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Gregory trudged down the path alone, his back to the top of the mountain and all that had happened there. At least, Gregory’s body trudged back. It was inhabited by something very different now. Something that had, until very recently, inhabited Marsha’s body.
The spirit considered itself female and found wearing a male body uncomfortable, but that wasn’t why it trudged. Gregory always trudged back from the mountain, everyone believed it was sadness at having stood in the presence of the Goddess and then having had to leave. Now the spirit knew differently.
On the way up the mountain she’d been certain the whole Goddess story had been a sham, a way to get impressionable young women away from the town and ensure there were no answers when they didn’t come back. She’d come across that type of setup before, and had relished it every time.
While the bodies she wore consumed food as they always had, she gained her nourishment in a different way — by dining on the souls of others. When necessary she would take the soul of someone like Marsha, but they offered little to sustain the spirit. The souls she really craved were those that had lived long, that had committed dark acts, that were tarnished and pitted. Souls like Gregory’s… at least that’s what she had expected.
But Gregory’s soul had offered little nourishment when she consumed it. He had truly believed leading girls to the Goddess was the only thing to do, yet he had also wrestled with his conscience every time he did it. Gregory’s had been a good, kind soul trapped in an unbearable position. A pale, watery soul compared with the sort she craved. She would have been angry, and hungry still, if his had been the only soul on offer. It hadn’t. There had been the Goddess too.
The Goddess! She shook Gregory’s head at the thought. There was no Goddess, not of the type Marsha had been told about. The Goddess was something far more incredible. The Goddess was a dragon! A massive reptile complete with wings and burning breath. Gregory and the Goddess thought Marsha was to be served as lunch, but the roles had been reversed.
The spirit trembled at the memory. The dragon’s soul had been the sweetest meal she had ever tasted, and there had been so much more of it than she’d ever had the luxury to feed on before. The dragon’s soul was as large as her massive body, and was blackened with horrific deeds committed over centuries. She had settled into a rest period, content for a sacrifice to be brought once per month, but prior to that, centuries before, she had destroyed villages and towns on a whim. She had tortured and maimed and so much more.
The dragon’s soul had left the spirit feeling sated and powerful. She had almost chosen to take on the form of the dragon rather than that of Gregory, but in the end she’d changed her mind. The dragon was incredibly powerful but she now spent her time lazing in her lair, being brought insipid female children with hardly a stain upon their soul. How could the spirit live on that when she knew there were others in the world whose souls would be so much more satisfying?
The killer blow was that dragons were solitary. She learnt that while ripping the Goddess’s soul out. Dragons did not associate with other dragons, other than once or twice a decade to mate. If she’d chosen to take the dragon’s form then meeting more dragons would have been nearly impossible, yet that was something she was determined to do. The dragon’s soul had been intoxicating, addicting, and she wanted more.
First she had to return to the town and act like Gregory for a few days. Then he would meet with an unfortunate accident and she would move on in another, stronger, body. One that allowed her to start hunting. She’d heard many tales of dragons down the years, now she knew there was a glimmer of truth in at least some of them, and she intended to track them down.
* * *
The spirit sat beside the dragon’s corpse, happily sated yet wrestling with a dark pain. The corpse beside her had been the last dragon. It had taken hundreds of years but the spirit had tracked them all down, killing one after another and taking the soul of each.
She hadn’t accounted for the extremely slow breeding cycle of the mighty beasts. By the time she realised the problem there were only a dozen left, far too few to replenish the supply at the rate she was consuming them. Yet she couldn’t stop. Something about dragon souls was addictive, so addictive she felt herself being wrenched apart if she spent too long between consuming them.
She had tried. The final twelve dragons lasted far longer than those before. Three babies were even born, but she still slowly whittled down their numbers when the hunger inside drove her. She had tried focusing on humans instead, but they simply couldn’t match the majestic power of the dragon’s souls — not even when she consumed many at once.
So the number of dragons diminished until only one remained. The oldest and greatest of the dragons, the one whose soul was darkest of all. She had saved the best till last, holding on as the pain built and built until one day the pressure could be withstood no more. She had hunted down the final dragon, bringing him down and feasting on his soul.
She felt great at that moment, but she knew it would fade away soon enough, leaving a hunger she could no longer sate. The irony was not lost on her. She had wiped out the dragons, yet they in turn had sealed her fate.
She had two choices now… to die a lingering death or end her life whilst still filled with the power of the dragons’ souls. Closing her eyes, wallowing in the warmth of the darkened dragon soul, she made her choice. For a moment she held the power of the dragon’s soul… then she let it go completely, let it rip through her soul destroying all that she was. In moments she was gone, never to be seen again.
And that is why there are no more dragons.