Taya picked up her bow and arrows and began scanning the area from where she had heard the rustling sound. Given the distance to the edge of the woods and the sounds that she heard, she suspected that it was a wild pig. She looked around and saw Silverfoot sleeping peacefully, so Taya moved carefully so as not to spook the horse. Creeping toward her prey for several minutes gave her senses time to focus in on the target. She was a good hundred and fifty feet from where she last heard the rustling sound. The dense woods to her right was dark and overshadowed. Dense foliage had grown up in this area, making visibility in this section of the woods difficult. If the pig made a break for the briars, she would not have time to get more than one shot off. Yet something seemed strange about the briars and the blackness in the woods beyond.
A snapping twig to her left caused Taya to turn quickly. Drawing back on her bow, she watched as the creature charged toward her. Taya let fly the arrow, which overshot the target slightly, but the near-miss was enough to redirect the pig. It headed straight for the safety of the briars.
Taya frantically grabbed another arrow and knocked it. At nearly two hundred feet, she adjusted her angle to account for the added distance and fired. The pig disappeared into the thicket. A split second later, the arrow followed it into the darkness.
"Roar!" A loud feminine growl echoed from the darkness.
Taya immediately realized that the sound she heard was not a wild pig, but something different, and judging from the volume much larger.
"What's the big idea shooting someone while they're asleep!" The voice boomed, followed by the sounds of rustling coming from something massive.
Taya took a few steps back but kept her eyes on the darkened area. "I'm sorry," Taya called out.
The sound of Taya's voice immediately alerted Silverfoot, who sensed the approaching creature and began to protest in earnest.
Taya turned back and ran to the horse to settle her down. "It's okay."
"Sorry?" The booming voice spoke as a sizable red head poked its way through the thicket. It was followed by a long, scaly neck that curved its way down to a large red body. "What moron shoots an arrow without first knowing where it is going to end up?"
Taya’s heart raced. The creature, though small for its size, was a very upset dragon. Unaffected by the briars, it stomped its way through them. She noticed her arrow protruding from a small hole in the dragon’s left-wing. It appeared to have pinned it to the side of the dragon's body by lodging itself under one of its scales. "I was aiming for the pig that ran into the thicket where you were . . . sleeping?"
"And that's another thing," the red dragon continued marching toward Taya. "The entire forest and this pig decides to pick the small corner where I had chosen to lay down for a little two-week nap. Pigs these days."
Judging from the way the arrow lodged itself into the dragon, Taya decided it was not injured. It was probably more annoyed than anything. "Please accept my sincere apology. Taya, daughter of Silverwood at your service."
The red dragon stopped and looked at her. She was still about fifty feet away, but she was still twice as tall as Silverfoot. "You're of Silverwood?" The dragon asked cautiously.
"Yes," Taya answered. "I am actually . . ." Taya paused to consider her words for a moment. She decided she should not trust this dragon just yet. Her thoughts recalled the only other dragon she had known. Speedsting was one of the kindest creatures she had ever met during her many journeys. She knew that fact did not prove anything. "I am from Dayspring."
"I thought you said you were a daughter of Silverwood?" The dragon snorted.
"I am, but I grew up in Dayspring," Taya clarified.
"Oh, that seems odd." The dragon turned to walk away.
"Where are you going?" Taya called after it.
"I'm on a quest," the dragon replied, still marching back into the woods.
"Can't I at least help you with that arrow sticking through your wing?" Taya offered politely.
The dragon stopped. "I had forgotten about that." The red dragon turned its large head and gently bit down on the arrow shaft. "Moo woo wan nit mack?"
Taya shook her head. The dragon tried to say something, but either it was speaking in a different language, or her hearing just quit on her. "I'm sorry, what was that you said?"
The dragon moved its mouth away from the arrow. "Do you want it back?"
"Want what back?" Taya was confused.
The dragon dropped its head and then shook it side to side. "The arrow I'm about to extract from my side. Would you like me to try and not break it in two when I pull it out so you can have it back?"
Taya considered the kindness of the dragon in this already embarrassing situation. Her arrow supply was limited; however, she knew she could craft more if she ran low. "I would not worry about it."
"Fine," the dragon bit down on the shaft again and snapped its head sideways, pulling the arrow free with a crack. The dragon spat it out on the ground. "Good wood," the dragon commented. "Dagmoor, I believe."
"You can tell by tasting it?" Taya was amazed.
The dragon stopped and twisted her long neck around rather abruptly and looked back at Taya. "I may be only a hundred and twenty-one years old, but I know a thing or two about the qualities of wood. Given the fact that it didn't splinter when I set my jaw on it, told me right away that it was a tough wood."
"You are a hundred and twenty years old?" Taya could not believe it.
Tuffs of smoke drifted from the dragon's nose as she snorted softly. "A hundred and twenty-one. Do I look younger?"
Taya realized she had embarrassed herself and possibly the dragon. "No . . . I mean you look fine . . . it's just I have only met one other dragon before, and he was ancient, but he was smart and wise. His name was Speedsting. He lives inside a dead volcano in the Outerlands."
The dragon sat down, and its long tail whipped through the grass. She reached up and scratched her chin. "Speedsting, I think I've heard that name before."
"Wait a minute; you don't know the names of all the dragons?" Taya laughed in surprise.
The dragon started marching back toward Taya in a determined fashion. "Excuse me? Do you know the names of every elf, miss she-elf?"
Taya considered the question for a moment. "Of course not, but there are still quite a few elves around."
"And you might be surprised at how many dragons there still are in the Outerlands and other realms," the red beast countered. "Just because you don't see us, it doesn't mean we're not there. Dragons are a relatively anti-social group. We choose not to mingle a whole lot."
"So why are you talking to me?" Taya wondered.
"Well," the dragon thought, "because I haven't had a good conversation in well over a year, and I'm about due for one."
"You haven't spoken to anyone in a year?" Each new fact she learned about this dragon continued to surprise her.
"I didn't say that," the dragon corrected her, "I said I hadn't had a conversation with anyone. I consider conversation an interaction between two people for the purpose of learning about one another or discovering new information. I've talked to others, but not part of any real conversation. For example, is the fishing good in this lake? Do you suspect it's going to get cold this winter? Do you know anything about an heiress to the throne of Silverwood? Those kinds of things."
Taya stiffened at the last question. This dragon could be a problem, and given her current situation, she was not sure she should be taking on a dragon, even a young one, by herself. She decided to explore the dragon's intentions a little further before making a run for it. "That last question seems like an odd one. Why would a dragon such as yourself, care about an heir to Silverwood?"