When she woke, it was dark again. Ariss sat to one side, a dark shadow figure with his back turned. She lifted her head, suppressing a yawn. The hunger was growing, and she shifted uncomfortably. Ariss twisted his head to look at her, but didn’t say a word. A few moments later, he stood up, walking between the trees. He bent down, picking up bits of wood from the ground. Most of it was wet, soaked through by the rain that had plagued them almost constantly through the last month, but the sticks and branches closest to the tall trunks of the trees were mostly dry, and would be perfect for starting a fire.
Lucy watched him as he came back, putting the sticks he had gathered in a small pile by the fallen log he had been sitting on. Over the course of ten minutes, the pile grew to a decent size and he sat back down. He glanced up at her, asking a short question. “Cold?”
She shook her head. “Not really.”
“Hmph. You’ll start to feel cold soon. The sky is clear tonight.” As he spoke, he put a small pile of thin sticks, before building up around it with larger ones, creating a sort of tent of wood. He pushed up mud around the edge, creating a rim for the fire. He paused once it was done, one hand reaching into the inside pocket of his coat- which was now covered in holes of varying sizes, Lucy noticed, along with the long cut up by his shoulder. He pulled out a sliver of flint, and a charred lump of steel, and worked on getting enough sparks to light the kindling.
It only took him a few tries before it caught, and the flames leaped up, eager to devour the wood surrounding them. The pair sat in silence for a while, Ariss staring into the fire, occasionally resting another piece of wood on the structure. Lucy was the first to break the silence, her mind reminding her of their conversation last night.
“How come you’re dead but not at the same time?”
He glanced up, knitting his fingers together as he tried to think of the right words. “It’s… it’s a very long story. It’s complicated.”
Her attention was caught, her interest sparked by his reluctance. “We have time, don’t we? You set a fire, we’re going to be here for a little while.”
Gaze shifting to a glare, he sighed, and gave in. “I’ve been dead for hundreds of years. I’m talking about eight hundred here. I was born in 1138, in the late years of magic.”
Lucy shifted slightly to get more comfortable, her forepaws folded beneath her chest as she lay there, her tail curling around to rest beside her.
“I was killed whilst on a hunt in around 1164. I had a wife, and a little sister. My actual name is Lucas.” He paused for a moment, trying to remember his surname. “Lucas… Henecoc.”
“How did you die…?”
He raised an eyebrow, and started to take off his coat. He folded it neatly and put it down beside him, before he lifted up the lower half of his shirt.
His chest was a mess. Mostly, it was just empty. His lungs were in shreds, hanging around the remains of cracked ribs and a ruined digestive system. Lucy noticed for the first time that he didn’t breath. He only sighed occasionally, and she assumed that was mostly out of habit rather than the need to let out air. After a few moments, he let his shirt fall again, and replaced his coat on his shoulders.
“Does that answer your question?”
Lucy nodded her head meekly in response, avoiding eye contact.
“I woke up about two hours after I died, my chest like this, clothes in shreds. The damned thing had gone to sleep beside me.” He stared at the fire, his fists clenching as he remembered. “I sat up and hacked off its head.” A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “I still remember the sounds it made as it died.”
“How did you spend 800 years hunting dragons?” Lucy asked hurriedly. His happiness at the thought of killing the dragon made her uneasy.
“I didn’t.” He said, shaking his head slightly and looking back at her, smile fading. “After twenty years, I was buried. I was dug up a little later, then put back in my coffin with some sort of spell on me. The last thing I remembered when I woke up again was being in the 15th century. I dug myself out about seven years ago.”
“The townsfolk didn’t quite like me after I rose from the dead. I made the mistake of returning there to visit my sister. They tried to kill me at first. It didn’t work, so they buried me.” He scratched his head, looking back to the fire.
Lucy fell silent, deciding she’d asked him enough for now. She finally understood why he hated dragons so much. Dragons had killed him. They’d taken away his freedom for 800 years, they’d forced him to lose his family. She shuddered, resting her head on a pile of decaying leaves.
Ariss watched the flames, old memories starting to swirl in his mind. They rose up like dust from an old book, and he found himself remembering things he hadn’t thought about in centuries.
It had been a warm day. He’d stood in the town square, listening to the travelers who had come from the next village over.
“-Black wings. It… it… it killed them all. Came out of nowhere, and butchered them.” The owner of the voice was sitting on a box, teeth chattering and violent shivers running down his body. “I’m… I’m the… the only one. N-No one else.” He laughed a little. “They’re all dead.”
Ariss, who was at that time known as Lucas, put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Where did you see it?”
