Copyright © 2017 tylorkranyak.com
All Rights Reserved
Author of Legacy of Krazatan
They continued to ride south after their run-in with the kerosus. Due to his exhaustion, Kai had slept through the rest of the night in Rana’s saddle behind Lukan. Even though Kai had slowed the beast just enough for them to get away they still rode well into the night to put as much distance behind them as possible. The sun had been up by the time Lukan woke him. They took a few minutes to eat breakfast before Kai got back into his own saddle and took the reins, giving Kim the chance to finally catch some shuteye herself. The girl had slept well into the afternoon, only waking when it was time to eat lunch, then promptly falling back to sleep for a couple more hours. Lukan had stayed awake the entire day, and for all Kai knew the man had been awake all night, too. How the old angel managed to keep his eyes open for so long was beyond Kai. Only on the following night did they all manage to get the sleep they deserved.
A few days had passed since then. The sky was gray with overcast as the group rode through the northern steppes of Horitan. The morning was chilly yet again. The grass was covered in a light frost from the cold of the previous night, and the absence of the sun prevented it from melting into morning dew. Kai was accustom to the cold; Kim was not, as she had stated countless times before and continued to do so.
“Seriously, how do you put up with it?” Kim asked as she rubbed her arms under the two layers of clothing she currently wore. “This would be full winter back home."
"You're exaggerating," Kai told her.
"This is normal for this time of year. I'm surprised you're not used to it since Hurita City is right next to the ocean. It might be cold now, but at least we don't have any winds coming at us from the sea."
"I'm used to it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. What surprises me is how you can sit there and tell me you prefer this frigid season over summer. What sane person actually enjoys freezing his ass off like this?"
"When you have to work all day out on a boat the last thing you want is to have the sun blaring down on you the entire time," Kai explained. "I've had way too many sun burns over the years."
Kim made a derisive snort. "You're whining about sunburns? Wimp."
"Go ahead and laugh, but be grateful your skin's not as sensitive as mine."
"Whenever I get a really bad burn it feels like I'm being constantly prodded with hundreds red-hot pins, and it takes two weeks for it to go away. Because of that I had to sweat it out in a full shirt every day I had to work, so excuse me if I don't share your excitement over summer."
Kim rolled her eyes before turning to look at Lukan. "What about you, Lukan? Which season do you like best?"
"I honestly don't mind either season," the old man told her. "As long as the sun is out I'm happy."
Trak lifted his head and began to scent the air. His lips curled back in a show of teeth as he growled. For a moment Kai assumed the therasus was just being his regular irritable self, but when a growl rumbled out of Rana’s throat, too, he knew something was up.
“There must be a herd somewhere nearby,” the angel said. “Good timing, too. The therasi are due for a feeding.” Lukan lowered Rana’s reins and gave the therasus a firm pat on the neck. The mount lifted her snout to the sky and sniffed, then she trotted westward on her own toward the supposed herd. Kai urged his own mount to follow, but he wasn’t about to drop Trak’s reins. He barely trusted the animal as it was. They trotted along through the grassy steppes. It took some time, but they reached the source of the scent. A group of eight spinebeasts grazed in the distance, oblivious to the two therasi that approached.
Lukan stopped while they were still a good distance away from the animals before slipping out of his saddle and unfastening Rana’s reins. Kai and Kim followed suit, but Kai left Trak’s reins right where they were. The animal was no-where near ready to hunt without them, Kai might almost lose his arm again just trying to get the restraints back on.
“So, how are we going to do this?” Kai asked as he and Kim worked together to unstrap all the baggage and supplies from Trak’s back, giving the animal more flexibility to move and hunt.
Lukan took a moment to study the herd. Scratching his short beard, he said, “Hunting spinebeasts can be dangerous work. We can’t just go at them from behind, not unless we do something about their tails first.”
Lukan nodded and pointed to one spinebeast that was grazing just a little too far from the rest of the herd. “I’ll take Rana and Trak over to that one to get its attention. You’ll sneak up behind it while we’re distracting it, and the moment you get a clear shot I want you to hit it with a bolt of lightning. I’ll blind it once its tail is crippled, so make sure you shield your eyes immediately. With its sight and its main method of defence gone, I’ll send the therasi in for the kill.” The old man turned to Kai and asked, “Do you think you can handle all of that?”
“I think so,” Kai said with a slow nod.
“Just make sure you stay out of that tail’s reach.” Turning to Kim next, he said, “You’ll have to stay here with our supplies, Kim.”
She rolled her eyes and waved them away. “Yeah, yeah, you two go do your hunting,” she said with the reserved tone of someone who was used to staying behind while the men took care of business.
