Days passed, and for Ariss, things seemed to return to normal. He couldn’t help but feel a sense of guilt. He wondered if he’d been too harsh on the girl, he wondered if that had actually been the girl. A crease appeared in his brow as he leaned over his desk. It wouldn’t have been the first time he was outsmarted by a dragon, he thought wearily.
Dragons, he had observed, came in varying different levels of intelligence. Some could think better than any human he’d known, while others were nothing more than mindless beasts controlled by instincts.
He leaned back in his chair, pushing himself away. There was a horrific scrape, the sound of solid wood on bare stone. Wincing, he stopped, and stood. He picked up his coat from where it hung by the door, pausing before he put it on to check the deep gash in his shoulder. He rolled up his short sleeves, noticing that it had already scabbed over, and everything seemed normal. He shrugged on his heavy coat, flipping the collar down. It didn’t feel right, his old one had been better. The new one was stiffer, and was made of considerably worse quality leather. It wasn’t as good as the one his sister had made from him.
The sword fitted neatly into a crude band of leather, stitched hastily into the left hand side of the coat. It was a little heavy, but that didn’t bother him. He straightened his lapels, deciding to leave the coat open on this particular night.
Within a minute, he was standing outside his house, shading his eyes from the harsh, artificial street lights. He decided to head north-west today, and set off at a quick walk.
He had noticed, in the past few days, various articles in newspapers questioning the mysterious disappearance of a woman named Lucy Elwin. He mostly ignored them, but every once in a while he would pick one up as he walked to the town centre, and read it as he sat in the park.
Most of them said the same thing. Missing girl, house a mess, no trail, no motive. He noted, with interest, the mention of her hospital visit, thrown out there. They didn’t have a clue what really happened, he thought to himself. By this time, he hoped, she was well on her way to finding somewhere desolate to spend her life. He hoped that she wasn’t stupid enough to hang around. After all, if normal people could see her, so could they.
He had been out for a few hours when things started to change, when things started to get interesting. He was wandering closer to the town centre, the alleyways becoming scarcer, darker and dirtier. There was the sound of a car door slamming ahead of him, and he looked further up the road. Two dark figures were getting out of sleek, black car. He narrowed his eyes, but kept walking forward. It wasn’t until he got closer that he realised where they were from.
Two men stood in the middle of the pavement, speaking in hushed tones. As he approached, they turned slightly to face him, looking him up and down before returning to their own conversation. Ariss heard snatches of it- small sections of it that worried him.
“- seen around here?” One asked, as he came into hearing range.
“Yeah. Some local woman was raving on about it. Mark said she wouldn’t shut up about it.” The two men chuckled.
“How do we bring this thing in? I mean, it’s not like they’ve given us anything we can use against it…”
The other one shrugged. “I think we’re just meant to find it. We’ve got backup, and they’ve got a van or something to put it in, remember?”
The conversation stopped, as Ariss walked silently past. It continued in hurried whispers behind his back, whispers that he couldn’t quite make out. His hand reached into his coat, fingers closing on the long hilt of his bastard sword.
“Excuse me.” One of them called out, and he heard a mechanical click from behind him.
Ariss’s grip tightened on the sword, ready to slide it out of the sheath at any moment. “Is there something wrong, gentlemen?” He asked, turning his head slightly, looking at them out of the corner of his eye. One was holding something black and small in his hands, hiding it slightly behind his back, keeping it pointed toward the ground.
The one that had called out continued. Ariss observed that he was not the one with something behind his back. “You tell me, dead man.”
There was a sharp scrape as he pulled the sword from the sheath, the tip clearing just before the second man lifted what was in his hand, aiming swiftly before loosing two shots into Ariss’s stomach. Ariss didn’t stop, and was only slowed momentarily by the shots. He took a step back, his grip loosening slightly on his sword, before it tightened again and he took a few steps forward.
The first man had a phone out, and was talking into it hurriedly, something about a change of targets. Ariss took another step forward, greeted by a further three bullets, this time in the chest. This time, he was forced back two steps, and was winded by the blows. It took him little more than a second to recover, and he started to run forward. There was another shot, which did little to slow his momentum, before the sixth shot was fired. The first of the suit-clad men had already slid back into the car, and was waiting patiently for his partner to join him. Ariss scowled at them, starting to swing his sword as the second man pulled his foot in.
The steel of his blade hit the metalwork, and a spark flew into the air. There was a screech of tires against a wet road, before the car sped off down the street, and the sound of wailing sirens took its place. Ariss cursed, sheathing his sword and sprinting toward the missing girl’s home. He doubted they were here just for him. They had given up chasing him years ago. He always managed to escape, because he had experience. She, he decided, didn’t.
