The Last Atranoch
Starlyn polished up her makeshift saddle with fat from a beaver, working the oil into the leather. Daelyn promised to take her hunting. He’d made the saddle for her, customizing it so she was more comfortable whenever they went out together. Although most times she rode her horse, Rane, she also loved flying with her dragon brother and the saddle helped to keep her stabilized as she tucked her legs behind his wings. She was tiny for thirteen, but Daelyn and Baylor made sure the child could defend herself. She’d spent her twelfth year with shaman, Bastian Wilhelm in Estonbrook near the mountains of the fallen angels. It was there she learned the arts of martial arts and knife throwing. A natural, she soon mastered her skills and was rewarded with a set of knives all her own that she kept in a special belt around her small waist. Starlyn grew to be a stunning young woman. Her sea-green eyes clashed with a crown of tumbled red curls that flowed like lava down to her waist. Intelligent, stubborn and a smile that made dragons bow down, she was known far and wide as the ‘girl who flew with dragons’. Small in stature, she made up for her size in strength and grace. Jasha, her long time friend, now a powerful young man, was waiting for her outside of the cave. While the dragons liked young Jasha, only Starlyn was allowed inside of the caves.
“Star!” he yelled impatiently, “hurry up, I’ve been waiting for hours for you!”
Putting the rubbing cloth away, she grabbed her shiny saddle and ran outside to greet her friend.
“Sorry, Jasha, I just wanted to put the finishing touched on my new saddle,” she explained, ’How does it look?”
He examined her work, envying her being able to fly on the backs of the huge winged beasts.
“What happened to your other saddle?” he asked, “did you grow out of it?”
“Yes,” she answered, “Actually, I fell off and scraped it all up last week.”
“Fell off?” he exclaimed, “Star! That’s a big deal! You could have been killed!”
Her laughter sounded like the tinkle of a hundred little bells, musical and lilting. “Oh, Jasha, sometimes you’re like a mother hen, for goodness sake. I was two feet in the air. Daelyn thought he would be a wise guy and start flying when I wasn’t ready.”
“Well, still,” he said stubbornly, “You should be more careful.”
Starlyn felt a quick flash of anger at his words. She was tired of everyone coddling her!
“I’m not baby anymore, Jasha,” she said hotly, “So stop treating me like one!”
“Star, I’m only looking out for you,” he protested, “just in case.”
“In case of what, Jasha?” she shot back, “In case I fall down? No! You can just stay here because guess what? I don’t need babysitter!”
Starlyn stormed off towards the horse enclosure, throwing a blanket and her saddle on old Rane. She was tired of having Jasha accompany her everywhere. While she loved him like a brother, enough was enough. Forgetting about her hunting trip with Daelyn, she hopped nimbly on her aging horse and took off down the mountain path at a dangerous pace. Rane, not used to traveling down the rocky path so quickly, snorted and shook his head in protest. She slowed him down, not wanting him to stumble on a stone and together they rode north toward Lost Pond. She closed her eyes as the sun warmed her face, feeling happy just to be alone for a while. Ever since the battle with the Atranoch, her dragon family refused to let her out of their sight, even for a moment. Jasha’s little speech about being more careful was the last straw. Guiding Rane around the outer edge of the pond, she found a foot path on the east side that led into the forest. Curious, she followed it, wondering who made it and if they were friendly. She’d never traveled this way and wondered why. It was so beautiful. Large ferns and reeds hugged the perimeter of the pond, giving way to tall, marsh reeds, exploding in a puff of white down at their tops. On the north side, lily pads covered the water in a blanket of bright green and on the west, the glass-like surface reflected the evergreen trees as perfect as a painting.
Dismounting, she tied Rane to a small dogwood tree and sat on a boulder overlooking the pond. The air was sweet with the smell of evening primrose and scarlet bee blossom. Tilting her head to meet the warm rays of the morning sun, Starlyn took a deep breath releasing all the stress of the past week. It felt so good to be alone, she thought. As she sat listening to to the buzz of dragon fly wings and the yipping of a lone fox, a soft rustling in the brush made her turn her head to listen.
“Maybe just a bunny or something,” she murmured to herself.
