The Dragon and His Boy – Chapter 01

The Hunt

Droplets drizzled from the sky, beads of water weaving threads as they hurtled towards the earth.  They pattered against the leaves overhead, tapping a soft but staccato tempo that faded to the back of her mind as she raced through the woods.  Trunk after trunk flew by her, before she gasped and panted, her breath burning into her throat as she dove behind one.

She heard growls behind her, a low rumbling that struck daggers into her heart as she shivered.  Footsteps, miniature earthquakes with each step bringing it closer and closer.

A pause.  Two short, strong snuffs.  She tried to keep as still as possible.  A small whine almost crept past her lips before she clamped them shut with her mud-soiled fingers.

It didn’t seem to do any good, though, because with a loud snort, the footsteps resumed.

She held her breath.

And she immediately released it in a shriek completely unbefitting her age when a thick-fingered claw reached around the tree she was hiding behind.  A long nail almost grazed her cheek.  She scrambled forward just as the tree was ripped from its roots.

Ahead, light peeked through the dark trunks.  She raced towards the exit to the forest.  Despite her urgency, the breathtaking sight laid out before her rooted her to her spot.

Hydrangeas, pink and blue clusters of butterfly-shaped petals, stood in a carpet, each flower dusted with droplets.  The sight was like an exquisite garden in a palace’s garden, an endless spread of balls of color.

A roar shook her out of her reverie.  She lurched forward as a tremor jerked her off her feet.  She cursed herself for her increasingly feeble body as she choked on the dirt in her mouth and the earthy odor filling her nose.  She struggled to pull herself to her feet, but a twinge in her back and the strain in her calves told her she was already at her limit.

Instead, she chose to stare into the masked face that was to be her death.  She refused to become food for those Hollow monsters crouched like a frightened mouse.

The beast, a large hulking thing of black and white, pieced together like a mismatched jigsaw puzzle, loomed over her.  She vaguely thought that it resembled a gorilla, and how stupid was that, being eaten by an ape-lookalike?

But just as its fist fell and its maw opened, it fell back, enveloped in smoke and pain.  Her eyes widened.  With a crash, the monster fell onto its back.

A whoosh and she felt the wind whip up from below her and fly past her, in the trails of something large that soared overheard.  She struggled to shield her face from the onslaught of the wind and the dirt and petals and water that flew up after it.  When the small storm finally calmed down, she raised her eyes.

Standing over the fallen Hollow was another one.  This one was smaller, but its sharp edges and crests made it look all the fiercer.  Something about it screamed danger, and she was grateful that it focused its attention on digging its snout into the body of her would-be hunter.  Its webbed wings spread possessively over its prey and its swanlike neck twisted and jerked with effort as it tore at the body.

She couldn’t take her eyes off the macabre scene.  She didn’t even know if she would be dessert, but she kept staring, staring at the dragon-like creature – which was also unmistakably a Hollow due to the circle cut out of its chest – staring as she sat soaked and filthy in the sopping mud.

And so she didn’t notice that the raindrops weren’t pattering against her face anymore until a shadow fell over her.

Startled, she looked up and saw a simple purple umbrella, thin paper stretched between the bamboo strips.  And she looked back and found herself sprawling forward to bring some distance between herself and the face that appeared an inch from hers.

It was a boyish face.  No, it was a face belonging to a boy, one that was at eye-level to her even though she was on the ground and he was standing.  He had large teal eyes, the likes of which she’d never seen before.  They reflected everything, and she felt that if she looked hard enough, she’d see herself in those eyes.

Even more striking, though, was his mane of white.  It was a snowy color, purer in hue than an old man’s.  She dazedly wondered if her hair would look so white in a few years.  She’d never seen a child with such a color, and she couldn’t help but stare.

The boy looked back expressionlessly.  They stayed in that position for who knows how long.  He rarely blinked.  It was like it was an afterthought, and he sometimes forgot.

They stayed that way, she and the boy, eye-to-eye before silence assaulted her ears and she felt a presence behind her.

The yellow eyes of the sleek dragon Hollow stared down at her.  She bit in a gasp, instinctively trying to stay still.

A movement behind her again, and a small hand reached into her line of sight and past it.  Her eyes followed the arm up and found the boy’s palm cradling the jaw of the Hollow, slim fingers scratching under its chin.  It tilted its head, leaning into the caress and gave a small croon.

After a moment, it stepped forward, its claws sinking heavily into the mud.  It dragged its serpentine body around her with a slosh, and she turned to follow its movement.

The boy still looked down at her.  He swerved his head towards the monster as though it had called him somehow, but he quickly turned back.  Still without a single expression on his youthful face, he bent over and picked up her still-trembling hand before pressing his umbrella into it.

He hopped back, as though pleased with his handiwork, before sprinting over to where the monster was waiting for him.  He clutched a hand to its side as it extended one wing over to shield the boy from the rain.

She stayed kneeling on the ground, umbrella propped against her shoulder though her arm remained loose.  She stayed that way for some time, long after the boy and the dragon Hollow had disappeared beyond the flower-laden horizon.

It was only when she felt warmth on her skin that she lowered the umbrella and looked up.  The mat of clouds that had been shielding the sun had scattered, and there was not a trace of them in the sky.  Instead, what remained was a sun-kissed azure, as though the weather itself were rejoicing after a long depression.

She looked back to the sparkling hydrangeas, each sporting a crown of liquid jewels, before reaching forward and plucking one from its stem.

She smiled as the fragrance reached her, finally feeling the grips of adrenaline leave her and relief take hold.

Maybe she’ll take one back as a souvenir.

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