Lisle searched the trees from her seat astride Ell’s shoulders with frantic eyes, desperate to locate the rain-shrouded figure whose terrifying laughter echoed around her. She took a deep breath of waterlogged air, and reloaded her stone shot. Shaking, wet hands made the task difficult, as the small stones slipped about in her fingers. Rain dripped into her eyes, and she hastily wiped it away with her upper arm.
Lisle jumped nervously, as Terris popped his head up beside her, using Ell’s tail to lever himself up. Water ran over his scalp and down the sides of his face. She saw his dripping, clenched fist shaking at the trees in the direction Ell was staring, scattering droplets of wet about them both.
“Come out an’ fight us ya beast, and stop yer cursed cacklin’.”
She turned to see Gareth recover quickly from where Ell’s protective sweep had thrown him. He knelt, knocking arrow to bow once again, carefully out of range of Ell’s neck. Veiled in the downpour, he looked ghostly and insubstantial. Lisle shivered at the thought, and fearfully made the warding sign down at her side, thumb to forefinger.
She had no idea where Moss was.
Ell took in a deep breath and extended her neck, jaws wide. Lisle felt the vibration through Ell’s shoulders and chest beneath her as she roared again. It was deep and bellowing, resonant with challenge.
The laughter from the woods cut off.
Misty, white vapor rose from Ell’s neck, even as the rain poured down. Lisle held her stone shot in one hand, and placed the other on Ell’s neck which was blushing a reddish hue. She felt the hard scales beneath her fingers radiating heat, then became aware of a burning sensation, rising through her thighs and backside from where she sat on Ell’s shoulders.
Her seat was growing rapidly hotter now, so much so that she could barely tolerate it. She had to keep lifting one leg and then the other, holding onto Ell’s spinal ridges and shifting her weight. This is no good, she thought as she fidgeted, I need to be able to shoot.
The spines on Ell’s head, stood erect and bright red, a flush of crimson color extending down her neck and onto her shoulders. She opened her jaws and let out another deep roar, which ended suddenly with a huge gout of flame spurting out. It seared the air, a brief, golden light reflecting off the trees before them.
Ell’s head reared backward, almost knocking Lisle off, as she clamped her jaws shut on the flame, cutting it off with a gulping sound.
Lisle could only stare at Ell in amazement. She watched smoke drifting up from between Ell’s clenched teeth.
“Did ya’ see that? She’s a flamin’! Ya’ best get down from there, younger.”
Terris reached up to pull Lisle backwards, sliding her off behind the protection of Ell’s extended wing and jumping down beside her. Lisle landed on her feet, grateful to be off Ell’s burning shoulders.
An arrow pounded through the branches well above them, thudding through the leaves. The tattered remains chasing the rain down and scattering over Gareth.
“You’ll have to do better than that! One curse you!” Voice rough with anger, Gareth knelt with one-knee on the ground. Rain streamed over his hood and down his back as he drew his bow and aimed in the same direction that Ell had flamed.
A rumbling belch bubbled up through Ell’s throat and out her jaws. She shook her head, long neck waggling back and forth as if uncomfortable. The scent of Ell’s fiery breath drifted back to Lisle, smelling almost like that of the eggs from their layers back home.
Lisle pushed past Terris and out to the edge of Ell’s wing, aiming her stoneshot at the trees once again. She searched for shadowy movement. This time, she would make her shot count.
The Hunter’s laughter ended as abruptly as it had begun. He moved closer, the pounding rain covering his approach. He stood behind a tree, rain pouring down around him, a grey shadow in a grey wood. He watched the Guardian, an arrow knocked in the deadly, long bow that was his hunting weapon of choice. Drawing the bow, sinewy, powerful arms straining, he took aim for the delicate patch under its forearm with practiced skill.
It roared yet again, loud and challenging, and he felt a startling kinship with this supreme hunter. He marveled at the blade-like teeth bared in defiance; the claws ripping at the earth beneath it; the sheer massive power of it. He stood in awe before this marvelous beast. He could feel its rage with every bellow, and that intense anger moved something deep within him.
It unexpectedly let loose with a gout of flame, burning white-hot through the watery, grey air right at him, and he took a startled step backward. His nostrils filled with a warm, moist scent like that of the bubbling pits he’d encountered in the far North. Then his foot slipped in the mud beneath him and his arrow shot high and wide.
Steadying himself, he again took aim, even as his mind questioned. What is this creature of fire and air? He had never seen it’s like.
It fascinated him, and, it confused him. He tried to sort it out. Arms trembling with the strain of holding the draw on his hunting bow, he carefully released the pull on the arrow and dropped the bow down to his side. Emotions roiled inside him. Strange, new feelings of admiration and longing raged in his chest. The cursed beast inspired something in him. Something even more than kinship; it was like a soul-deep recognition.
He shook his head, snarling, disgusted with such flights of fancy.
Then, an unobtrusive voice in the back of his mind, so small as to easily go unnoticed, it asked, do I really want to kill this amazing creature?
This strange inner conflict was suddenly too much. Even as the kneeling man beside the Guardian taunted him, the Hunter melted back into the trees.
In case you missed a post, or if you've just tuned in to Lisle's story,
here are links to previously posted chapters to save you scrolling all the way through.
Introduction Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13
Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28