Before any of the more artisanal offerings you’ll be tasting today, let us begin with a fairly traditional preparation. Yes, the one just before you, and then we’ll go round the plates widdershins from there. Anticlockwise, that is. As you take a bite, note the full-bodied ferocity, the natural balance between dread and might, that one expects from a prime cut so masterfully prepared. Such a dangerously inviting flavor profile seems impossible to improve on, at first. But there’s oh so much more to a dragon than that.
Now, the second sample. There isn’t much about the plate to make one think of dragon upon first inspection, but the aroma of rust and alloy in fact derives from metallic bones boiled in the acid of their own marrow. A thing corrosive and corroding all at once. Metaphors about destruction and self-destructive nature, inextricably bound, in the way the flavors and textures meet on the tongue. No, I don’t think I’d eat it with my fingers; too many sharp edges, and the acid seems likely to burn skin. If you’ve ever wondered at the flavor of stark and forbidding, you couldn’t do much better.
It stings a bit, going down? Yes, I wouldn’t be surprised, although since the stomach is bathed in acid every day, I’m sure it will manage.
On to the third, if you please. Another significant departure from the expected. Focus on the rich earthiness of fragrance and texture, less on the moisture weeping from the pink veins in the cheese. A result of the curing and culturing process only—I’d promise you it’s not alive but, alas, that wouldn’t be entirely honest. Whatever microscopic organisms yet roil through it, yeast or mold, bacteria or fungi, we can assume that they are not intelligent as we use the word, but rather, they consume and digest on instinct, much like the dragon that lent its enzymes to the production process. That doesn’t make you feel better? At least take a tiny bite, from the corner there, where it’s less runny. It won’t bite back, I promise.
Can one be dragon intolerant, the same way some people are lactose intolerant? Why, I don’t believe I’ve ever been asked before.
Just as well that we come to the palate cleanser. Take your time; if the colors and textures of the first few samples remain with you, it may take a while before you see anything on the plate at all. And yet, that’s the reason this course is so important. Unfocus your vision, breathe deep, and you’ll find it there in a faintly-scented vapor, a tender translucent orb that glints with indirect light, its presence on the tongue more subdued than that of unflavored agar. A preparation that is nothing if not subtle. Indeed, it may not be comprised of anything more than hints and essences, suggestions and insubstantiality. Deceptively pure, for something derived from the offal of the beast.
Remain with it a moment longer, if you will. The mind needs rest as well as the senses before we continue on. Don’t let yourself be carried away by the eagerness of the new, the yet-to-be-experienced. There’s an order to all things.
Even this next sample, yes. It dazzles the mind as much as the eye, does it not? The mirrorlike sheets ringing the plate are precisely what you suppose—paper-thin scales from the underbelly, overlaid one upon the next just as they grow on the living beast. Mirrors reflecting into mirrors, arabesques in labyrinthine vectors that have no apparent beginning or end. If you look close you’ll see that each scale is its own dragon, and each dragon is comprised of mirror scales, and—must I continue? You get the gist.
Now that you’ve tried it, we may as well move on. Trust me, the gist is all we have time for with this one. If you stay too long trying to understand its depths, all you’ll manage to do is drown in a bottomless sea of infinities and orders of magnitude. A dragon is an eternally indescribable thing and this sample embodies that fact, so don’t ask me to describe its flavors. As far as I know, they are different for every diner who experiences them.
Do dragons prepare and savor our various parts the same way, when they catch us venturing too close to their eyries? I daresay that’s a question beyond the scope of this meal to answer. Let us turn our attention to the flavors that remain to us.
The penultimate preparation is quite a different beast. Effervescent, candied wing membrane; pearlescent, sugared frills a-frothing over every light-catching surface of the ferocious, jewel-like confection at its core. At once adamantine and amaranthine; diamond-forever and flower-fleeting; facet-sharp, petal soft. Are there people who believe beauty can’t be awesome and terrifying, that glamour doesn’t prove precisely what it seeks to obscure?
An unexpectedly rich, complex flavor, is it not? I thought you would agree.
I promised seven samples, and we have come to the last. Allow me to set fire to the contents of the glass; as the alcohol burns off you’ll notice a particular brimstone odor. It may seem I’ve handed you a digestif of lighter fluid but in truth this liqueur is distilled from the fire gland of the beast. Not so different, you say? Even after it’s been diluted and set aflame, you’ll find it does pack quite a punch. A flavor like capsaicin and mace and hot oil all at once. Yes, it is quite normal to taste the alcohol though it’s burned off. If this drink symbolizes anything, it is the way the dragon experiences itself.
Oh—yes, that’s quite normal, too. Don’t think of it as belching so much as breathing fire. I’m sorry to say your napkin isn’t fire retardant, so you’ll have to tip up your chin and let the flames run their course.
You’ve survived your dragon encounter thus far, so don’t fret. A little conflagration never hurt anyone.
As a fine art professional, Mar has wielded katanas and handled Lady Gaga's shoes. As a veterinary assistant, she has cared for hairless cats, hedgehogs, and, one time, a coyote. As a writer (under Marissa James or Mar Vincent), her short fiction can be found in Flash Fiction Online, Translunar Travelers Lounge, Zooscape, and many other publications. She is a recipient of the Ladies of Horror Fiction grant, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a reader for Interstellar Flight Press. She resides in the Pacific Northwest and can be found on Twitter or Mastodon @MaroftheBooks.