Chapter VI: Fire!
I squinted as the bright light from the sun pierced my eyes. I waited for them to adjust, realizing that it didn't take as much time as when I was human. The explanation came once again from my knowledge on dragons: The slits on my eyes were vertical. This, combined with my horizontal eyelids, reduced the amount of light reaching my eyes even more than a human's round pupils.
My stomach growled loudly. <I'm hungry.> I said. Kerian looked at me and growled in amusement. Her insides growled soon after, causing me to laugh. It was a strange thing, a dragon's laughter. It was a mix of grunts and whines while breathing in, followed by growls when breathing out, all in somewhat the same fashion as hiccups. She looked at me as if I had said something stupid, and I stared right back at her. After a few moments, we both burst out laughing.
I sniffed as the remnants of my most recent laughter fit still clung to me. I shook my head to clear them further. When I finally regained my composure, I looked at Kerian. <Do you want to hunt with me? I've been practicing.> I growled a smile. She lowered her head briefly in thought.
<Fine with me.> She answered. <We can take bigger prey if we're together.> I got ready for the hunt. I urged my tongue to flick faster in order to create the already familiar scent map. I scanned the area for anything edible. Nothing.
<Nothing.> I repeated. I moved forward, not giving any rest to my tongue. <Do you think there are large animals here?> I asked. As if to answer the question, I detected something at one o'clock. I looked in that direction and I was surprised at what I saw: a fox. Wow, and it reeked. I stopped darting my tongue in disgust. As a human, I probably wouldn't even looked at it. But at our current size, such a canine was an intimidating sight. However, it didn't look very aggressive. In fact, it was looking at us with what seemed to be curiosity. It slowly approached and I tensed. It took another step. And another. I took one backwards. It started snarling, now seeing us as a potential meal. I was getting scared. I took a look at Kerian, seeing her in pretty much the same state. It barked in its strange way and I tensed even more. The fear was starting to become overwhelming. The fight-or-flight urge was returning. I had to decide. Kerian looked at me and growled a nod. That was all I needed. I started growling, attempting to intimidate the mongrel. It didn't work. It just barked again, worsening my fear. I took a deep breath and roared as loud as I could. I wasn't very satisfied with what came out. It was more like a low-pitched squeal than an actual roar, but at least it was loud. The fox hesitated, but only for a second, resuming its pacing afterwards. I started to tremble both from fright and adrenaline. I weighed my options. I could just lunge at the animal's neck, ending the fight before it even began. What if I missed? No, I mustn't die. Not now that I'm a dragon. Or... I could use something my opponent doesn't have, or at least not as much as I do: brains. There were some trees around me; I could use them to dodge the fox's attacks. I should really stay away from those jaws, or it will be the end of me. I recalled how my dog crunched bones as if they were crackers and shuddered, imagining my body being broken and torn apart by those sharp teeth. I quickly shook my head to clear those horrible thoughts; they would do me no good right now.
I slowly stepped away from Kerian, in order to force the fox to choose between us. I heard a pleading growl coming from her, but I ignored it. The canine's gaze followed me for a few seconds, then it shifted to my companion, and again to me. Apparently it was trying to decide which one of us was the most beefy. I stepped away further so the canine actually had to turn to face one of us. A growl that could only mean realization emanated from Kerian. She went along, walking away from me, but her gaze never left our enemy.
Now that we were on opposite sides, I decided to make a move. I slowly approached, stepping slowly and lightly. Suddenly, the fox turned to face me, growling with its teeth bared. Even more suddenly, it lunged at me, with its mouth wide open. I froze in fear, but quickly snapped out and leapt to my left, using my wings as a propeller and as a parachute. The mongrel, realizing it had missed, hesitated, giving me a chance. Roari- squealing, I pounced, aiming for the beast's paw. I struck it and bit down as hard as I could. I heard yelps and whines and another roar-squeal, the latter clearly belonging to Kerian. It was more or less like mine, with subtle differences in tone and pitch that made it unique. 'This belongs to her.' My instinct said. There was a green blur and a rush of movement. The next thing I know I'm in the air with my wings spread out, gliding at a high speed. I noticed my flight path was veering towards the fox's back. I adjusted it so I would land properly, not really sure how I did so. As I approached, I bared my claws, getting ready to plunge them into the animal's flesh. I touched down and buried my claws on my victim's body. I heard a very loud yelp that pierced my ears and I felt the animal thrash. After a few seconds, I heard a drawn-out squeal of... pain? I whipped my head towards the sound and saw Kerian laying on the ground, trembling, with a long gash on her side. Time seemed to slow down as I stared with horror at her wound. It resumed its normal pace as the fox's thrashing made my claws unlatch themselves from it and sent me towards the ground. I landed roughly and the wind was knocked out of me. I struggled to breathe, remembering the fight was still not over, finally managing it after a few seconds. I got up and realized the fox was aiming for Kerian. She wasn't moving. <No!> I said, and charged. The beast's snout was almost touching her. I wouldn't get there in time. Dragons weren't made for running. So instinct kicked in. I felt myself take a very deep breath, but it was strange. It seemed I was breathing through another lung. I exhaled and, at the same time, something clicked around my throat. I felt it go extremely hot, but not painfully so, and my eyes widened as I saw a small, but steady stream of flame shooting out of my maw. It reached the canine's fur and singed it, and the mongrel yelped in pain. It turned to face me, but I kept charging. When I finally reached it, I slowed down and swiped as hard and high as I could. My foreleg connected with the beast's chest, and I heard one more yelp. It then attacked me, but I wasn't going to let it land on me. I readied myself to jump. I must've taken too long though, for I felt a heavy impact on my chest, once again knocking the wind out of me. I gasped from lack of air and from a burning pain where I was hit. I impacted the ground hard, worsening my predicament. I saw the fox limping towards me. I still couldn't move or breathe. It got closer and closer. I regained my breath when it was a few centimeters away, but the rest of my body wouldn't respond. 'This is it.' I thought. 'I'm going to die... and there's nothing I can do about it. Life is so cruel.' I closed my eyes, awaiting the inevitable bite that would end my life. I heard a squeal, a yelp and a thump, but I paid it no mind. I waited and waited, but the final blow never came. At last, I regained control of my body. Only then did I dare opening my eyes. Immediately I was shocked from what I saw. The fox was immobile, apparently dead, and Kerian was on top of it, with her jaws latched on tightly around its neck. She wasn't moving, and I feared the worst. Her cut was still bleeding, but not much. I approached her still form, and sighed in relief as I saw her chest slowly rising and falling. She was just unconsious. Speaking of unconsiousness, I started feeling very dizzy and my vision began to blur. I struggled to remain aware, but it was too strong. 'I'm alive.' That was my last thought before everything faded into darkness.