The man looked up at him slowly, face twisted in sorrow. “T-The road to here. About… about… three hours out.” He hugged himself, drawing his legs up onto the box. “Dark, dark black wings and i-icy breath.” He started again, repeating the sentence over and over. Lucas sighed, patting him on the shoulder before straightening. It sounded like a nasty one. He sighed, walking back toward his home. He needed to tell Sabine, and get his things. He debated seeing his sister- Leticia- before he left. She would want to know he was going, but she would inevitably convince him not to go. Lucas sighed. He needed to hunt something, they were starting to run low on food. By the time he returned from this hunt, they would most likely have none left. He couldn’t see his sister, and let himself be convinced to stay behind. He would have to ask Sabine to tell her, if she asked.
Walking swiftly, he reached his house in no time, striding through the wooden door and shutting it carefully behind him. He didn’t bother taking off his boots, walking across the dusty wooden floor, floorboards sinking where he put pressure.
“Lucas?” Came a soft voice, calling from another room.
“Sabine?” He replied, retrieving his bag from where it hung by the door.
A tall, delicate woman appeared in the doorway across the table, one eyebrow raised in question. “Another hunt?”
Lucas nodded, walking across the room to get some bread from the cupboard, tucking it neatly into the bag. “I shouldn’t take more than a week.” He paused as he picked up his sword from the corner of the room, laying it down on the table beside his bag. “It sounds like a big one, so there should be plenty for the taking. I also heard it ambushed a group of travelling merchants, so they might have something as well.”
Sabine frowned, leaning against the door frame, her arms crossed. “You’re going alone?”
He nodded, turning his back as he unhooked his coat. “If I go with somebody else, I’ll just have to split the reward.”
She pursed her lips, watching him carefully. “One of these days you’re going to get yourself killed. I’ll be the one who has to stay behind and mourn, you remember that. One of these days…” She trailed off, sighing. “But you won’t listen to me.” Lucas looked up, head at one angle as he gave her an apologetic look.
“I swear, I’ll come back.” Stepping toward her, he held his arms out. After a moment’s pause, she met his hug, pulling him close while she still could. He felt her warm breath on the side of his neck, and shut his eyes, enjoying the moment. He held her for a moment or two, before reluctantly pulling away. “I’ll return and we won’t have to worry about food for a while.” His reassurance was met with a sigh. “We’ll get a better life, I promise.”
He turned away, picking up the long handle to his bag, and hanging his sword by his side. He turned back, waving a silent goodbye, before he walked out the door and started the long trek up the road.
He reached the site of carnage an hour before dusk. The road was stained with the bright red of fairly fresh blood, and corpses littered the grassy verge to one side of the road. Lucas looked at it grimly, kneeling down beside the youngest of the group, and muttering a quiet prayer to wish them a safe journey to whatever awaited them beyond death. He stood up, pulling the boy to the side of the road.
Beside each and every dead member of the travelling party, he said a quiet prayer, before dragging their bodies so that they formed a line along the side of the road. When he stood up again, the sky was losing its bloody red tinge, as the sun slipped beneath the horizon and night began to settle in. Lucas turned away from the bodies, setting up camp a little way from the edge of the road, off the other side. He sat down in a dip in the land, and pulled out some of the bread from his bag.
He ate silently, staring into space. He wouldn’t need a fire that night. It was a warm summer’s night, and the clouds were rolling in. He took off his coat, and lay down, curling up as small as he could. His coat covered him perfectly, and he drifted off to sleep.
Lucas spent the next to days tracking the dragon. He followed a distinct trail of corpses, a mixture of man and beast, for much of the way, before a large, dark forest came into sight. He knew, with little doubt, that the dragon would be resting there. Most dragons preferred sleeping during the day, and often hunted at night when they had the cover of the darkness. Of course, there were exceptions to this. If a dragon happened to smell something that it could eat, it would begin a hunt in the middle of the day.
He slowed his pace as he entered the darkness, drawing his sword from its sheath and holding it close to his body. His gaze flicked between all points of shadow, all potential places for a dragon to by lying in wait. His eyes narrowed, as he squinted into the darkness.
It didn’t take long for Lucas to find where the dragon had slept not long before. It was a relatively large clearing, in roughly the centre of the forest. The grass had been flattened, areas of it shining silver in the bright sunlight, as it reflected from a different angle. Dotted around this flattened area, were small clumps of ice and snow, as the cold from the dragon’s body radiated out into the ground. Lucas knelt down, putting has hand on the ground, measuring the temperature.
With alarm, he realised it was freezing, not warm enough to have been left for any length of time. He pulled away, brandishing his sword. It was here. It had smelt him. He took a deep breath, holding it as he tried to listen for any sounds of movement from the trees. It knew exactly where he was. He hadn’t a clue where it was. A growing sense of dread was creeping up his throat, sticking to the back of it as it made its ascent. His breathing started to quicken, as adrenaline began to run through his body, ready to send him fighting or fleeing.
