It was hard to tell the time of day underneath the trees, but Fescu guessed it was around noon when something above the treetops began following him. The rustling sound was always above and behind him.
He constantly turned to glance upward. The shadow the thing cast through the canopy was of no small size. Fescu’s heart began to race. What thing that large could frolic so lightly upon the treetops, and why was it following him? Fescu thought of everything that was larger than him that had wings, and how most of those things were carnivorous. Thoughts of self-defense flickered across Fescu’s mind. He’d always been taught to talk to predators. A lot of predators, when not starving, wouldn’t eat a creature who could talk to them in their own language—except for manticores. The only creatures that manticores wouldn’t eat were other manticores, and the winged variety occasionally claimed territory in the Irids. Fescu silently prayed to Omnii that this was not what was stalking him above the forest canopy.
Fescu persisted through the forest, considering his options, with the thing still trailing him. If the thing was a manticore, he’d need his bow and arrows. Yet if it was merely a curious creature, his weapons might make it feel threatened and it would be compelled to attack him.
Fescu tired of debating the myriad of possibilities to which there would be no end unless he discovered what this creature was and what it wanted. He stopped, turned around, and cupped his hands to the sides of his mouth as he shouted at the shadow far above him. “Good creature above the trees, can you hear me?”
The shadow halted. The thin top branches bent under the full weight of the creature. Fescu watched a face push through the branches high above him. He couldn’t tell what the creature was, other than it was colored like the sky. Apparently it could see Fescu better than he could see it, for it held still, studying him.
“Hello!” Fescu called, relieved that this creature was allowing him to see it, for he assumed this was a sign of peace. “My name is Fescu. I’m a Lyonii Virii. Who are you?”
“My name is Woth. I’m a racing dragon,” the creature announced.
Fescu didn’t know what it meant by “racing”, but the “dragon” part of the creature’s title made his heart duck under his lungs in fear.
The dragon wriggled further down the treetop. Fescu could see its entire head—which did not look scaly like a typical dragon but more like a furry creature—down its long, wide neck to its front legs. It had a muzzle and not a beak, which meant the dragon was male. “You can speak dragon?” the dragon asked, peering at Fescu with curiosity.
“Virii can speak to all creatures,” Fescu explained, hoping that this conversation was convincing the dragon that talking to a meal was unnerving and therefore unappetizing. “It’s good to meet you, Woth the racing dragon.”
It was hard to see through the branches, but it looked to Fescu that the dragon was sniffing the air. In a suddenly swift movement, the dragon rushed down the tree, his long body weaving through the branches swifter than flooding water. This startled Fescu, and he only had taken a few steps backward when the creature’s giant muzzle was suddenly an inch away from his own face.
The brief look Fescu got of the creature reminded him of a giant weasel because of its long, narrow body and flexibility. It was hard to see exactly what this creature looked like with its face too close to his own, sniffing the air around him. Fescu hadn’t seen the dragon’s wings, but assumed he had them pressed closely to his body due to the crowding trees. What Fescu could see, however, was that this dragon was completely covered with furry blue feathers instead of scales, and he had a soft, pink nose. This dragon had to be from Auroria, the Sky Realm, for there was no other place a feathered dragon would be from.
“It is you!” the creature exclaimed happily.
“What’s me?” Fescu asked with wide eyes. The color drained from his face at the sight of the creature’s extremely carnivorous-looking smile and the feel of oven-hot breath on his face.
“The scent I’ve been following! It’s you. You smell absolutely delicious!”
The creature licked Fescu’s face the same time Fescu defensively reached for his knife, resulting in Fescu stumbling backwards and landing on his back with the giant creature on top of him. Fescu tried to push the dragon away, but the creature easily pushed his hands effortlessly aside to continue licking and sniffing Fescu’s face.
“What are you doing?” Fescu asked nervously when the creature started licking his hair. Fescu was relieved not to have the creature’s mouth on his face with its nostrils puffing hot air that curled his eyelashes. Perhaps the reason Fescu wasn’t already torn to pieces was that the dragon meant to cook him first.
The dragon responded with a disapproving snort as he reared back his head and tried to wipe some of Fescu’s long black hairs off his pink tongue. The dragon appeared to be growing frustrated. Once the hair was removed, the dragon nipped Fescu’s arm with his monstrous fangs. Fescu yelped in terror and the creature licked the blood off his sleeve, then promptly spat it out in disgust. He scowled at Fescu and asked, “Why do you smell so good and taste so bad? Yuck!”
The dragon started sniffing Fescu’s face and hair again, then started working his way down Fescu’s chest, searching for the flavor it could smell. Fescu had mixed feelings of relief and terror. It seemed that this creature did not have an appetite for him, yet the largeness and the closeness of the dragon’s deadly muzzle prodding his body did not quiet his fear that it would suddenly decide to take a large bite out of him.
