Ark watched a fat rabbit munching on bits of sweet grass and clover, his stomach rumbling noisily. He wondered why they couldn’t eat until the killing was over, but had a good idea. Well, he thought, too bad, because he was hungry NOW. Pouncing on the unsuspecting bunny, Ark snapped its neck with two quick shakes and gobbled it down in one bite. He roamed away from the Peak and into the forest to clear his head. Unlike his kin, he enjoyed the peacefulness of the woods and the way the soft, loamy earth felt under his feet. As the sun sank behind the mountains, the dappled moonlight filtering through the trees to give his eyes just enough to see where he was going and then his keen ears picked up on a sound not conducive to the forest. The sound of a horse’s soft nickering. Quickly, he ducked behind a large boulder, his dark, bristly fur blending in with the darkness. As the horse approached his hiding spot, his ears picked up another strange sound; a human child singing softly to herself.
Rane snorted and pranced, almost knocking his tiny rider to the ground had she not tangled her fingers in spooked horse’s soft mane. Rearing up, she came down and side stepped away from the boulder neighing a warning. She could smell the beast, but couldn’t see it.
“Whoa, Rane!” Starlyn yelled, “What’s wrong with you? Do you want to make me fall?”
Rane, with the beast’s foul odor in her nostrils, continued to prance nervously until unable to stand it any longer, bucked, lashing out with her back feet. Starlyn felt herself slipping off and fell face first onto the forest floor. Rane bolted, leaving Starlyn dazed as she struggled to get up until she felt strong claws pushing her back down. She tried to scream, but the unknown assailant shushed in her ear as a warning.
Ark felt a number of emotions run through him as he held the soft, struggling human child under him. Her shirt rode up her back revealing raised, red scars from the attack a few days ago. Curiously, he felt an emotion he’d never felt before. As he looked at the child’s smooth, soft baby skin, the three slash wounds stood out in his mind and pity overwhelmed him. Rolling her over, he was startled by the intensity of terrified, green-eyed gaze.
“Please don’t hurt me!” she begged, “I only wanted to find my relatives.”
Ark was fascinated by the softness of her skin and stroked her cheek with a long, bony finger. By all rights, he should kill her right now or at least bring her as a prisoner to his father, but for some reason, he couldn’t.
“You shouldn’t be out here alone. Not tonight,” he warned her gruffly, “Now stand up.”
Eyes wide as a frightened deer’s, Starlyn stood up, her body shaking. She studied the horrible beast before her, wrinkling her nose in distaste at his foul odor.
“You should take a nice bath, Mr. monster,” she blurted out, “you smell bad.”
Ark, shocked at her boldness, choked on a laugh, something he hadn’t done in a very long time.
“So you think I smell bad, do you?” he asked, “well, you don’t smell like a bed of roses yourself, human.”
Her fear abating, Starlyn reached up and touched the Atranoch’s face, running her fingers over his backward pointing horns.
“How come your horns go that way instead of pointing front way?” she asked, her curiosity overcoming her fear, “are you broken?”
Again, Ark snorted with laughter. Humans were more interesting than he ever believed. But he was torn. If he made the child his prisoner and brought her back to the cave, it would be a great victory on his part in the eyes of his father. But for his victory, this child would pay with her life. He chided himself for his soft heart, unworthy of his kind and was torn between wanting to please and saving her life.
“Monster, sir?” the human girl inquired fearfully, “are you going to eat me?”
“Eat you?” he exclaimed, “Why would I want to do that? You probably taste like old, moldy bread sitting on a bed of worms.”
She gasped, laughing out loud, “I do not!” she giggled, “if you tasted me I would taste sweet like the sap of a maple tree! Wait! I know! Maybe instead of eating me, you could take me to my relatives!”
Ark looked at the little girl’s eyes, the color of the sea, wondering if she could even comprehend his indecisive thoughts. She obviously had no clue that she could die tonight. Making up his mind, he told her to stay put while he searched for her horse. The grey beast was busy grazing a short distance away, prancing nervously as Ark approached.