Tense moments passed without a single move being made on either side, before the dragon lunged out. Lucas had barely enough time to twist out of the way before the creature’s snapping jaws were clamping down on the space he had been milliseconds before. He was momentarily thrown off balance, before he swung his sword. It caught the creature’s muzzle, nipping the top as it backed away. It stood in front of him, spreading its wings, frills on the side of its neck splaying out. It hissed at him, flicking its tail in annoyance. A single bead of blood dripped from its nose, landing quietly on the grass between them. They were still for a second, before the dragon made its second move, snapping out again like a snake.
Lucas charged forward, sword out at an angle, and the dragon recoiled as its nose was stabbed. The creature bared its teeth, and Lucas took his chance, darting between its legs swinging the sword as hard as possible, only to have it bounce off the hard scales that protected its belly. He cursed, changing direction mid-way through, making for the trees to the left hand side of the creature. Its tail was faster, and it smacked into the closest trunk, causing a loud crack as the wood split. Lucas had barely enough time to react, and he skidded to a halt. He readjusted his grip on the sword, as the dragon turned around to face him again. They clashed once more, as the swiped with one of its paws, batting him to the right.
He was too slow, and was caught by the blow, thrown to the ground. Winded, he took a second longer to react. As the dragon was moving in for the kill, he was struggling to stand, his legs having folded beneath him. Lucas looked up, just in time to see the dragon’s form tower above him, before its tail’s long spines stabbed through his chest.
His last moments were spent in dazed agony, as he felt his blood dribbling down his front, vaguely aware of some terrific creature above him. He raised his hand weakly, the sword slipping from his grasp. He couldn’t die here, could he?
Lucy sighed, rolling over onto her back, feeling the crispy leaves crinkle beneath her. She looked up through the thin canopy of leaves, at the darkness of the night sky. A small plume of smoke rose from their fire, twisting and swirling up into the cold air. She was still hungry, and it was only getting worse. She glanced over to Ariss. The undead man was staring into the fire, lost in thoughts of the past.
“A-Ariss?” She asked, looking at him at an angle. He didn’t move. “Ariss,” she said again, slightly louder.
He looked up with a start, looking around for a second before he realised where he was, and who he was talking to. “Hm?”
“What… what do dragons eat?” Her voice got quieter as she asked the question, finding herself unreasonably embarrassed.
He raised an eyebrow. “When they’re not trying to eat people, they eat smaller creatures. Depending on the size of the dragon, they’ll pray on animals from mice to cows.” He looked her from the tip of her tail to the end of her nose. “You’d probably be best looking for something like a deer.”
She was quite for a while, thinking it over. Ariss went back to staring at the fire, enjoying the warm crackle, even though he couldn’t feel it.
Eventually, she spoke again. “How do I hunt?” She could hear a chuckle from behind her, and she rolled over so her back faced him, curling up. “It’s not my fault I’m a dragon.” She muttered moodily, the tip of her tail brushing her muzzle.
“Hunting… hunting is simple. It’s the least of your worries.” Ariss assured her, standing up. “Come. I’ll show you how I used to hunt.”
Tumbling down the hill, Lucy didn’t let her eyes leave the deer racing in front of her. There was a field ahead, if only she could just chase it that far. The terrified animal sprinted on wards, its fear clouding its judgement as it leaped straight out of the trees, finding itself in the midst of long grass. She chased after it, all subtlety gone, her hunger getting the better of her. Out in the open, it stood no chance. Lucy was still bad at controlling herself, and found twisting and turning between the tall trunks of the wooded area difficult, so she slowed down whilst weaving through the forest. Out in the open, she had no problem. Lucy could run in straight lines for miles, and could turn in a gentle curve with relative ease.
Out in the open, Lucy caught up with it, colliding in a mass of long claws and sharp teeth. She bit down into its neck, wincing as warm blood flushed into her mouth. In her surprise and disgust, she let go, allowing the deer to write in the bloody mess.
As she stared at it, Ariss strode out of the tree line, pulling out his sword as he walked toward them. Silently, he finished the task, ending the deer’s suffering with one clean cut. He looked at the blade in annoyance, quickly wiping it on his coat, before returning it to the sheath.
“Well.” He said, looking between Lucy and the dead creature. “You caught it.”
She swallowed, tasting the awfully pleasant blood. “I killed it.” She muttered.
“Technically I killed it. If I hadn’t have done that, it would have suffered for a while, before eventually dying.” His tone was stiff and matter of fact.
“W-what now?” Lucy asked. She already knew the answer, she just hoped it wasn’t quite true.
Ariss sighed again. “You know what now.” He turned away, walking back toward the temporary camp. He imagined the fire was little more than embers now. Finding a deer had taken a while.
Lucy, on the other hand, didn’t move, still staring at the creature. She’d never killed anything before, and she couldn’t help but feel guilty, even if she technically hadn’t. After a few minutes, her hunger got the better of her, and she knelt down, unable to resist.