As they continued up the mountain, Ana wanted to turn back and look. She could feel it stalking behind them, and with four legs and better grip of the mountain it was moving much faster than she could. Despite her certainty that it was gaining on them, she stopped. Dray turned back at her with a questioning look.
There was something else on this mountain, and she didn’t know if it was worse than the mountain lion or just an unknown. Either way, she knew it was coming. She could feel it in her bones.
Dray waved her forward, but she remained where she was. “Now,” he whispered hoarsely through clenched teeth. He looked far less worried than he sounded, and she sidestepped just as the mountain lion landed where she had been standing.
It growled loudly, but although it was close enough to take Ana’s head from her shoulders, it didn’t move. Dray’s hand was tight around his sword. It wasn’t clear if he was waiting to see if he could move faster than the animal or if it would lose interest first.
The growl in its throat grew louder, and Ana felt it resonate through her. Instead of stepping forward with his sword drawn, Dray stepped backwards. Ana squeezed her eyes closed. She could feel it coming, moving faster than an avalanche down the mountainside. She looked then, in fear it was an avalanche, to see deep red scales as the large head closed around the mountain lion. She blew out a slow breath.
She held up her hand, and Dray lowered the sword he’d had ready to drive into the side of the beast. “Step back slowly,” he said.
“I think if it wanted to eat me, it would have,” Ana said.
“It might be saving you for a treat.”
“What is it?” she asked, reaching a hand towards its warm face. It turned to look at her with the blackest eyes, and steam blew about her, warming her cold frame.
“Are you serious?” Dray snapped, and the beast turned its head towards him.
Whatever the beast was, it was huge. The head alone was the same height as Dray. More steam swirled around her, and she stepped forward to place a hand on its face. Strange images raced through her mind, the world from far above, trees as small dots and villages like toys amongst green fields. Then fighting, swords and men and blood, but she couldn’t see who was fighting whom or what colours they wore.
She pulled her hand back quickly. The animal pulled back from her and folded in large leathery wings that she hadn’t noticed until they rustled with the movement. It was almost as long as the bridge to Sheer Rock.
“Dragon,” Dray whispered. It turned back to him again and then back to Ana.
“Do they exist?” she asked, looking at the bulk before her. It snorted again, and she smiled. Then she frowned. “Why is there a dragon here?”
“Maybe it lives in the mountains.”
“Could you carry us up the mountain?” she asked, and the large black eye blinked.
“What are you doing?” Dray asked, pushing himself between her and the dragon. “Do you want to be food?”
“He seems to like us,” she said.
Dray turned to face her so suddenly that she squealed, and as he put his hand to her face, the dragon nudged him away. She could tell it didn’t intend to hurt him, but it was enough to knock him down.
“What are you doing?” Ana asked, unsure to whom she was asking the question.
The dragon pulled back. Dray sat amongst the rocks and glared at her. “I think you have lost your mind,” he said.
“He could help,” she said.
“I saw something,” she said softly. She hadn’t seen him in the vision she’d had as she touched the dragon, but she knew he was there.
“What did you see?” Dray asked, as he climbed to his feet and dusted himself off.
She shook her head. “It wasn’t very clear. Fighting.”
“Who was fighting?”
“I couldn’t tell that either.”
“We need to keep moving,” he said.
She nodded. The dragon slowly turned as she started forward and followed along behind as they moved up the mountainside. Tim had once had a puppy who had followed him wherever he went, and when he grew and the puppy became a dog, it never left his side. They had both cried the day that old dog had died, but as Ana glanced back at the dragon following behind her, she had the same idea. Dray did not appear as happy about their new friend. The dragon made very little noise, other than the trees it pushed over as it walked.
“It came from nowhere,” Dray said.
Ana stopped and looked at him. The dragon stopped with her, and its warm breath washed over her.
“I felt him before he arrived,” Ana said, then took in the look on Dray’s face. “I knew there was something else out there, something scarier than the mountain lion, but I didn’t know if it was more dangerous to us.”
“He doesn’t seem to be.”
And then, before she could suggest again that it might help them find a way up the mountain or over it, the dragon took to the air and disappeared.
“You scared him,” she snapped at Dray. He stopped and sighed as he looked at her with disappointment. She looked back at the ground and kept moving. She had no idea of this supposed skill she had, of seeing what others thought. Or was it their skill? she wondered.
“He scared me,” Dray murmured, and she smiled.