“Did you hear something?” Jain signed, keeping our pact of silence. We both froze. We had been hours in these woods with no sounds but our own breaths and our muffled footsteps. I heard nothing.
Suddenly, there was a cascade of shrieks and flaps. A torrent of crows burst across our sight and up into the sky. The sudden breeze also wafted to us a stench such as I’d never experienced.
Imagine a cadaver left out for days, saturated in mold and spoiling wine, being roasted slowly over a charcoal pit. The analogy came to me later, when Jain and I were recovering. At the time, I could only choke and try to cover my tearing eyes. Jain was doing likewise, but had the presence of mind to lift her shirt to aid in the task.
“What is that?” I signed rhetorically. Jain shrugged and pointed. I guessed she had seen where the crows had come from. Curiosity warred with pragmatism. We were still trying to make good speed. But gods I wanted to know what the crows’ feast was.
In the end, I simply nodded and followed her call. The stench had abated slightly. However, it grew stronger as we walked. No doubt we approached the source.
The first sign we had arrived were the trampled trees. This whole section of forest had been smashed flat. Ancient timber that had stood tall through the ages had been knocked over like saplings. In the center of it all, smoldering, lay an enormous corpse.
Hundreds of feet long stretched out. Dozens wide, not including the enormous flaps of leather that could only be wings. Reddish-black scales bedecked every inch, save those ripped open by crows. And, presumably, whatever had felled it.
I had never seen a dragon before that day.