A loud wheeze disturbed the surrounding silence.
It was so powerful, so strong, it startled every single creature nearby. The birds fled in flocks; the squirrels rushed to hide; the rabbits disappeared into their burrows, and the few leaves left on the trees trembled.
I could swear I felt its warmth caress my skin, but that was impossible. No creature could do that. And yet, I was sure of what I had heard, of what I had felt.
Something was wrong. No one had seen large creatures around these woods in years. They had been hunted down by my people in the first years after the attack. The scarcity of food and the toxicity of the water had killed those that escaped us.
These days, we were lucky to find a few rabbits or some skinny deer. But this was definitely coming from a giant beast.
With my heart thundering in my chest, I took a few steps towards the clearing from where the sound had come, debating if it was best to turn around and run as fast as I could or to see whatever caused such a disturbance. I wasn’t the most courageous person around, but I had to admit I was probably the most curious, so the result of that debate wasn’t that hard to guess.
A few more steps took me closer to the clearing, and it happened again. This time I was so close I was able to smell ashes and char in the air, and my heart stopped for a moment, my worst nightmares coming to life. Fueled by the urge to know the truth, I took the few steps that separated me from the edge of the clearing, as silently as possible, considering I was stepping on the fresh snow.
My hands covered my mouth just in time to silence the cry of despair that struggled to burst out of my suddenly dry lips.
How was this possible? Why was he here? They had never strayed from the cities before… at least, not as far as we knew. But there was no doubt. My eyes weren’t fooling me; I didn’t imagine things.
There was a dragon in the woods. A black dragon, none the less… one of the most vicious ones…
Frantic, I slowly stepped back as soundlessly as possible, doing my best not to awake the beast so that I could run back to the mountain and warn the others.
My booted feet stepped on a twig, and the sound of it breaking resonated throughout the barren woods as if it was a shot, and I cursed my luck.
Freezing in place, I waited, praying to all Gods above to hide me from the creature.
But I wasn’t so lucky. The beast lazily raised his enormous head, sniffing the air, looking for whatever disturbed his sleep. A second later, his red eyes were fixed on me, and his whole body stiffened.
I crouched into a still ball and waited, hoping I would become invisible in the white snow around me, with the white clothes we wore to blend with the snow in the woods.
The sound of the gigantic beast getting up told me I had failed miserably.
I choked on a cry, knowing I was as good as dead. But I wasn’t ready to go down without a fight. Where he was big and powerful, I was slim and fast. He couldn’t follow me through the trees, at least, not fast enough, and though he would be able to see me while flying above the trees, he wouldn’t be able to capture me. Not if I stayed under the trees, and hopefully, not before I found a burrow big enough for me to hide in it.
He spread his wings and roared.
The bloodcurdling sound prompted me forward, and I started running, as fast as I could and as far as possible from the creature, never looking back. My heart thundered in my chest so loud, I barely heard anything else.
He tried to follow me. I heard the trees being ripped out of the ground and the howl of the small creatures as he crashed through in his attempt to follow me, but I never stopped. Not even when he set the trees behind me on fire with his powerful breath. My only chance to survive this encounter was to keep running and stay under the trees, taking him as far away as possible from the mountain where we lived.
My foot slid under an exposed root, and I fell flat on the ground, hitting my chin against a buried rock. The crisp snow was instantly covered with my red blood, and I sobbed.
The excruciating pain took my breath away for a couple of seconds, time enough for the dragon to find me and swirl a few times over the trees that stopped him from reaching me.
His victorious roar churned my stomach, and bile reached the back of my throat. For a moment, I thought he was going to roast me alive, right there and then, but for whatever reason, he didn’t.
Gathering all the strength I had left, I jumped up and kept running, still not ready to give up. I had no idea where I was or where I was going, but I didn’t care. All I wanted was to escape.
I heard his raging roar, but I ignored it while I ran through the woods, dodging trees and bushes, my hands and face scratched all over, my feet hurting like hell from the unwonted effort, but nothing mattered. Only getting to a safe place if there was one.
Images of my family and friends rushed through my mind, and I sobbed but didn’t slow down. I fell a couple more times, but I got back on my feet and kept running, his huge shadow and the flip flapping of his wings letting me know he was still after me. He hadn’t given up.
When I started to lose the battle, I finally saw what I had been looking for – a big burrow dug into a small hill. It was probably used as a lair by wild animals, but right now, my biggest threat was the gigantic dragon following me around.
Pushing myself harder, I ran faster, and a few moments later, I was entering the burrow, going as far away as possible from the entrance until I hit a rocky wall. There was no way out.
Breathless, I allowed my wobbling legs to buckle, sitting me down hard on the dirty ground.
A loud thud and the crumbling of small rocks and dirt warned me the dragon had landed on the top of the hill. I was trapped.
His frustrated roar echoed around me, and I wrapped my arms around my legs, my heart still frantically drumming in my chest.
To be continued…