They walked for a long, long time. He lead the way, at a swift pace, without a word. She followed behind, tail close to the ground and head low. She looked like a sulking dog, walking along behind its owner. She hated it, and yet she feared that if she put a single claw out of line she would end up with her head cut off. She didn’t like thinking about that. Whilst they walked, she had noticed a new addition to Ariss’s outfit, besides his bag. Beneath his torn coat, she could see bright white bandages, wrapped tightly around his wound. Over the course of their trip, she had watched as those bandages had slowly turned a dark reddish- brown. It was the colour of old, dried blood. She thought if curious, and was confused by its appearance. Blood was never both a liquid and dark brown in colour.
Her eyes began to wonder as they came closer and closer to the edge of the town. Rolling green hills started to come into view, and Ariss broke off from the road he was following, jumping over a stile and trudging into a field. At this point, the sun had begun to rise. The clouds from the previous night were floating off into the horizon, steadily drifting off over the skyline. Those that remained close were stained a pale pink, their undersides deep oranges. All at once birds began singing, and Lucy saw a few swooping through the sky, chasing each other as they woke up.
It was about an hour before they stopped. The sun had fully risen, having broken free of the horizon minutes before Ariss decided they had come far enough. They stood in a clearing in a small clump of trees. To the right was a small field with a few sheep in, and to their left, about a mile away, was the nearest house. In front of them was a massive pine tree, rising high above the others. Its trunk was thick, its bark a deep brown. It peeled in some places, and it looked like the tree was shedding. Ariss had dropped his bag on the grass in the centre of the rough circle. Lucy found herself tense, her tail swaying from side to side, her chest rising and falling at slightly irregular intervals.
He hadn’t said anything to indicate they were going to stop, he just did. He stood before a large tree that rose up on one side of the clearing, looking up through the many branches. His eyes were shut, and he raised his arms. Lucy looked at him nervously, keeping close to the shadows of the trees.
After a few moments, he turned around, reaching into his bag. He pulled out an assortment of strange objects, most of which Lucy couldn’t identify. The largest of these objects was a square piece of white cloth, edges fraying. It was plain and thick, woven out of something similar to wool. He spread it out before him, just in front of his bag, a little further from the tree. On top of that he started to place other things. They were of many different colours, small objects that ranged from what looked like a bottle opener to a comb. There was all sorts in between, tiny little pieces, including some old coin.
Ariss stood up from his work, turning toward her. He tilted his head to one side. “Your fur.” He said, nodding to her mane. “I need to use some of it.”
She blinked a few times. She had the horrible suspicion he was going to do something… strange with it. Something that she felt could be similar to magic. It certainly looked like it, she thought to herself. Figuring she had little choice in the matter, she bowed her head and shuffled a little closer. As soon as she was in reach, he gently took a small handful of her mane, using a small knife to cut it away. It surprised her just how gentle he was, considering he had been ready to kill her if she disobeyed. He walked away, turning his back on her as he placed the small tuft of her dark- coloured fur in the centre of the cloth. Then, he stood back.
Lucy lifted her head, looking down on the strange arrangement of objects with interest.
Ariss shut his eyes again, holding out his arms, hands overlapping in the air. He muttered a few words under his breath, lifting his head to the morning sky.
There was an ominous breeze, and a small flash as the fur in the middle caught alight, being turned to ash in seconds. Lucy gulped, but did not look away, as the objects joined the fur, bursting into flame for a single second in a seemingly random order. After a few moments, all that was left on the white cloth were a few piles of black ash.
Ariss muttered a few more words, before lowering his hands and opening his eyes. He observed the small piles of ash, before he turned to her. “Speak.” He commanded, watching her like a teacher observed his student.
Lucy was confused, and opened her muzzle, only to be interrupted.
“Not like that, you idiot.” He snapped, crossing his arms. “Try again.”
She glared at him, letting out a small puff of cold air, before she tried again. “This isn’t going to work.”
Her first words were quiet. They were carried off with the gentle breeze as soon as she had said them, whisked away from her thoughts before she had even tried to open her mouth. She was surprised, to say the very least.
At last, Ariss let himself smile. “Good Job.” He said. “So I was right. You used to be human.”
Lucy shook her head. “I… I am human, aren’t I?” Even as she said this, she knew she was being foolish. She felt, deep down, that she wasn’t anymore. She lowered her head, spirit dropping lower than it had been since she had lost her mother.
He didn’t say anything, simply standing her, letting it sink in. After a few moments, he said, “I think you know what you are now.” His voice had switched tones, become kinder than it had been. “Be glad that you can still think with your own mind. What is your name?”
“You know who I am.” She said, tilting her head to one side. “You’ve met me before.”
This time, it was his turn to look confused. “No.” He said quietly, frowning. “No you can’t be. It… it doesn’t…” He looked back up at her. “You can’t be her. It doesn’t work like that, this… this isn’t how humans become dragons.”