The dragon started licking again, for he found a spot on Fescu’s stomach that he liked. Fescu looked down his chest. The dragon was licking a stain Fescu hadn’t yet washed out of his jacket.
“Oh!” Fescu exclaimed, “I know what you’re looking for!”
The creature looked again at the Virii.
“You smell pie. I spilled some on me, but what you want is in my bag. I’ll give you a piece if you get off of me.”
The dragon didn’t hesitate to remove himself from Fescu, looking happy again. “What is pie?”
Fescu staggered onto his feet as he hurriedly searched through his bag. He held a sloppy piece of Darnda’s mashed up pie in his hand and offered it to the dragon. “Pie is the most wonderful thing in the world, and I’m happy to share it with you if you don’t hurt me.”
With a look of delight, the feathered dragon sniffed Fescu’s outstretched hand then vigorously licked up the gooey pastry. A look of ecstasy filled the dragon’s face as the aromatic pie piece crossed his taste buds and slid down his long throat. The dragon licked Fescu’s hand some more, making sure he cleaned up every drop of pie filling. When he completely polished Fescu’s hand he stopped, sat his long body down, struck a vain pose, and stared at Fescu as if the Virii was about to do something wonderful.
Fescu wasn’t sure what to do next. The dragon continued to stare at him.
“Aren’t you going to scratch my ears?” the dragon asked frankly. “You fed me. Now scratch my ears. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Everyone likes to scratch my ears.”
Fescu jumped to the task, smiling. Now that he knew this apparently domesticated dragon was only here because of its sweet tooth, he found the creature charming and funny. Fescu did as he was instructed and then began to stroke the creature’s neck, which felt like mink fur, but on fluffy feathers. The creature rubbed his head against Fescu, which nearly knocked him over. “Are we friends now, Woth the racing dragon?” Fescu asked, laughing.
“Yes!” chirped the dragon. “I like you. You smell good.”
“But I taste nasty?” Fescu asked for reassurance. The place where Woth had bit him still bled.
“Virii creatures taste gross,” Woth affirmed. “I won’t eat Virii. You can be my land friend, and I will be your sky friend. I want more pie, please.”
Fescu grinned. A wonderful idea came to him, now that he wasn’t afraid for his life. “Are you friends with Angels, Woth?”
“Yes! Angels are nice. I’m friends with Angels. They made me a racing dragon!”
“Are there Angels nearby?”
“There are!” the dragon nodded enthusiastically. “Lots of Angels. They’re on that cloud over there.”
“I will give you a whole pie if you take me to them,” Fescu offered.
Woth tilted his head with a thoughtful expression. “Only creatures with wings belong in Auroria. I don’t know if I should take you.”
“I only want to visit Auroria, the way you visit the land,” Fescu assured. “I’m on a quest, and it requires that I must visit Auroria and talk with Angels. It’s very important to me.”
The creature looked like it was considering Fescu’s words.
Fescu was so close to an easy trip to one of the most difficult Realms to get to. He was willing to do anything. “How about,” he offered with a wide grin, “I tell you where you can find lots of pies if you take me to Auroria.”
Woth’s ears perked up. “You know where the pies live?”
“Where do they live?” the dragon asked eagerly. “Are they far?”
“No, the pies aren’t far—at least not for you, since you can fly. They’re in a city called Solas Lunias.” Fescu couldn’t help but chuckle at the amusing vision of a feathered dragon searching the streets of a shocked Solas Lunias for pies.
“Yes!” Woth nearly shouted. “Yes, I will take you to Auroria for lots of pies! I love pie!”
“Can we go there now?” Fescu couldn’t stop smiling for how lucky he was.
“Not yet. First I need a snack. I’m famished!” The dragon used his head to point behind Fescu. “South of us is a lake. That’s where I was headed when I smelled you. I’m going fishing, because I like fish. Big fish. I’ll go to the lake now and you can meet me there. I’ll take you to Auroria after I’m done eating.”
“Is the lake far?” Fescu sounded slightly disappointed.
“Not at all. You can see it through the trees. I like you so much I’ll catch you a fish. Do you like fish?”
“I do. But it has to be cooked first. That might take too much time.”
Woth laughed and puffed a small blast of flame from his mouth. “I cook everything I eat! Do you like big or small fish?”
Fescu imagined that a “small” fish to this dragon would probably be something like a sturgeon. Fescu held his hands in front of him, measuring a piece of air about the width of his chest. “I like very small fish.”
Woth smiled. “Lots of very small fish will be waiting for you at the lake! Hurry hurry!” The giddy dragon sped up the tree he had come down from, then lifted off with a jump that broke one of the branches.
Fescu immediately hurried southward toward the hints of lake sparkling through the trees. He thought he could hear a muffled splash of the dragon diving into the water. Fescu was amazed at his luck. An easy trip to Auroria not even a week after leaving home!