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Saraku – Part 1: Smoke

There was no wind to speak of. It was as though the Nether had chosen to cease its endless stirring for a little while. I wondered if it was taking a break, if its slaver had allowed it to get some sleep or eat some mutton. My stomach growled noisily. Now I wanted mutton.

Flying was easy when I didn’t have to fight with bursts of updrafts or invisible swirls of air. The laziness of the Nether seemed to sink into my slaver on my back, who did not whip me when I began to veer off course. I was too busy daydreaming of juicy mutton to notice myself that I was straying from my normal flight course to the Dragonmaw fortress. There was a sudden grunt of surprise from my slaver when he realized this, causing me to blink and throw back my head a little in my own surprise. I readied myself for the whip but felt none, instead he leaned forward in his seat to direct me downwards. It took me a moment to realize what he had found so intriguing: we were at the edge of the mainland and one of the many caves overlooking the Nether had a tendril of smoke spiraling lazily out of it. My wings beat faster; I was curious as to what this was. I caught a whiff of it, my stomach rumbled again. It wasn’t mutton but it smelled delicious. Whatever it was, it had to be good.

There was a small outstretch of land in front of the cave before it plunged deep into the Nether. I landed on it softly, my wings only stirring up a small amount of the heavy Shadowmoon dust. My slaver slide off my back with surprising silence; there was no usual whuff of the landing knocking air from his lungs. My head cocked to the side, I watched him with intense curiousity as he padded carefully towards the dark cave entrance. I hoped he wasn’t going to eat all the food without me.

A small shuffling noise inside the cave made him freeze where he was, his gaze fixed solidly on the thick darkness. I wondered if staring really hard gave him the ability to see in the dark.

The air burst into screaming and I reared up on my hind legs in surprise, wings spread wide. The screaming ended swiftly with two arrows sprouting from the center of my slaver’s chest. For a fraction of a second, he simply stood there. Then his sword was in his hand and he roared, but his roar was met by a deep snarl as something large and black barreled out of the cave and squarely into him. He staggered back, regaining his balance too late as a flash of white teeth opened up his arm and deep red blood surged down his armor. Another arrow flew past his neck, opening up another stream of blood on his right side. He thrust the sword forward and it caught the black creature on the leg, opening up a red gash in the coal coloured fur. A voice echoed from the cave, low and musical, speaking words that felt old and powerful. I watched with widened eyes as the wound on the creature stopped bleeding and began to close up on its own. Yet another arrow embedded itself in my slaver’s leg and I could hear the bony crunch come from his knee. He roared again, in pain this time as he fell. White teeth snapped at his throat. Then he lay still.

The dark-furred beast turned back towards the cave, limping and whimpering softly. Another creature materialized from the darkness–no, not a beast, but a humanoid, standing tall on two hoofed feet and the same colour as the beast…the same colour as my own scales. It feel down to its knees before the beast and for a moment I thought it was hurt. As my forelegs came down to touch the ground and my wings pulled themselves shut, I realized that the humanoid was healing the beast with the same strange words that had been spoken from the cave before. The cut on the beast’s hip closed easily, not leaving so much as a scar.

They both stared up at me then, the humanoid rising once again to its feet. It was the eyes that drew me the most. They did not glow red like the slavers’ nor a bluish-white like my own. In fact, they did not glow at all but dimly reflected the natural light back at me. They reminded me of a stone my slaver found once, a deep green one that always carried a little light in it no matter how dark the sky got. I wondered what if it hurt to have stones for eyes; I know my own eyes hurt when I got just sand in them.

The eyes flickered briefly to my slaver, and I followed that gaze. He was as he was before, albeit the pool of blood around him was getting bigger. I stared at him for a long moment to see if he would stand, twitch, or even breathe, but he did none of those. As I stared, I heard the soft thuds of the humanoids footsteps draw towards him and then it entered my vision. It gazed at him for a long moment too then brought its gaze to meet mine. I could only stare back at it blankly.

Carefully it nudged him a little, glancing at me for some sort of reaction. I gave none. The creature padded over and together they dragged and rolled him along the ground to the edge of the cliff. Throwing me one last look, they gave him a finally shove and he disappeared with a cloud of dust. I blinked. No one came back from the Nether.

The humanoid squatted and set to work cleaning up the blood and the drag marks. When it stood again, I could not tell where either had been.

“Are you hungry?”

I blinked again and stared at the humanoid. It was not a command but a genuine question. An expression came to light on its strangely elongated face, one that was comforting yet sad at the same time. I felt as though I had just seen something I had never experienced, but had always been searching for.

“There is meat and fish inside the cave,” it said again softly when I did not respond, the low voice beckoning.

My stomach gurgled loudly, answering for itself.

The humanoid’s expression formed what must have been a smile, but it was not hard like a slaver’s smile and reached all the way to its green stone eyes. It turned and made its way over to the cave with the beast bounding at its side. I found myself following in stride.

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