There weren’t always dragons in the Valley, fantastical beasts didn’t always prowl our forests. Those days are only remembered in children’s songs now. I feel the ground shake beneath my cheek, the ground cool, smelling of earth, sweet grass, and something more; metallic, copper, blood. My eyelids flutter open inviting a scorching pain through my head, I reach to feel for the source, but my arms catch on the rope that has them bound behind my back, along with my legs. The earth shakes again, stronger this time, indicating that the beast is moving closer and I should be moving farther. I don’t remember what happened, how I got here, or why I’m bound.
What I do know is I need to move, I carry a knife in my belt another in my backpack, both appear to have been taken from me. I wiggle my legs and feet, assessing for more injuries, but more importantly to feel if my pen knife is still in my left boot. Luck is on my side; I rock back and forth wriggling my feet until my knife slides out of my boot onto my back. With a few more creative maneuvers, and a few more sore spots worth investigating later I get the knife into my hands.
Once freed, I run my hands through my hair, they come away slick with blood, confirming I was struck on the head. I stand up seeing no obvious wounds but feeling pain in my torso and legs. It's hard to say if my aches were from an altercation or from being tied in an uncomfortable position for too long. I try to piece together what I was doing before I woke here.
A loud shriek pierces the air, breaking my reverie, a black scaled face with burning orange eyes emerges over the knoll in front of me. I shake my head as cold sweat runs down my face ensuring its not the concussion, but I am in fact about to become a meal for this monster. The beast lets loose another primal shriek as it shakes its head in turn, its scales an iridescent gold in the sun, shifting back to black as it moves.
We make eye contact and time seems to stop. Fight or flight responses have my heart racing as I weigh my options. In one hand I cling to my tiny blade, hardly enough to take down a fifteen-thousand-pound monster, on the other hand, I’m injured, I haven’t assessed the full extent, but I know running to cover will not be easy.
If only I had my backpack and belt, and maybe a few days to really think through my options. The beast has made its decision faster than me as it lunges forward. I don’t think, I just run, I wheel around and make a break for the tree line.
This valley was originally a lush, hilly pasture between two mountain ranges, perfect for grazing, farming, cloud watching, and flower picking, then a traveler went missing, then another. Coincidence? The province to the East blamed the province to the West, each claiming dominion over the valley. The debate over who claimed the land rarely led to anything more than ill written threats. Eventually both sides caught on that people weren’t disappearing, they were being digested; now this valley is a dumping ground for hired mercenaries, bounty hunters, and the Crown. The once bountiful greenery is now dull and barren, the field of flowers has given way to a coppice of corpses. Flowers don’t grow here anymore.
My lungs burn as I push my body to its limits, pain coursing through my veins as I start the incline. I can see the tree line just beyond the top of the hill, the forest offering sweet sanctuary. I feel the hot, acrid breath of the Dragon on my back, its shadow growing in front of me. At this pace, the game is already over, I’m sure the beast knows this. I stumble over a half-exposed femur, falling to one knee I roll to the side as massive jaws strike the earth where I would have been. The dragon screams out in frustration that its meal is not so easily won.
I lunge at the beast’s head before it rises to full height, aiming for its intense orange eye with my meagre pen knife. I miss. the beast anticipates my attack and jerks its head to the side, my knife digging in just beneath the eye, the blade breaks as black gold scales fall like dark opal tears.
I can’t keep running up hill, that is the path to certain death. Turning on the dragon I run downward, jumping over skulls and remains, I cry out in pain landing harshly on my right leg. I catch something out of the corner of my eye, something that doesn’t belong in this terrain. The green of my backpack stands out against the muddy red-brown earth around it.
Whoever left me here for dead must have stripped me of my effects and abandoned them as well. What if they’ve emptied the contents? What if I don’t make it in time? What have I really got to lose?
I break away towards my bag, a gust of powerful wind hits me from behind, the beast has taken flight. I hit the ground as the dragon’s thick, black talon scrapes my back opening a shallow, fresh wound. The large beast moves effortlessly through the air, if I wasn’t scared for my life, I would be in awe of its beauty and grace.
The dragon lands before me, in between us lies my backpack and belt. I lock eyes with the dragon again, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say it was enjoying itself with this game of cat and mouse. The silence between us is broken when a primal roar cuts through the air behind me, the dragon’s attention is drawn to the noise, its nostrils flaring with the incoming scent of an intruder.
I take advantage of the distraction and close the gap between us, grabbing my effects, I slowly retreat towards the tree line. The bag is heavy in my hands presumably still full, I quickly open the flap peering inside, my gaze then falls behind me where the angry howl came from.
A slow smile spreads across my face, I think the tides have just turned in my favour.