An amalgam of dirt, rust and flesh that would just hang in the air heavy like dew on grass. It was long past the blood moon, but they were here nonetheless.
A blast of hot air out of three thick cable like nostrils was no use for ridding the beast of that foul smell, it remained. Tiny hairs raised as its whole body began to vibrate- bones cracking and muscles tensing. Hundreds of small rodents who had sought the warm hearth of the hibernating dragon now frantically fled in every direction down the various tunnels of the cave- rippling and babbling like a flooding brook.
The draft that had carried "that scent" was from the south... and its strength was intentional. Being that it was neither planting nor harvest season, the proximity demanded attention. With electricity in the air, the dragon raised its body up completely filling the cavernous space with a dense black mass. At just the sound of a snapping twig, the beast was gone.
Outside of the cave, the air was sharp with the chill of a harsh winter. Long wisps of steam trailed far behind the dragon as it half ran and half glided its way through the dense forest. Its long claws just scratching the frozen earth- chopping and spraying up chunks of dirt as it followed the much beaten and burnt path that led to the runes, a place of offering and sacrifice.
The scent had significantly weakened by the first stone tower. Outstretched wings silently provided the breaks as the dragon transitioned into a soft walk having reached the bald patch of a hill. With the outer nostrils closed, a deep raspy inhale was taken.
A group of ten or fifteen of them had been here sitting amongst the strikingly white granite stones. There was no offering to speak of, save for a few abandoned blankets and excretions. And yet, the dragon could still sense a heaviness in the air. Something remained. Its amber colored eyes scanned the surrounding tree line until landing on something small- a sliver of pearl glinted in the moonlight.
In a breath, the dragon fell upon the intruder surrounding it with outstretched wings. It was nothing more than a child of the mortals shivering and puffing countless tiny clouds from the cold. An utter disappointment. This would do nothing to quell the hunger the dragon felt, a complete waste of time and energy. The dragon’s eyes caught the child’s, and she took one unsteady step forward sensing the warmth of the dragon’s presence. The beast shifted its weight and stamped the ground hard knocking the small girl down.
The dragon had outlived a multitude of generations of mortals and knew their games well. The cleanliness and tattooed markings of this child suggested a standing of importance. It was no accident that she was left alone here amongst the runes; some of her kind must have wished for her to die with blame that could be hung on the fire of the beast. Be that as it may, the dragon couldn’t care less about the machinations of the mortals.
The child had remained seated where she had fallen, her greasy hair framed an expressionless face punctuated by bright pink cheeks. She tilted her head up at the dragon as if to patiently await her own fate. The beast was not cruel, and could see no positive outcome for such a tiny and defenseless being. By that logic it was determined that an instantaneous death by fire was the only charitable thing to do. The dragon rose up on its hind legs and inhaled deeply as it gathered the flame within its belly. The dark black skin around its stomach turned a deep plum purple until brightening and then pulsating into a reddish orange.
The child, not yet resigned, gritted her teeth and stood up to face the dragon. She had found a broken branch that she used to cut a small gash under her right eye and then held it aloft pointing it defiantly in the direction of the dragon. The beast had seen this type of symbolic cutting many times before when the mortals would fight, but never had seen it done by such a small child.
The fire in the dragon’s belly ached to be expelled and threatened to split it from within. The beast lowered its head and reigned fire down onto the ground shifting its stance and drawing a circle of flame around the child and her pointed stick. This tiny toddler was deemed capable, so the dragon would leave it to the fates. The sandy ground of the Runes would burn true enough through the night to keep her warm, and beyond that the beast didn’t care.
A snap of a twig, and the dragon was gone. The child, surrounded by flames as tall as her head, had dropped her stick. Blood from the gash on her cheek had dried quickly by the heat of the flame. Her eyes were left searching.
Back in the caverns, the dragon settled back into the curved and twisted position of hibernation. As the beast’s breathing slowly became measured, the rodents returned one by one until hundreds of them covered the warm scales of the dragon like a fur coat. After some time, “that scent” also returned. Only in a much more mild and tolerable form. The abandoned child of the mortals had somehow found her way deep into the dragon’s lair. She climbed up onto its back and then collapsed amongst the rodents and fell fast asleep.