With all their baggage removed from the therasi, they made their approach. Lukan went off to the right, letting Rana walk next to him on her own while leading Trak by the reins. Kai went left, staying low so he could use the tall grass to cover his movement. Their target spinebeast spotted Lukan and the therasi pretty quickly, but it didn’t run. Kai hadn’t seen many spinebeasts growing up in Garrath, they were more frequently spotted inland near Kuluth since the neighbouring village was more focused around growing crops to feed themselves than catching fish. Not that they could catch any fish since there were no large bodies of water close enough for them to use. Just about everything he knew about spinebeasts came from the stories told by people who visited from Kuluth, and those stories told him the animals weren’t known to run from danger. They were pretty vicious when threatened, despite being herbivores. Once they started swinging around those spiked tails of theirs, trying to get close to them without being impaled became a perilous endeavour.
The spinebeast let out a low whine as it turned its body so its right side was facing Lukan’s group. It started swinging its tail in preparation for fending off the therasi if they got too close. Trak hissed in response and pulled against the reins, but Lukan held his grip tight. Kai kept a wide berth until he was facing the beast’s left side. He then slowly made his way over to the animal to get a clearer shot. He opened his mana link and let the energy course through him, directing it into his left arm. He focused on the element of electricity, heard it cracked lightly around his metal gauntlet as the energy manifested. Slowly, he stood and aimed his hand toward the base of the spinebeast’s tail. He had a moment of anxiety when he remembered what happened back in Bahn, but did his best to push away the fear. Kai took a deep breath, concentrated, then pushed the energy out of his fingertips.
The bolt of lightning flew from Kai’s hand, sending out a deafening crack that rolled across the flat steppes. The electricity slammed into the spinebeast’s tail with such intensity that Kai was sure it scorched the flesh straight to the bone. The animal wailed so loud that he felt the sound rumble through his own chest. Remembering the plan, Kai dropped to the ground moments before the entire area lit up with Lukan’s light.
When Kai thought it was safe to look up again, Rana and Trak were already ravaging the herbivore. Rana’s fangs ripped into its neck while Trak tore at its body. The spinebeast tried to fling its tail at its attackers, but Kai’s bolt must have burnt or severed an important muscle because the limb wouldn’t bend as far as before. With the combined attacks of both therasi, the spinebeast let out a deep wail before collapsing on its side.
Kai got up and moved around the fallen beast. He saw the two predators already feasting on its still warm flesh. He had to look away from all the blood, his stomach wasn’t quite strong enough yet to handle watching the two animals tear into something that had been breathing mere moments ago. As he turned to face Lukan he heard the rest of the herd keening as they all began to lumber away to safety. “Well, that was easy.”
“It usually is when you know what you’re doing.”
Glancing back at the fallen spinebeast for a moment, Kai asked, “Think we should take some of its plates with us? We might be able to sell them next time we come across a town.”
“That might not be a bad idea if we can get some of the big ones,” Lukan agreed. “I don’t have the right tools for it, though, so it might take a while to pry-”
Their conversation was abruptly cut short by a high-pitched roar that tore through the sky. They looked up in time to see a yellow figure making its descent, but it moved so fast that by the time they managed to get a good look at it it had already landed right in front of them. It was a yellow dragon, the same kind that they had seen just before their encounter with the kerosus.
The creature was smaller than the gold dragon Kai had encountered during his very first night on the road with Lukan, but its thinner than average body gave it the illusion of looking longer, almost like a snake with legs. Its wings were small and slick, built more for slicing through the air rather than gliding like most other air-faring creatures. Its arrow-shaped head darted this way and that, as if it was too excited or agitated to focus on just one thing. It made a sound that Kai could only describe as a yip before clicking its tongue, and with each click a spark of electricity jumped from its mouth.
"Get back!" Lukan shouted as he pulled Kai aside, out of the yellow dragon's path. The creature tilted its head left and right, as if sizing the two of them up, before disregarding them altogether and focusing its attention on the dead spinebeast. Lukan whistled sharply, a sound which had Rana pulling her blood-covered snout from her prey's carcass in response. She looked to her master, then to the new threat that had entered the vicinity. She bore her teeth in aggression, but another whistle from Lukan had her snapping out of it. The pale-green therasus trotted to the angel's side, but Trak remained where he was. The brown therasus curled his lips back and snarled at the dragon.
"Kai, get Trak out of there!"
