It gets ugly when a starving hunter takes shelter with one of the most feared creatures.
|The inside of the tree made for a surprisingly warm hideout, and it was rather cozy, apart from the constant anxiety that any number of unnerving bugs could be crawling up my pant leg. I stood up and stretched, my body cramped after being hunched in a ball within my fur coat outside in the heavy snowfall. The space was small, but it would do. Anything was better than the frigid air of the darkening forest outside the small hole leading into the hollowed out tree. A loud rumble sounded from my stomach, but I ignored my hunger, unslinging my hunting bow and quiver and hanging them from a knob in the wood above my head. I settled down, pulling my furs closer around me as I sunk back into a ball and tried to fall asleep. With the soft sound of the wind in my ears and the icy fingers of the cold reaching into my coat, I slowly tried to ease myself into a deep sleep.
It was a loud cracking noise that woke me from my light slumber, and my eyes quickly darted up and down the tree, searching for the origin of the sound. I slowly rose to my feet, concerned by the smell of burnt wood. I looked up into the new daylight pouring through the top of the tree, squinting at what I thought was movement. In an instant, an animal white as snow took flight into the clear sky, out from the tree and up above the towering pine trees above. At first, I thought it must be some kind of bird, nesting inside the tree in a nook above me. How it was able to roost without realizing I was here I do not know, but before I knew it I was already trying to climb up the tree to check for eggs in its nest. By the time I reached the nest, I had decided the attempt was futile, as I had never heard of an animal that would lay its eggs in the winter time, but I was instantly rewarded with a wave of curiosity as I laid eyes on the nest.
The area was charred black, and scratches filled the large wooden platform on which the creature must have taken flight from. Large claw marks filled the walls of the tree, showing that the beast must regularly climb up the walls and take flight out of the mouth of the tree which was several feet above. The area also stunk life fresh game had been eaten here, and there was the odd splotch of blood that could be found here and there throughout the roost.
The scene was vicious, and I did not want to be in the tree any longer, so I quickly descended the tree, grabbing my bow from its resting place and crawling back out into the forest. The storm had calmed down, now with only occasional flakes of snow drifting down from the sky. I did not wait around, as the deadly cold was quickly sinking into my very core, and with whatever beast I had just seen fly from the tree into the sky, I wasn’t keen on staying put. I kept my eyes to the ground, searching for the tracks of any animal that I could hunt down and bring home. But the fresh snow yielded no sign of prints in the snow, and I was beginning to feel a sense of hopelessness. How was I going to feed my family? How could I even feed the entire village? I would need more than a full herd of deer to do that. The sun was merely crawling across the sky, and it was noon when I found my first tracks. There were six different sets, all deer, each of them fairly fresh. With a new flame lit within me, I trudged on through the snow. By now the sky was drained of flakes and blue as could be, the bright sun poking its way through the thick tangle of bare branches above. It was almost perfect. Yet that scene was soon to go plummeting downwards.
The smell hit me before the sight did, but I already knew what was amiss. From between the trees, in the distance, I could already see the red-stained snow, and I rushed towards it, bow in hand with an arrow nocked.
It was a gruesome display, with blood and bones and internals to be found all throughout. It took me a moment to realize that the two carcasses were the deer that I had been tracking. The two bucks were enormous, each coming close to five feet tall, not even including the antlers atop their heads. Their bodies were ravaged, little being left apart from the rib cage and everything from the shoulder and up. Deep claw and tooth marks were sunk into their necks offering the animals a quick death.
I glanced around me, wondering what could have done this. A bear couldn’t have taken down the two of them without one of them getting away, or at least it wasn’t likely. A pack of wolves was the best bet, but even this seemed a bit far fetched for wolves. I looked around for the tracks of the remaining deer and the predators, and I noticed that the deer scattered in all different directions and that whatever killed the pair was certainly not a wolf. The tracks didn’t really resemble anything I had ever seen. The footprints were deep impressions, with long claws that sank into the snow, and scaly pads to go along with them. The prints were decently close together, meaning the animal couldn’t have been very much bigger than the deer it killed. And all throughout the scene, and long and scaled tail dragged right behind the creature.
A sinking feeling entered my stomach as I realized that the beast had hardly left the scene before I arrived. My panicked eyes scanned the trees around me, expecting to see a great big lizard staring back at me through the branches. But it wasn’t a pair of eyes that alerted me, it was a great roar from above and the loud flapping of wings. My neck instantly snapped back, and I found myself staring up at blur of movement that was coming crashing down at me. Without thinking I loosened an arrow up into the sky and dove aside, landing hard in the cold snow.
With a great sound of wings unfolding and a bit of flourish, the body hit the ground, sending bits of snow loose and putting a tremble through the earth. My knees buckled as I tried to stand, and I fell right back into the snow.
The beast stood over me, looking down as if trying to determine whether or not I would make a decent meal. The creature had beautiful, white and shining scales across its body, with patches of light blue streaking down its long neck and to the tip of its tail, which was barbed with vicious spikes. Its jaw was clenched shut with a stern look, with two fangs protruding from its upper lip, each a bright white. Folded across its back were white leathery wings. It was not hard to guess what the creature was. Dragon. I readied my bow, though I was thoroughly confident the weapon would hardly faze the beast. I scrambled backward through the snow, struggling to stand on my numb and shaking legs, and losing a few arrows in the process. When I finally managed to firmly stand up, the dragon took a step forward.
The creature was just as large as I would have thought, rising a foot or so above my height. The dragon took another stride forward, and I stepped backward, pulling back on my bowstring and looking for an effective target. The scales looked far too hard to penetrate, and the eyes of the dragon were far too small to hit. The wings could have made for a better target, but I was looking for a crippling blow; one that wouldn’t allow it to come and kill me with a single swipe of a tail. The dragon continued to advance toward me, and I kept retreating, keeping my distance, as there were few other options. Eventually, the beast slowed, and I began to hope that it might have lost interest. It twisted its neck around, looking at the pair of dead deer. Looking at me once more, it crouched lower, digging its talons into the dirt below it. I stopped, pulling back my arrow in anticipation of an attack. And abruptly, the beast’s wings unfolded and rose, and it prepared to take flight. With the target in mind, I released my arrow.
A great bellow let out from the wounded lizard’s mouth, as it pulled its now bloodied left wing close, agonized by the nearly severed base of the limb. It looked to me with bared teeth, but no counterattack came. I readied another arrow. The dragon released another roar, though this time it sounded more of anguish than of prowess. The great wings rose once again in an attempt to take flight, but it was once again squashed by an arrow piercing the right wing. As another howl was let loose, I reached for another arrow, for perhaps a final blow, but my quiver came up empty. I looked again to the dragon, whose scales would hardly be considered white for much longer. Lowering my bow, the dragon looked to me once again, closing its mouth and slowly unfolding its wings again. In one final attempt, it took flight on broken wings, struggling to tear its way through the branches above, hardly possessing the grace it had before. As it broke through the top of the trees, I watched it struggle across the sky, occasionally letting out an agonized howl. I frowned as I went to collect all of the arrows that went astray, I guess I’ll be going home empty handed.