My walk home was nothing to speak off. Triff kept wandering ahead – he'd come bounding back if I called, wagging his tail and snuffling around me before catching whiff of something else and again going out of sight. It was a peaceful walk on the well-worn forest path. Trinn stayed near me the whole way, keeping pace in her steady, calm way. We ate a couple rabbits Triff and I caught and slept together in a pile under the stars. That was the last peaceful night I'd have for a long time.
I came home to find my village deserted. Empty. Belongings strewn through the streets, and doors left ajar. Several stray chickens were wandering loose, with their little ones bobbing around their feet.
The air was heavy with smoke, but nothing was burning. In the middle of the village square was a small dead animal, slit from tail to throat, with a few spears in its side. The blood around it was dark and dried – a red-black stain in the dirt. Both dogs whined and sniffed the air but wouldn't move closer.
I stood there in shock as persistent flies buzzed around the corpse... The unmistakeable form of a dragon, even as small and bloodied as this one was.
Do you know that sinking feeling that starts in your stomach and then travels to your head? Where for a moment, you stop breathing, and you can't think? Where the enormity and terror of the situation surrounds your senses?
Everything rushes back in.
I ran. I ran almost the whole way to the caves, with both dogs bounding by my side. I had enough sense to slow my pace and creep in the last half mile. Agonizingly slow, with my breaths coming in shallow gasps as I tried to be quiet... Praying, hoping, that everything would be fine. But there was so much smoke, and the forest was silent. I think I knew, even as I stumbled and prayed my way to the mountain, that my hope was dead with that dragon cub, rotting in the sun.