(apologies to Harvey Tyson)
The two of us were elbow deep in mud. Water was dripping down my neck, and rolling, in icy driblets, between my shoulders. We were lying on our stomachs peering out from our hastily contrived hide. Our binoculars were glued to our faces.
The steady torrent of rain caused the scene to constantly flicker and shift. All colour was bleached into a drab grey-green. Something flickered in my peripheral vision.
I nudged my partner in the ribs, using the angle of my head to indicate the direction of my sighting. Both of us zoned into the spot: a dark, leafy cave at ground level, some one thousand five hundred meters away to our left. The rain and the distance were nearly enough to filter the stench of carrion from our noses.
“Lair?” I used the standard hand signal. Whilst not seeing too well, the target of my expedition could hear exceptionally well.
“Immature male” was the signalled response.
“Only one?” I had caught the merest suggestion of movement. Not enough to see colour, or reliably predict shape or size.
“One LBJ” was the silent reply.
Little Brown Job? So that meant it may be our Mega but then, it could just as easily turn out to be a Chook. Unfortunately, the young of the species we were hunting for was easily confused with many more ubiquitous breeds. Fortunately, my partner was a legendary jizzer. He could identify breed, sex, and even age by the mere movement of underbrush.
I had spent months doing my research. I had minutely studied and learned to identify the habitat and season that the Xenica was likely to make its rare and brief appearance. I had read all the manuals, and listened to all the lore-masters, dead and alive.
Due to a rather unfortunate flaw in my personality, I had also claimed, out loud, in front of the rest of the local twitching community, that I was going to list the Xenica. So, now I was committed, and would not be able to face down a failure. To dip out afforded one the worst forms of ridicule imaginable to a dedicated lister.
I lay, rigidly still, breathing shallowly through my mouth, to filter out the intensifying smell of the lair. Slowly the rain thinned to a dismal drizzle. The heat of my body and the coolness of the rain had caused a slight mist to film the eye piece of my binoculars. A malevolently red and black millipede-like bug trundled centimeters past my left elbow. The larger, more dangerous fauna knew better than to dawdle in or around a Xenica’s range, so we were safe in that regard.
Suddenly, a diamond-shaped, bronze-scaled head popped out between the foliage fringing the cave. My heart began pounding at an alarming rate. Almost immediately, a second poked out. It was larger … and definitely a mature female Xenica. I bit ferociously down on my nearly released crow of delight.
The two animals sniffed the air and, in ominous unison, turned their jewelled heads towards our hideout. The blood in my veins froze. My mouth dried out, and the palms of my hands began to sweat. My heart fluttered, ineffectually in my chest. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
“Stay” my partner signalled, silently and slowly. It was at that point that I realised that I had lost voluntary control of my body. I lay paralysed as the two dragons continued to stare at us intently. They shrugged through the tangled curtain of branches and vines and came to stand, facing us, just outside the lair.
They were still over a klick away, but that did nothing to diminish the size of them. The adult was at least nine meters long, and although classified as a lightweight, came in at a solid eight metric tonnes. The white flash along her crown, nape and mantle were unmistakable, as were the distinctive black edged white bars across her primaries. The youngling was half her size, and mottled in shades of brown.
Suddenly, the pair turned their heads to the open airspace to our right. An immature Regal Copper crashed through the forest headed straight for them. The youngling ducked into the cave, and the panicked female took to the air into the claws of the interloper.
Half the size of the Regal Copper, she was doomed from the moment she left the ground. The brief battle that ensued was as bloody as it was terrible. Their roars rang in the air, as their tangled bodies tumbled through the air. Suddenly they disengaged, and the small Xenica crashed lifeless to the undergrowth.
Without breaking the rhythm of his flight, the Regal Copper banked towards us, and disappeared into the jungle over our heads.
With shaking hands, I folded up my binoculars, and stowed them in their case.
Reference: Wikipedia, List of dragon breeds (Tremeraire). [Jan 2015]
Copyright Kim Magennis 2015