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Arisa slept peacefully. It was rare that she got to sleep next to a warm fire at night. It took such effort to clear enough space for both her and the fire to burn safely that she seldom took the time. Especially when it had to be such a large fire to keep her warm. She had tried a smaller fire once and curled herself around it, but that had left her with a slightly singed tail.
Arisa enjoyed the warmth, but wished she had made the fire just a little smaller. It was nice, but it was uncomfortable against her side now.
The heat felt like it was all around her. It was odd since camping fires never bothered her before, but right now it was beginning to feel very uncomfortable.
Small hands. She had the distinct feeling of small hands pushing on her face. Who was it that had such a lack of etiquette to bother her while she was sleeping? She was finally having such a nice rest.
“Please, you have to wake up. If you don’t…”
Arisa heard the small voice trail off into sniffles.
Crying? Why would someone be crying just because I am sleeping?
The crackling she heard started to grow louder as she roused herself from what had been a very comfortable sleep. Whomever this voice belonged to had picked the wrong dragon to wake from sleep. Arisa did not anger easily but she was certainly annoyed that this voice would not leave her alone. Allowing one eye to open just a bit she mumbled at the target of her annoyance.
“Please leave me be, I am… Oh!”
Both of Arisa’s eyes opened wide at the unexpected sight. All around her was a building engulfed in flames. When she opened her eye to address the voice she did not expect to see this. In fact she did not expect the voice and small hands to belong to a human child either. The child was crying and on its knees, practically lying against Arisa’s face as it pushed against her scaled cheek.
“What is going on here? Where am I?”
Arisa’s question went unanswered as the child continued to cry. Lifting her head away from the small human she took a quick look around at her surroundings. Looking back down Arisa nudged at the child to try and get a response yielded no results as it just kept crying into it’s own hands. She didn’t want to frighten it any more than it was but she needed to get its attention.
The body next to her flinched but finally looked up. Large bits of burning wood were now falling from above, some of them leaving red marks on the child.
“I don… I can’t.. I can’t find my mother!”
Arisa jerked her head up and saw the burning roof sag and drop about a foot. It wouldn’t last much longer before giving way completely.
Taking a better look around herself Arisa could see that the building, or at least what was left of a building, was on the verge of collapsing. One wall was completely missing, the remnants of it underneath her body. Outside the missing wall she could see other buildings, all engulfed in flames and falling in on themselves. The dark backdrop of the sky told her it was very late into the evening.
The small child was still looking up at her, tears streaming down her face as it continued to cry. If the heat was bothering Arisa, a dragon, then this child must be in severe pain from that same heat. Indeed, now that she looked more closely, Arisa could see that the child’s entire skin was turning red even as it sat there staring at her.
“Come with me, we need to leave here.”
Arisa slowly rose to her feet, being careful to not bring what remained of the building down around them. It wouldn’t do more than cause her some pain and trouble, but it would very likely kill the small human next to her.
The child didn’t move. It remained on its knees crying, staring at the ground where Arisa had just been.
“You have to leave before the building collapses!”
“B-but mom. I can’t find my mother!”
Another brief look around her told Arisa that there was little chance mom would be found, at least not alive. Most of the buildings that she could see through the missing wall had already collapsed in on themselves. Others were so engulfed in flames that it was difficult to imagine that anybody could be left alive. It was a miracle this child was still alive.
Another loud crack and a small rain of burning debris told Arisa it was past time to get out of here. She stepped over the child and moved out of the building. Once out of the structure she could finally raise her head up and look around her. She was in a small village, what was left of it. Everything burned.
The building just down the street collapsed, sending a brilliant shower of sparks into the night sky. Arisa turned her attention back to the child who was still crying inside the burning building.
For heaven’s sake…
Arisa stuck her head back into the building and carefully snatched the child up in her jaws.
“Nooo! I have to find mom and dad!”
“Ee have oo essape eefore we gurn ourhelfes”.
Arisa could only mumble around the human that was dangling from her mouth.
Stretching her wings out to fly away from this burning nightmare caused her to wince in pain. Her right wing was badly singed. She had been laying on that side after, apparently, crashing through the burning wall in the building. She steadied herself and gave a small flap of her wings but once again winced at the pain that shot through her wing.
Arisa had tightened her grip on the child from the pain.
She would have to find her way out of this labyrinth on foot. Trying to maneuver on the ground had never been easy for her. She was used to seeing things from the sky, using the sun, moon or mountains for reference while navigating. Tonight she had none of those.
The brilliance of the fire dimmed her vision, preventing her from seeing much past the flames, let alone to the nearest mountain. The sky above was filled with nothing but smoke so there was no moon to be seen either. Arisa swung her had back and forth looking for the quickest way out of this human-made maze, making the poor child in her mouth dizzy.
I guess it doesn’t matter which direction I pick at this point.
Arisa turned to her left and began to quickly walk down the street, trying not to jostle the child too much as she avoided burning buildings. Thankfully this was more of a village than a city so the streets were wide enough for her to easily pass between the buildings. However, she still had to navigate around some of the burned walls that had crumbled out into the street.
The child continued to wail for its mother. Arisa felt a small pang of regret for this small human. She knew in her heart that there was little chance of the child seeing its mother again. Her brief survey of the town told Arisa that it was unlikely that anybody else was alive. Any who had survived would be outside the town by now.