Lucy had realised, within a day of returning to her house, that she couldn’t stay there. She had returned deep into the night, and had found the lights of her living room on. She had paused outside her house, craning her neck to look inside. Her father had been sitting in the living room, amongst the wreckage. A pang of guilt had struck her as she watched him. She couldn’t go back now. He wouldn’t recognise her.
With her head hung low, she had trudged off down the street, unaware of the old lady across the street staring out of her window in disbelief.
Instead, Lucy had managed to find a spot within the town where there was little traffic. A place where few people walked by each day, and even fewer dared to look inside. She had growled at anyone that tried to enter the dark alleyway, convincing them she was some sort of dog or wild animal. In the darkness, she snapped at a few of them, letting her teeth clash together loudly. If her growls didn’t scare them off, the glittering white of her long, sharp teeth did. So far, that had been enough to discourage any curious teenagers, or concerned adults.
She had also become aware of a growing sense of hunger. She hadn’t eaten anything since the day she had first spoken to Ariss, when she wasn’t in this form. Lucy realised she hadn’t thought about food yet. She was only acutely aware of what she should eat. This had become a difficult matter for her to solve. Ariss hadn’t said anything about hunting to her, and she was only vaguely aware of what other dragons in the town ate. She didn’t fancy rummaging around bins looking for scraps.
With no other option, she had put the problem aside for now. It was only a nagging sense at the moment- she had plenty of time to find some sort of fix for it.
Each night, since she had returned to the town to find her Father sitting in her house, awake and waiting for her, hoping that she would return, Lucy went and stood outside for a bit. She had noticed that by the time she got there, in the late hours of the very early morning, he was asleep. She would sit by the window, looking at his aged face, at the wrinkles that had appeared in the last few years. Loosing his wife had been hard on him, she noticed. It was during these times that Lucy thought about how little she had actually done for him during this time. Since her mother had died, she had pushed away from her family, retreating back into her own little corner of the world, determined to make it through alone.
It was this guilt that made her return, it was this guilt that she felt as she sat there, watching him in silence.
She was sitting there on this night, as she had done the last five, her tail lying still by her forepaws. She heard the sound of an engine getting closer, the sound of a car coming toward the turning for the street. She lifted her head, standing up and listening. After a few seconds, she set off at a fast trot in the opposite direction. Headlights bathed the street in a bright blanket as she turned the corner. The van continued down the road as she picked up the pace a little. She could hear the sound of another vehicle, about to turn into the street she was on.
A flutter of panic washed through her, as she turned into another road, and then a back alley. The sound of engines had started to grow steadily, as more and more joined the first two. This wasn’t normal. Something was going on.
Ariss didn’t slow, weaving through the maze of streets, moving through darkness wherever possible. He, too, could hear the sound of engines as they roared through the night, all honing in on one particular spot. He followed them, guessing they’d found the girl, and were trying to trap her within the town. She wouldn’t be able to fight them, he thought. As much as he disliked the idea of helping her, he couldn’t just leave her. He knew of the things that happened to people like them there. He’d heard the rumours, and if they found out about dragons and managed to study them, terrible, terrible things would take place.
Ariss ran out into a street filled with the orange glow of headlights. A car was driving straight toward him. Another black one, this one heavier than the one the two men had run off in. Ariss scowled, only sparing it a glance as he sprinted across the road. He heard the screech of brakes as the driver realised that another one of their targets was joining the chase. They knew that Ariss could ruin the entire operation, as he had done before.
There was a slam of a car door, as a woman stepped out, talking into a handset. “Dead man is making their way toward the target.” She said, walking towards where he had disappeared. “Fire at will, lethal shots advised.” She knew it wouldn’t kill him, but from past experience they had learnt it could slow him down.
From that point onwards, Ariss passed a lot of cars. The lightning sound of bullets cleaving through the air woke many of the residents, and a few, weary eyed and grumpy, came out and stood by doors, trying to figure out what the fuss was about. Ariss became aware of one or two shorts hitting his legs or shoulders, but remained largely unscathed. He reached the darker, quieter area in the centre. The eye of the storm, he though to himself, letting a smile creep across his face. The girl- Lucy- should be somewhere in here, unaware and most likely scared of what was to come.
