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The light spilled through the tower doors, basking the girl in its cruel warmth. Her eyes were narrowed and her teeth clenched when they called her forward. She could do little else than obey their commands as the loud groans of a dying creature fell sharply against her. With every step she took toward the army, she forced herself to stand taller, holding onto a purpose far more terrible than they could comprehend. Those who saw her trembled for reasons they could not quantify.

When she finally reached the knights, the first man bowed his head in her direction, believing he had done her a service in their victory. The gesture made her nostrils flare. They had coated her home in crimson. It seeped into her dress, her skin, her soul, sticky and warm and smelling so strongly like the rusty iron bars of her tower. They had spilled the blood of her only friend, and yet they expected gratitude for it? These men considered themselves gods in their golden army, aiming to control the princess’s heart with the song of their swords. How pathetic they were! Red, red, red had always been her favorite color; now, it was their reckoning.

She moved passed them. The pained, final calls of her beast continued to echo from the home they had pried her from, but even now, the creature’s screams caused fear to shadow the men’s triumphant smiles. In the distance, her beast fell silent. She would not give them the satisfaction of her tears, but her hands shook from the effort of swallowing such brilliant emotion. I must keep moving, she chanted. I must. One step, and she could forever move away from the knight who expected her hand in marriage — that coveted prize, promised to her liberator. Two steps, and she could convince herself that there were other colors in the world besides red. Three steps, and she could break into a run for the taste of freedom.

Her beast had once told her that vengeance was a powerful entity. It manifested, killing those who called it into being and replacing them with something twisted and cruel. The princess closed her eyes and begged for it. The knights noticed no change, but inside, the girl was being transformed — from captive to victim to destroyer, from girl to vengeful being to a serpentine monster. A growl ruptured from her bared teeth, and it was only then the men caught the scent of danger so heavy in the air.

With the death of her beast, there came the rebirth of the girl. It was a wholly disgusting process that began with a physical transformation. In her anger, the growl grew, sending a deep rumble through the earth. Where the small, white teeth had shown so clearly, fangs sprouted in their place. Her hands broke into talons to claw through the hearts of the knights who had so effectively scarred her own, and from her back, wings sprouted that were larger than any of their horses. Fire stirred in her chest, and she looked at them with the purpose to burn.

“Dragon — !” They screamed, they yelled, they begged.

She would bring these false gods to their knees.

Her garment had been torn into thin shreds at her transformation, and it was there that she directed her flames at first. She watched the blood-stained dress burn, and she laughed as the ashes choked them all. The sound was the sickening call of a beast instead of the pearly chuckle of a girl, and her wings beat once, twice, three times as she took to the sky in that same graceful, terrible way that she had seen her own beast do so many times.

The men scattered, as she had known they would do, but her creature had been right. Vengeance killed her, and in her place, there was only a fallen soul who thrived on smoke and flame.

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