From the corner of her eye she caught movement by the edge of the forest. Reaching furtively inside of her shirt for her throwing knives, she kept her hand on them and nonchalantly stood, feigning interest in something over by her horse. Bending over to pick a large fern, she saw from her peripheral vision a figure dart behind an oak tree and other figure follow after it. Star’s hair prickled with imminent danger, but by watching her, someone would never know it.. She pretended unawareness even as her whole body quivered with adrenaline. Fight or flight. She stroked Rane’s mane, speaking quietly in her ear.
“Something or someone is out there, Rane,” she whispered, “You need to be ready to run at a moment’s notice, my friend.”
From beneath her long, red lashes, Starlyn saw one of the figures dart around to the west of her. They were trying to ambush her.
“You guys can come out now,” she yelled, “I’ve known you’ve been here watching me, so might as well come out now and show yourselves!”
Silence met her challenge. Not a sound could be heard in the forest, not even a bird. Suddenly a figure rushed towards her from the trees and another from her right. Lightening fast, she grabbed her knives and in quick succession, launched two of them. Getting the first one through the skin of his shoulder, it went through lodging firmly into a tree, pinning him. Whirling, she let another knife fly, missing the mystery creature’s abdomen and piercing its hand instead. Out in the open now, Starlyn froze with shock and terror. It couldn’t be, she thought frantically. We killed them all!
Squirming in pain, the skin of its shoulder tearing from its efforts to get away, a young Atranoch stared at Starlyn with eyes as big as saucers.
“If you stop struggling for two minutes, I can help you,” Starlyn told her, for it was obviously a female, “but first, you have to promise not to hurt me.”
Turning to the other who approached out of concern for its partner, she said, “Not one more step or I hurt her.” The creature stopped.
“Don’t hurt my sister,” the male pleaded, “shes only a kid! We’re twins.”
Though big for their ages, Starlyn could see that they were pretty young. Maybe no more than eight-years-old. She knew she should have been afraid of them, but curiosity overwhelmed her fear. Moving closer, she tentatively spoke.
“If you stay where you are,” she said to the young male, “I’ll help her. But only if you two promise not to hurt me.”
Compared to Starlyn, the male was stocky and powerfully built. Star knew if he wanted to, he could kill her. But the female’s grunt of pain were more than he could bear.
“Okay, I agree,” he told the human girl, “But what happens next? After she’s free?”
Starlyn’s unique gray eyes looked candidly at the ugly beast. “Why, we talk,” she said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Starlyn walked around to the other side of the tree where the female was pinned, reaching around to pull her knife gently out of the beast’s skin. She at least wanted a barrier between her and it.
“Yes, beast, we talk,” she answered him, “You can start by telling me your names. My name is Starlyn, but everyone calls me Star. Now it’s your turn.”
The young Atranoch seemed confused, knowing only how to fight and kill to get what he wanted. No one ever stopped and took the time to ask his name before. It was always teeth, claws and blood. None of this ‘talking’. He was intrigued.
“My name is Destrian and that’s my sister, Anastas, that you pinned with your knife,” he said angrily, “and you want to talk?”
“You were setting me up to be attacked!” Starlyn shot back, “I’m just supposed to LET you?′
Flustered, Destrian shut his mouth and opened it again, unable to find the words to argue back. She was right. They were getting ready to attack. He couldn’t deny it.
“See? No answer, huh?” Starlyn reasoned, “You don’t even know why you were going to hurt me, you just wanted to sink your claws and teeth into me for no reason at all! How about this? Instead of trying to hurt each other, we try and get to know each other! How about we become friends instead? Who has to know?”
Destrian’s head was reeling. This wasn’t the order of things! Atranoch’s, according to the teaching’s of their mother, didn’t just go around making friends with the creatures they wanted to eat! It just wasn’t done! But on the other hand, what she said made sense. He and his sister didn’t have any friends. Not one. Everything and everyone was terrified of them and ran, which in turn made them instinctively give chase. It was in their nature. Then here come along this little bit of a human girl telling them they could be friends! Looking at Anastas, he saw the longing in her dark brown eyes. He remembered as children out on their first hunting trip with their mother. They had run into a big fat hare and her five babies. Anastas was next in line to make her first kill. Instead of running after them, she stopped in front of them looking with tortured eyes at their mother.