As he was thinking about what to do when he found her, he saw the flick of her tail as she turned a corner. She was moving fast. “Girl.” He called out, his voice carrying over the row of houses toward her. He heard the sound of stones being kicked up as she came to a sudden halt. It was a further minute before she sheepishly rounded the corner, head hanging low. He scowled at her, drawing his sword. “You didn’t listen.” He stated, glancing back the way he had come. He sighed, turning back to her. “I don’t blame you.”
Lucy frowned, tilting her head. “What’s going on? Why… why are there so many cars?”
“They’re here for you.” He muttered, starting to walk back toward where she had started to go. “This is what happens when you get seen.” He stopped, looking back at her. “Well come on, then. We have to leave. My own place here has been compromised, thanks to you.”
She looked away, muttering a quick “Sorry.” Before she followed. Their pace started out slow, as Ariss checked corners. As they started to get towards the brighter areas of the ring, where the assortment of cars and vans had started to create a ring around them, they picked up the pace. Ariss stopped bothering to check the corners they turned, but still stood out ahead. He made sure Lucy maintained a good ten meters between them. Lucy didn’t quite understand why, but she had a feeling it had something to do with the bangs she had heard earlier- noises she could only guess were gunshots.
Her questions were answered when they finally moved into the ring. Ariss stepped out onto a street, one filled with bright lights. There was a storm of gunshots, and his body jerked with the impacts. She froze where she stood, crying out in surprise. For a second, she forgot how to speak, her voice instead coming out as a strangled roar.
The man turned slightly, looking around at her. “You idiot, they didn’t know you were here.” The firing stopped immediately following her roar. They knew that she, unlike the man, could be killed if shot in the right place. There had been orders to bring her in alive.
Lucy was aware of yelling coming from the street, and Ariss stood there, waiting impatiently. “Come on, girl, we need to move while they’re getting ready.” Her legs moved for her, and together they ran forward. Ariss paused for a moment, grabbing her shoulders and hoisting himself up onto her back. She had no time to protest, her body moving automatically. There were panicked shouts from all around, as she charged through their ranks, leaping over the heavy cars that blocked her escape. Her long body trailed behind her, and she seemed to float for a second, before she landed lightly on her feet, and kept running.
Ariss held his sword out to one side, prepared to swing at anything that dared try to cross their path.
Adrenaline rushed through her body, spurring her on in her confusion. Those few seconds of action were a blur in her mind, and she would later have difficulty recalling what had happened. She was certain Ariss had been shot, multiple times, as he stood there on the corner. She had been certain he had been killed, and yet she could feel the weight on her back. The strangely cold weight, she noted.
After a solid ten minutes of running at her fastest, Lucy began to slow. She could still hear the sound of engines in the distance, as people scrambled back into cars, driving in the general direction they had escaped. “Good Job.” Ariss said from her back. “And welcome to a life you never would have thought existed.” He sighed, dropping from her back and falling behind a little. She slowed a bit more, to a pace where he could easily keep up.
“You… you got shot.” She said, quietly. Her head was a jumble of different thoughts as she struggled to comprehend what had happened. “I thought you were dead.”
He chuckled from beside her. “I was shot, and I am dead.” As they were running, he fumbled with his coat, taking it off to reveal a darkly-stained white shirt, peppered with holes. “See?”
She glanced down at him. It didn’t help at all. “But you’re… you’re still…” She trailed off.
Ariss sighed, putting his coat back on, slowing a little so he didn’t run into anything. “I guess I should probably explain at some point.” He started to slow down more, beckoning to Lucy to do the same. “We need to start being careful, hiding our tracks so they can’t follow us.” Pointing to the marks in the tarmac behind them, he continued. “You tend to scrape your claws against the ground when you run, and you dig them in too much when you turn. That’s how I found you the first time.”
Lucy stopped, tilting her head as she looked at the marks. She put away the matter of bullets and death for the moment. Things were beginning to make sense now. Her own habits had stayed with her, she thought wistfully.
He had already turned back and started walking, his sword still held loosely in one hand. Trying not to dragon her feet, she followed.
They were far out of town when Ariss finally decided they could stop. Lucy was tired, and could feel her energy beginning to wane. They found a small group of trees, surrounded by empty fields and decided it was as good a place as any. The sun had risen, and was high in the sky, doing little to warm the cold air up.
Lucy lay down on the loose soil, letting out a long breath, the ground directly in front of her muzzle frosting over. Ariss trudged over to join her, sitting a little way off, watching the shadows beneath the trees carefully. “We should be safe here for now.” He remarked, looking back to her. “You should sleep.”
She nodded slightly, shutting her eyes and letting herself drift off without further conversation.