She breathes a fine, warm mist onto the surface of the bright jewel resting on the cushion before her. Swirling a silken scarf across the gleaming facets, the jewel catches the flickering candlelight and scatters it across the piles of riches and onto the colonnade of stalagmites. The light continues to bounce around the cavern until it fades into the darkness of the vast ceiling above.
She breathes a deep sigh as she relaxes into the luxuriousness of the mounds of treasure. The metal of the coins is cool against her skin. The jagged edges of uncut gems press into her, drawing tiny rivulets of blood, reminding her of life through pain. The delicate textures of silk, satin, and velvet soothe her flickering fingertips.
She breathes in sharply as she hears the tumble of stone on stone past the steady drip and trickle of the underground grotto. On edge, she pulls herself silently to her feet, the riches around her momentarily forgotten as she begins to hunt.
She breathes, deep and slow, as she waits. Waits. Waits. Ah! There it is. The clink of steel against stone. Not her usual prey, but one she especially enjoys hunting. Sinuously, she moves toward the sound, every fiber of her being keyed toward it. Dipping slowly into the pool that lies between herself and the narrow tunnel through which her prey moved, she inhales before plunging under the still surface of the water. The movement makes a small ripple of sound that echoes around the chamber before seeking escape through the tunnel. In the time it takes to reach his ears, she traverses the pool and pulls herself, dripping, from the water.
She breathes in a hiss when she hears the distinct rasp of steel being drawn from its sheath. Silently and fluidly, she navigates the darkness, her mind focused, her body tingling, her eyes sharp. She sees the pale glow of his torch highlighting all the sharp angles of the rough hewn passage. Slowly, she creeps toward the glow, watching warily for the glint of torchlight against metal.
She breathes steady and slow. Twelve heartbeats slow. A spark of light catches her eye. Ah! There it is. She forces herself to tremble and slowly, with precise intention, reaches a hand out to grasp the stone wall to her right, the first view he will have as he rounds the nearest bend.
She breathes raggedly, contorting her face into an approximation of fear, as she stumbles toward him. His sword clatters to the cave floor as he gasps in shock at the sight of her, naked, dripping, and obviously terrified. Recovering quickly, he reaches for her as he retrieves his weapon. Murmuring some sort of chivalrous nonsense, he awkwardly removes his cloak and wraps it around her shoulders, all while backing them both back toward the cave entrance. Her safety. Then the dragon.
She breathes in tiny gasps as she whimpers, her fists clutching the cloak tightly, trying to look as vulnerable as she can. They break out into the purplish gray glow of early twilight. The hesitation is clear on his chiseled face, or at least as much as she can see of his exposed jaw beneath his helm and the sharp blue of his eyes from within the slits. After all, dragons are most active at night. While pretending bravery, they all prefer to try their luck when it is stacked in their favor.
She breathes out in a rush as she “faints” into his bumbling, but strong, arms. The edges of his armor bite into her flesh, reminding her of being alive through the pain. As he cradles her against his chest, she hides an exultant smile under his strong jaw.
She breathes rapturously, chest heaving, as he collapses beside her. She allows him to pull her close to him as she turns to lay on her side. A flash of light, a glint, a reflection across the room catches her eye. An ornately gilt mirror. Her reflection. Tousled golden hair, flushed pink skin, bright green eyes with golden sunbursts flaring out from around a pupil, that between one sleepy blink and the next, is decidedly reptilian. She stretches lazily and then…
…she breathes a long slender stream of smoke.
Author’s note regarding this exercise: After writing the first paragraph, I realized I wanted to start the second with the same two words. I recognized that I could only really get away with this if I made it an intentional motif, so I decided to challenge myself. Could I successfully tell a story in which every paragraph began with the same two words? Almost immediately, I began to imagine an ending (I’m bad at endings) and the story took shape. In this case, I would say it was successful in that it helped form the story and round it to completion, something I often struggle with, especially in shorter works. What do you think? Want to give it a try? I shared my writing prompts in the title if it inspires you. Pick your two words. Turn them into a story.
**Lightly edited second draft.**