“I am Lucy Elwin, 26, Female. I have two siblings, an older brother, and a younger sister. My mother is dead, and my father lives down in Cornwall. I recently lost my job, and was attacked by a dragon.”
He raised a hand, pointing at her. “Nothing else happened?” He asked, taking a step closer. “You didn’t go to any cut gatherings, there was no magic involved?”
“Magic?” This came as no surprise.
“Did any robed people stand around you in a circle and chant?”
She shook her head. “What do you mean magic? How long has there be-”
“You didn’t drink anything that tasted funny?”
“No. How come you know magic exists?”
Offering no answers to her questions, he was silent. He traced his jawline with two fingers, thinking carefully. “This… this could be possible, I suppose…”
Lucy had given up, sitting down and waiting for him to finish.
“Alright. I will take pity on you, as you’re… new, and this wasn’t your fault.” He gave her a one-sided glare, watching her carefully. “But if I find out you’re lying to me…” He stopped, taking a deep breath.
“Dragons.” He started, sitting down in front of her. “They, along with a whole host of other magical creatures have roamed the world alongside humans for millenia. They were around before my time, and they will be around after yours.” Lucy sank down onto her belly, listening closely. “Dragons are mostly magical beings, similar to unicorns and such. Most of the time, only a human who can either use magic, or has been touched by magic can see them. This wasn’t a problem back when magic was commonplace, practised on the streets as a cheap form of entertainment. However, in my years of absence magic has become sparse, and as such dragons have become invisible to the human eye. This is why what I do is so important. I hunt them.
“You see, you are an exception to this. The magic you have gained was not yours originally, it was what I can only guess was a spell, that turned you into this shape. It is this borrowed magic that makes you visible to most regular humans, those who don’t have the slightest spark of magic within them. It is this that means you have to hide.”
“Why?” She broke in, “You’re fighting alone, aren’t you? Wouldn’t it be easier if other people realised dragons existed?”
Ariss rolled his eyes, chuckling. “No. Things have changed drastically since the dragons of dragon slaying. Humans lost magic for a reason. Their fear of something that put others above themselves overwhelmed them. If they knew dragons existed as well, they would most likely destroy themselves.” He shifted his legs into a more comfortable position. “They’re everywhere. The lack of hunting has allowed their numbers to rise, from the minuscule amount when they were hunted, to the multitudes of them nowadays. Dragons back when they were hunted were larger. They had sharper teeth and longer claws. They could put up a decent fight. The smallest dragons I encountered back then were no smaller than the size you are.
“They’ve infected every town or village inhabited by humans, growing bolder by the lack of attention they get. There used to be times where only the very largest and strongest dragons would dare enter a human settlement. Humans were a rare meal for dragons back then, but now?” His tone had changed, from something calm and quiet to one filled with scorn and an underlying grudge. “Now they pick people off the streets every month or so.” He paused for a moment, backtracking to where he had started to deviate.
“If humans found out dragons existed, cities would be ruins within a year. It is for this reason, that you must hide.” He stopped again, before he stood up and adjusted his coat on his shoulders. “I suggest you get as far away from humans as possible. Travel across the seas, find some deserted island. Live your life out there.” Turning his back to her, he started to pick up his things, tipping the ash onto the grass. It had started to rain again.
Lucy shook her head, flicking her tail as she pushed herself up into a sitting position. “No. I can’t leave.”
The man turned around, glowering. “Yes. You can. There is nothing left for you here. Leave before something happens and you cause the next mass extinction.” He returned to folding the piece of cloth, which was now a light grey. Tucking it back in his bag, he turned toward the tree, shutting his eyes and muttering something quiet toward it, before starting to walk away. “Don’t make me tell you again.” He warned, not looking back.
She watched him go, baring her teeth behind his back. He’d done a half- arsed job at explain anything, she thought to herself spitefully. Her mind still reeled, flickering between thoughts of magic to this distant past he had spoken so clearly of. Some part of her mind whirled as she tucked it away for later thought, turning toward the small clump of trees and walking inside. She wasn’t going to listen to some randoms stranger she had met less than a week ago.
Instead, she waited by the tree line, staying close to the ground as she watched the small figure disappearing behind the hedges of the next field over. Then, as fast as she could, she darted out, into the short grass. She ran for a while, snaking her way over the hills, heading back toward her home town.
It was a roundabout route, she had to admit. She didn’t want to accidentally bump into Ariss once more, as she had no doubt he would fulfil his promise. His tone had reassured her of that, despite his change of heart. He had spoken with some deep rooted hatred, one illogical to her. A few possibilities passed her thoughts as she pondered what might have happened to spark such a negative reaction. The immediate response was a death of somebody close to him. Perhaps a wife, or parents.