“Whoa, there, I won’t hurt you,” he assured the frightened animal, “someone’s waiting for you.”
Getting close enough to grab the horse’s halter, he led the quivering mare back to her tiny owner. Lifting the little girl up onto its back, he handed Starlyn the rope and looked up at her.
“Listen very carefully to me,” he said, “There are more like me coming, many more. They are not good and if you see them coming, you must hide as quickly and as best as you can, understand? They will kill you if they find you, or worse, take you prisoner and torture you.”
“Why would they want to kill me?” she asked tearfully, “I’m a good girl, mostly and I don’t even cry when I fall down!”
What amazed Ark the most about this human was her pure and refreshing innocence, something he’d never before encountered. It fascinated him, making him feel something all warm and fuzzy inside. Was she bewitching him? Hypnotizing him? Ark knew if his father ever found out he’d found the girl and let her go, there would hell to pay.
Jasha washed his face in cold water of a small, bubbling creek before he retired to his hut. Just as he was about to stand up, a movement out of the corner of his eye put him on alert. Crouching, he watched a small figure run to the horse enclosure and a few moments later, ride out on Rane, their tamest mare. As they passed by him, he was surprised to see little Star leave the village under the cover of moonlight and disappear in to the forest. Running after her, he followed just out sight, using the trees as cover. Wildly curious as to her destination, he jogged to keep up with fast walking horse. They were going to be in big trouble once the elders found out they were missing, but he just had to know where Star was going. Just when he thought Star might have heard him, he saw Rane prancing nervously, obviously spooked by something. Rearing up, she threw Star off her back. Out of no where, a hideous beast pounced on her. Frighted beyond belief, Jasha stayed hidden, barely daring to breathe. By the looks of the beast, he knew from Star’s description it was one of ‘Those of whom we do not speak’. The same creature that attacked her before, giving her those terrible scars on her back. It must have come to finish the job, he thought. But as he watched their interaction, he realized something. The creature was not attacking her, on the contrary, it was talking with her! He watched, fascinated, as Star giggled, touched its face and chatted with it. He also saw his little friend actually make the beast laugh. After about an thirty minutes of conversation, he watched the ugly creature lift Star back up onto her horse just as gently as could be, speak something only she could hear and disappear into the forest. Following her again, he waited until he was positive the ugly beast was out of earshot and called out to Starlyn.
“Star!’ he yelled, “Wait for me!”
Hearing the familiar voice, Starlyn made Rane stop and turned around to see her friend, Jasha, running up to her.
“Jasha!” she exclaimed happily, “What are you doing here? Did you come to help me find my relatives?”
“Star, you can’t be out here alone!” he admonished her, “especially at night! Where are you going, anyway?”
“Ti-ti told me that I have relatives,” she answered, “Maybe they’re dragons! I don’t have to be human, I don’t! I can be a dragon if I want to!”
Jasha smiled indulgently because he knew from talking with her, she never knew anyone but dragons growing up. But he also knew his friend was in danger out here all by herself.
“Star, come back with me, please. Tala will be angry that we left in the night so we have to return before anyone notices.” he urged.
Just as she was contemplating his words, Ark burst into the clearing where the two of them stood.
“Run!” he yelled frantically, “Run now! Go west and don’t look back no matter what you hear or see and do not go back to the village. Now hurry! Go!”
Cutting through the still of the night, as if to validate Ark’s warning, shrill screams of terror reached the trio’s ears from less than a quarter mile away.The moonlit darkness was suddenly lit with orange as only a large fire can do.
Jasha looked into Ark’s eyes with dread, instinctively knowing they needed to run and hide.
“I’m..I’m sorry,” Ark stammered, “Please know I’m not part of this. I wouldn’t, I couldn’t do this. You go and save yourselves, there’s nothing you can do for them now.”
Tears filling his eyes, Jasha swung himself up behind Star, never letting his hateful gaze waver from the disgusting creature looking up at him. He would never forget that Atranochs murdered everyone he ever knew.
© 2016, RissRyker518. All rights reserved.
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