Kai rushed over to his therasus, even as the animal put himself between his food and the dragon. The yellow dragon weaved left and right, as if trying to find a clear path around the other predator to the meat beyond. Kai grabbed onto the reins and shouted, "Trak, no!" as he tried to pull his mount away. Trak didn't listen to Kai's command, instead yanking against the reins as he tried to stand his ground. The dragon didn't respond well to the therasus's response as it began barking at the other predator, or at least Kai thought it was barking. The sound the dragon made was something between a hiss and a cough. Kai tried pulling one more time with all his might. At first it felt like Trak was starting to give, but at the last moment his mount reared back, a movement that swept Kai up off his feet and threw him right in the dragon's path.
When he tried to sit up Kai found himself staring straight up into the dragon's face. The creature's eyes whirred with irritation as it opened its mouth wide. It clicked its tongue faster, creating even more sparks. Kai's mind went blank in his panic as he watched the dragon rear back to attack. Even the sound of Lukan's voice shouting his name was nothing more than a distant mumble.
The dragon suddenly stopped. It closed its eyes and lowered its head as if something invisible had just struck it. When it opened its eyes to look at Kai again it let out a low whine and backed up a few paces. It started shaking its head, an action it continued to do even as Kai felt Lukan's hand around his arm pulling him to his feet. The old angel had Trak's reins in his other hand as he pulled Kai and the brown therasus away. The yellow dragon whipped its tail around in irritation as it watched them retreat, then creature then started bounding sideways, keeping an eye on all of them as it went over to its ill-gotten prize. Only when it was at the dead spinebeast did it take its attention away from Kai, Lukan and Trak, diving into the herdbeast's stomach and ripping at its flesh.
Rana followed as Lukan continued to pull Kai and Trak away until, stopping only once they reached Kim and the rest of their supplies. Kim grabbed Kai's other arm as she and Lukan helped him sit down. "Kai, are you all right?" she asked, her face strewn with worry and fright.
Kai nodded his head just a little too fast. "Yeah... yeah, I'm fine."
"That was way too close, that dragon was about to kill you!"
"I know. I was there, remember?"
"You're in one piece, that's all that matters," Lukan said, though Kai had a feeling he was saying it more for Kim's sake than his own.
"So what now?" Kai asked. "Are we just going to let that dragon take our kill?"
"Yes," Lukan said flatly.
"That seems like a waste. We were the ones who took it down."
"In the wild, coloured dragons are the top of the food chain. You have to give them what they want, otherwise they'll take it by force. A bolt of lightning or a stream of fire will always beat claws and fangs, no matter how sharp they may be." The angel turned to look at the dragon in question. "All we can do now is wait until it's done, then let our therasi have whatever's left."
There they sat for what felt like ages as they watched the yellow dragon tear into the meat of the spinebeast's carcass. It ate with so much fervor, as if it hadn't had a bite to eat in weeks. Every time they thought the creature was done it would dive right back in and start eating again. It kept jumping from one part of the beast to the other. It would gnaw on the spinebeast's haunch for a little while, start digging into the meat around its stomach, chew on its tail for a bit, then go back to the haunch. There seemed to be no end to its appetite as it attempted to reduce the carcass to nothing but bone.
"How long has that dragon been at it?" Kai finally asked after watching for such a long time.
"Almost an hour," Lukan said.
Kai winced, "An hour? Trak doesn’t even take that long to eat. How big is that thing's stomach?"
"Like I said before, yellow dragons have to eat a lot to create the energy they need for their quick, energetic lifestyles. It should be reaching its limit soon, though. At this point it's just stockpiling whatever meat it can fit into what little space it has left."
Kim shook her head in awe. "The things you see out in the wild. I don't even think kerosi take this long to eat."
"That they don't," the angel agreed.
They sat for a few more minutes until finally the dragon's frenzied feasting started to slow down. The sides of its body seemed to bulge from the immense amount of mass packed into its stomach. It definitely looked wider than when it first showed up. But, it wasn't done just yet. It moseyed over to the spinebeast's rear and started gnawing on a section of the tail it had recently reduced to bone. It growled and snarled as it raked its teeth into the bone until the cartilage finally gave out, severing the limb from the rest of the body. The dragon dug its teeth into a spot that still had a lot of meat left on it, but it didn't eat it. Instead, the creature lifted the tail and started carrying it off, like a snack to be finished later. It didn't bother to fly, even without the tail it probably wouldn't get the lift it needed with all the extra weight from its generous feasting. It hobbled away into the vast steppes, dragging its stolen prize along by its teeth to who knew where.
With the dragon finally gone, Kai and Lukan were free to send their therasi back over to finish their meal. Unfortunately, the yellow dragon had eaten so much that there was barely enough meat left to feed even one of them. Still, it was better than nothing. It would keep the animals fed until they came across another herd, and they managed to pry some of the larger plates off of the spinebeast’s back to sell later for a little extra travelling money. It took them longer than they originally expected, but they were soon packed up and on their way once again.