“I don’t want to kill them, mother,” she whined, “can’t I bring them home to play with?”
Demetrias remembered laughing hysterically at her, earning him a glare and a cuff.
“It’s what we do, child,” their mother told her, “They have to die so that we can eat.”
“Well, I don’t have to eat them!” Anastas yelled, running home.
Maybe she was right, Demetrias thought, maybe they didn’t have to kill everything they saw.
“Fine,” he told the human girl who called herself Star. “we promise not to hurt you.”
Starlyn dazzled him with a smile and Demetrias felt his lips turn up in return. Their mother told them that humans were the worst creatures in Kilaborn besides the dragons and none should be spared. He was starting to question his mother’s wisdom after meeting this fascinating human. Her hair was something out of this world with its bright red color and he wanted to reach out and test a springy curl. Was it hot?
The human girl walked cautiously over to her horse who pawed the ground nervously at the presence of the Atranoch. Reaching inside of a leather bag, she pulled out a smaller pouch and dug around until she found what she was looking for. Walking back to Anastas, he saw it was a handful of leaves that she popped into her mouth, chewing vigorously. As he looked on, she spat the masticated mound into her hand and gently spread it over her wound.
“What is that?” he asked, not quite trusting her.
“It’s Yarrow leaves,” she told him, “They have properties that will speed up the healing process and dull the pain.” Turning to Anastas she said, “I’m so sorry I hurt you. But to be honest, you had it coming. I was only defending myself.”
Anastas, quite up until now, smiled up at Starlyn gratefully. “It feels better already! Thank you. Is your hair hot to touch?”
Starlyn was confused for a second until she realized how it must look to someone who’d never before encountered a redheaded creature. Laughing delightedly, she took Anasta’s hand and placed on top of
“See?” she told her, “It’s not fire, it’s just a color.”
Anastas touched the downy soft curls, even coming closer still to smell them. They didn’t smell like ashes and smoke, but instead, the fragrant odor of chamomile filled her nostrils.
“How odd,” she exclaimed, “It looks like fire, yet smells like a flower.”
Starlyn laughed, “I crush up chamomile blossoms into crushed soapwort when I wash my hair. No big mystery. So, why are you two in the forest by yourselves?”
“We don’t have any family,” she told Starlyn, “Mother died few moons ago and we have just our little cave up on Hawk’s mountain. We hunt at night, and sleep during the day. This is the first time we’ve been out in the daytime.”
“So you’re both all alone? How awful!” Starlyn cried, “What will you do?”
As the words left her mouth, all hell broke loose. From out of the sky came the sound of the flapping of giant wings. A huge shadow covered them as Daelyn swooped down yelling for Star to stand back. Demetrias looked up to see the biggest dragon he’d ever seen heading straight for them, his terrible teeth bared.
Starlyn quickly stepped in front of the twin Atranoch, raising her hands beseechingly.
“Daelyn, no!” she screamed, “Stop!”
The huge dragon spun in midair, almost losing his balance as his beloved Star stepped between him and two creatures he thought for sure he’d never see again. Landing clumsily, he stared at them with unbelieving eyes. What was Starlyn doing with those abominations?
“Star!” he ordered, “Step away from them right now!”
Standing her ground, she stubbornly refused to move an inch. Her grey eyes, smokey and full of heat, she glared at her adopted brother.
“Stay back, Dae, this doesn’t concern you,” she ground out, “These are the last two creatures of their kind and they’re my friends. You will not touch them.”
Looking at her in astonishment, Daelyn couldn’t believe what his young charge was saying. After all she’d been through and the scars she bared, Starlyn wanted to protect them? Angered beyond control, Daelyn roared unlike Starlyn ever heard him do and in one bound he grabbed the young male in his powerful jaws. Shaking him like a rag doll, the audible, sickening snap of a broken neck made Anastas and Starlyn scream in horror.
“Daelyn! Why?” Starlyn screamed, “I hate you!”