Pain. That was the first thing I felt as I regained consciousness. I growled as if it were an annoying fly, but it didn't go away. I opened my eyes and forced myself to get up. I growled again as more waves of pain reached me, but finally, with considerable effort, I managed to stand. I was still a bit wobbly from still having recently awakened, but it was bearable. I checked myself over, searching for wounds. I found three nasty cuts on my right side, the middle one being the worst. I quickly licked them. The rest of my body was adorned with abrasions and bruises. Those would have to wait until later. I looked around and saw Kerian, with the dead fox beneath her. She was still unmoving, so I decided to change that. I trudged my way towards her and nudged her with my muzzle. She didn't even stir.
<Kerian, wake up.> I said, nudging her harder. I saw a flicker of movement and I withdrew my snout. She stirred, then growled in pain and finally opened her eyes. I squeaked in happiness and nuzzled her, wincing as my sore body protested. <Are you alright?> I uselessly asked.
<Apart from the pain in my entire body and this...> She motioned at her gash. <...yes I'm alright. What about you?>
<Two words: It hurts.> I looked at her and then at the fox. <What happened?> She cocked her head inquisitively. <I mean... that.> I motioned at the dead animal.
<I'm not really sure... my memory was blurry at that time. All I remember is the pain and the blood on my mouth. But I guess I saved your life...>
<Yes and I'm very grateful for that.> A pause followed.
<How long was I unconscious for?> She asked.
<I don't know, I just woke up too. But...> I looked at the sky. <... I'd say around three hours.> She growled a nod. I looked at our kill and just then, I remember I hadn't eaten anything. As if on cue, my stomach growled loudly and painfully. I groaned.
<What's wrong?> She asked.
<I'm still hungry.> I said. I heard her stomach growl too, but I didn't laugh. I was aching too much for that. By unspoken consent, we both began eating the carcass. I was careful not to make a mess like I did the first time. After a few minutes of gorging myself, I was completely stuffed. The corpse was only half-eaten. I yawned, letting out a rather cute squeal as I did so. I felt an urge to curl up and doze off. She yawned too, and I assumed she felt the same thing.
<Do you remember where the cave is?> She asked.
'I don't have a clue.' I thought. <No...> I absent-mindedly said. I thought of a way to find the burrow. 'We slept there for several hours, our scents are bound to be smeared all over it. That's it!' I quickened the pace on my tongue in order to catch my scent, but I quickly found myself unable to. 'What's wrong?' I nearly clawed myself. I searched instead for Kerian's scent, finding it quickly. I followed the trail. I heard a questioning growl coming from her, but I ignored it. I kept going, careful to keep my eyes open. It was becoming increasingly difficult to do so though, so I quickened my pace. After a minute of smelling-groping, I finally found what I was...
<Serkath!> I nearly jumped. I looked at her, noticing my eyes were actually closed. I quickly snapped them open.
<What's wrong?> She growled in surprise, causing me to do the same.
<You've been walking on circles around me. I ask you what's wrong?> I just stared at her, dumbstruck.
<I was trying to find the cave.> I finally said. <But it seems I went in the wrong direction. Sorry.>
<That was awkward... but how did you end up doing... that?>
<I have no idea. I just tried to follow your scent and the next thing I know you're calling my name...>
<Let me try.> She said. I noticed her tongue beginning to flick faster and her eyes slowly closing. Then she walked away from me, and I followed. A few seconds later, she turned around and went towards me. I stopped and my eyes tracked her. She gradually approached and then, when she was but a few centimeters from me, she started walking in circles around me. I laughed, wincing as my body cried out.
<Kerian.> I called. No answer. I spoke her name again, louder this time and she stopped on her tracks and opened her eyes. <You are walking in circles.> I paused. <Maybe we should lay down here. It's not cold.> It wasn't indeed. The sunlight filtering through the trees above felt good on my scales.
<You know, I really don't feel like laying down on dirt.> Kerian said.
<You didn't have any problem with that when we slept on the burrow.>
<That was different.>
<We were sheltered.> I sighed. I was very sleepy by now, and my eyelids seemed to weigh a ton.
<I want to sleep here. Suit yourself.> I laid down. She growled in frustration but did likewise. <You can clean yourself later.> I yawned. <Or I can clean you.> I added before I could stop myself. I blushed. She didn't respond. I growled in contentment. My last thought before I blissfully travelled to the dreamworld was of how tasty was the meat from the fox's right foreleg.