss smokes like rising frost and the first iron taste of winter. It swipes at your wrist and your blood spurts; your tearing flesh goes numb. The last thing you see is teeth descending.
* Turn to 12.
11. There is no point antagonizing the dragon; if you offend it, who knows how it will react? You smile instead, hoping it will leave you alone. You smile until your teeth hurt. The creature's pupils narrow to slits; it slithers forward, and you inch a step back.
You have made a terrible mistake.
The beast has taken your smile as encouragement; too late, you realize it will see bared teeth as some sort of reptilian invitation. Its wing tip brushes your shoulder and you jerk away, but it's too late: the creature surrounds you, curling in like a python. You are buried beneath the weight of scales.
* Turn to 12.
12. You have been eaten by a dragon. You are a fool.
You prepared for this day; you were warned. You knew the great beasts roamed unfettered. Consider: what were you wearing? Where were you walking? Did you assert yourself?
* Go back to 1. Make better choices.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, April 22nd, 2022
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