The noise was deafening as the Atranoch fought over scraps of meat and bone, snarling and slashing at each other. There was no order in the caves, only chaos and the din of a hundred Atranoch within the chambers. Their food supply was almost depleted as they hunted the area to scarcity, leaving nothing living for miles. It was time. With their numbers up considerably over the past three years, the Atranoch gathered on Great Bear rock led by their leader, Rafa. As darkening clouds tumbled quickly overhead, the wind kicked up large white caps and waves that pummeled the rocks below, making the creatures talk louder to be heard over the sea. Finally, the multitudes quieting, Rafa spoke.
“Brethren!” he shouted gruffly, “As you know, we are running out of fresh game and need to move on to other hunting grounds!”
The crowd of Atranoch loudly agreed, stomping their feet on the ground.
“It’s time we stopped hiding and take back what’s ours!” he bellowed, “The dragons in Kilacomb have cast us aside to live in squalor like cave rats! They’ve taken our land, our food and what is rightfully ours! Its time to show the residents of Kilacomb what we are really made of!”
The crowd exploded in a cacophony of grunts, snarls and more stomping of feet.
“We’ve waited three long years for this moment,” he continued, “and I don’t know about you, but a fresh, fat human sounds delicious right about now. Tonight, we rest, and tomorrow, we feast!”
With more hoots and growls, the crowd of Atranoch salivated at the mention of human flesh. Rafa looked over the sea of stomping, snarling brethren, raised his arms and howled to the stormy skies. As the other’s joined in, the caves echoed with the howls of an Atranochian army ready for battle.
The time had come to take back the land and slaughter any who stood in their way.
Starlyn watched a small green frog emerge from the waters of Lost Pond with barely a ripple. Its yellow eyes, like marbles dipped in snail slime, blinked once as it puffed up its light green throat, making a high-pitched ‘croak croak’ sound. Laying on her belly at the edge of the pond, she watched as the frog eyed a beautifully colored dragon fly flitting from lily pad to lily pad. Flying too close to the yellow-eyed amphibian, the dragon fly met its demise as a lightening fast tongue snatched it out of the air. Swallowing, the frog let out one last ‘croak’ before disappearing beneath surface.
Clapping her hands at the show, she stood, remembering why she was sent out to begin with. Her mother needed Dandelion root for daddy’s stomach ache. Not wanting to leave the peaceful pond and its inhabitants, she stood for several more minutes looking for the gel-like masses of frog’s eggs near the over-hanging bank of the pond. Suddenly she felt uneasy, as if she were being watched. She knew the dangers of going out alone and never stayed by herself for too long. Her skin prickling with goose-bumps, Starlyn looked around the perimeter of the small pond, trying to peer between the trees for movement.
A noise from behind her made her whirl in fear just in time to see an ugly, muscular creature bounding straight for her. Letting out an ear-splitting shriek, Starlyn turned to run, taking only a few short steps before the monster’s talons dug into the soft flesh of her backside. Then, a swift movement from her left and the pain subsided as she was released. On her hands and knees, she spun around to see Daelyn’s jaws at the throat of the most horrible looking creature she’d ever seen. As bristly as a wild boar, with huge claws on the end of long, big-knuckled fingers, its head sloped back revealing three, long incredibly sharp horns. It snarled and growled, struggling wildly to keep Daelyn’s teeth from crushing his esophagus. Starlyn hid behind a large boulder, her shoulder and back aching with a fiery pain as she watched the battle. Daelyn towered over the monster. With his wing joints he battered the Atranoch about the head, confusing it. At the right moment, he darted his head in, tearing out the creature’s throat in a gush of blood.
“Daelyn!” Starlyn screamed, “What was that thing?”
The powerful dragon ran to the small girl, lowering his big head down to her level.
“Are you hurt, Star?” he asked, his face a mask of concern, “By the Elders, you’re bleeding!”
He turned her around and gasped at the wounds on her back. Her peaches and cream complected skin was marred by four, deep gashes oozing blood down the back of her legs. Panicked, he picked up the child and carried her next to his breast as he flew back to the Crystal caves. His heart beat furiously, fearing for her well being. Not only that, if there was one Atranoch , there would be more. Atranoch traveled in packs or pairs, never alone. He had to tell his father immediately. Unbeknownst to him, a pair of yellow, reptilian eyes watched first with horror as his companion was brutally slaughtered, then in interest when one of the biggest dragons he’d ever seen rescue the human pup. They knew each other, that much was certain. The concern in the dragon’s voice was unmistakable. The way the human called out to him, too...‘Daelyn’ she called him. This was something Rafa must know about. Ark melted back into the forest unseen, eager to report back to Rafa about what he’d witnessed.
“Mother! Father! Come quick!” Daelon called out to his parents from outside of the caves, “It’s Star! She’s been hurt!”
Daelon sat Star on a flat rock just outside of the cave entrance as Shapira and Baylor rushed outside, gasping at the sight of blood.
“By the Elders! What happened!” Shapira roared, “Who did this to her?”
“A monster did, mommy!” Starlyn cried, “It came out of the woods and tried to take me away!”
“Daelyn?” Baylor looked over at his son noting the panicked expression on his face. “Is this true?”
“It was an Atranoch, father,” he answered angrily, “and it’s true. It tried to take Star! I killed it, but now we must be prepared.”
Starlyn didn’t have many clothes, preferring instead to be as naked as she was born. What she did have was traded with a local human who traded for dragon scales which he ground to a powder, steeped in alcohol and sold as healing potions.
“Daelyn, please get some of Star’s garments and the bowl of ground Yarrow in the apothecary chamber,” Shapira requested, “Oh, and also a bowl of Cat’s Claw, please and hurry!”
Daelyn did as he was told, leaving Star in the care of his mother. If anyone could help her, his mother could. She was well known for her healing abilities and medicinal knowledge of plants and herbs. At the yearly gathering, Shapira and others like her enjoyed sharing newly discovered plants and their properties. On occasion, even the humans came to her for advice and counseling. When Daelyn returned, she first washed the child’s face with her long, black tongue, not only washing away her tears, but comforting her, as well. Wrapping small arms around Shapira’s neck, she hugged the dragon she called ‘mother’.
As Shapira ripped one of Starlyn’s shirts into strips of cloth, she sang a song to her daughter like she did when Starlyn first arrived.
It’s time to rest, my little one,
it’s time to close thine eyes.
It’s time for Moon to stop
bright Sun from shining in the sky.
Spring lambs lay down upon the hay,
the crickets sings them songs,
the stars above are twinkling
’till Moon lets in the dawn.
After Shapira made the strips, she chewed the leaves of the Yarrow making a poultice. Spreading the mixture gently on Starlyns wounds, she then bound them with the strips of cloth.
“Will the monsters come back, mommy?” Starlyn asked tearfully.
“Yes, daughter,” she answered, “and many more. We must prepare for their coming. I’m going to send you away for while, Star, somewhere safe.”
“No, mama!” Starlyn protested, “You can’t! I don’t want to go anywhere!”
“It’s for the best, my child. I’m going to take you to some humans, just like you.”
“Please let me stay, mother,” Starlyn begged, “I’ll be so good, I promise!”
Shapira heart was heavy at her little daughter’s words, but she knew it was for her safety. She would take her to the little village of Shandria, just over the grassy hills of Kilacomb. She knew a woman who owed her a debt and would gladly take Star until it was safe for her to come home. They needed to leave quickly, though, time was running out.