The smell arrived before the sound. Arisa could detect the scent of fresh water coming from somewhere ahead. She pushed on, trying to quicken her pace without causing her cargo too much discomfort. Shortly after came the trickling sound of a stream. That was a good sound. It meant they were likely near the edge of the village.
“Go back! My mom.”
The child whimpered while Arisa continued past the buildings. Apparently, it sensed that they were about to leave the village as well.
Darkness ahead signaled the edge of the village and escape from the fire. Arisa breathed a sigh of relief. Once out of the village she would surely be able to find another human and deposit this little one with them.
A huge splash of water enveloped them as Arisa crashed into the stream. A dozen more steps saw her to a safe spot to deposit the child onto some grass.
Licking at the unpleasant taste in her mouth Arisa took the few steps back to the stream in an effort to wash away the taste of the soot and human. Now that their immediate safety was assured she wished to clean herself up a bit to inspect how badly burned her wing was.
Standing in the middle of the shallow stream Arisa took mouthfuls of water into her mouth and splashed it back. There was so much soot covering her she could not see her own scales
If this stream were deeper I could have just rolled in it to clean myself rather than have need to stoop to throwing water on m—ach!
Arisa winced in pain as the water cascaded down over her burnt wing. She steadied herself and dumped one more mouthful just at the top of her wing to let it fall down her side once more before turning her neck to inspect the wound.
“It will be days before I can even think about flying with my wing in this shape.”
After complaining to no one in particular, Arisa turned and took the few steps back to the child. Her wing would likely heal on its own in time. However, she did not wish to even imagine the pain she would cause herself if she tried a sustained flight. The intensity of the pain from just a gentle flap earlier was something she could do without feeling ever again.
“There is nothing for it, I will just have to walk like all the other beasts until it heals. Now to find some other humans and deliver this child to—.”
She stopped in her tracks as she suddenly became aware of the silence. Being so absorbed in their escape and then checking her wing, Arisa had not noticed it before now. Of course she could hear the sound of the village still burning, of wood collapsing and exploding. She could hear the murmur of the stream as it trickled by. Even the quiet whimper of the child a few paces away could be heard. But — nothing else.
No cries of humans mourning the loss of their loved ones. No names being shouted across the fields as they searched for one another. Nothing. She could hear not a single human other than the one on the ground next to her.
This village was small to be sure, but someone should have survived. Surely not everyone could have slept through the entire village burning down around them except this one small child. Even if the fire started at one edge of the village and swept across to the other, someone should have managed to escape before death claimed them.
Arisa’s eyes opened wide as she suddenly became worried with the realization that there was no one to leave the small human with.
Looking over at the child, Arisa confirmed what she already suspected from having carried it out of the village. It was too small. Small always meant young and this child would be too young to take care of itself. Arisa knew humans were not born with the ability to hunt and provide for themselves like dragons and other beasts. No, they had to be taught and learn for themselves. They had to be provided for until they learned.
Arisa was also worried for selfish reasons. She couldn’t fly with her wing like it was. It might be weeks before she could fly again. Hunting from the ground was hard for dragons. No it was better to say it was nearly impossible. Dragons could not simply hide in the grass as they stalked their prey. They were meant to swoop down from the sky and take their meals from above.
She would normally seek an exchange with the surviving villagers. Arisa would ask them to provide food for her while she healed and in return she would provide labor to help them rebuild their village more quickly. Dragons could fell trees swifter than any human, even with the large teeth-like sticks humans often used to cut them down. She would also have been able to share a shelter with the villagers until a few houses had been rebuilt.
Another worry clouded her mind. Why had she herself had been in the village? She had no memory of coming here. The last thing Arisa could remember was flying.
What could have happened that she would end up inside a burning building? She could understand if the building had caught fire after she was already there. But her wing, which she had been asleep on, was burned by the fallen wall. That to her was enough proof that the village had been burning before she got there. Had she flown into the wall? What would possibly have happened to cause her to crash into a burning wall?
Arisa shook her head and tried to push those thoughts out of her mind. The issue was what to do right now. She looked at the now silent human sitting on the ground. The child was unmoving and had its face buried between its knees. After briefly pondering what she should do Arisa softly spoke to the unmoving human.
“You, what is your name?”
Arisa had called quietly to the child so as not to startle it. Even still her voice had been loud enough to be clearly heard yet the child didn’t respond. Not even a twitch. Arisa gently nudged the child’s shoulder with her muzzle. It hadn’t been much but the child didn’t resist the pressure and slowly fell onto her side. Arisa could see the eyes staring blankly ahead, still cloudy with tears.
Looking more closely she could see a slight rise and fall of the chest. A good sign, the child was still breathing.
It is still alive.
“Can you here me?”
After a moment of silence the child turned it’s head slightly to look at Arisa. That was an improvement.
“Stay here and don’t move.”
Arisa softly commanded of the small child. She wanted to determine for certain if anybody else still lived.
Arisa craned her neck up as high as she could and looked towards the part of the village that could be seen. They were not that far. If she could fly she would be able to traverse the entire village in just a few moments. As it was, she would have to run around the perimeter of the village and see if anyone had escaped.
She needed to know. Before she could make any other decisions, she needed to know what her options were. She took one last look back at the still huddled child. Still no movement, but it was breathing.