The stag crashed through the snowdrifts in an attempt to make the tree line before the dragon could descend from above. Trenic could have remained invisible until the last moment, his steel grey coat blending with the grey of the morning overcast sky, but the sun had peeked out and sent his shadow to fall in the stag’s path. Now it was a race. A race the stag would lose. It was too far from the tree line. It didn’t have a chance.
Trenic had left the lair before sun break as soon as the storm had blown itself out. He wanted to get out before his father could catch up with him and tag along. His intention was to make a kill on the way to Austere’s hunting den. If he brought the kill along with him then there would be more time for the three of them to visit undisturbed before he and Zodic had to make it home before nightfall. His father would hold off that long, but if they didn’t show up by dark he would have every able bodied dragon out searching for them by morning. It they didn’t return on their own by nightfall it would be presumed that Zodic had not been found and Trenic was still searching and needed help.
The Furry dragon tucked his wings to his sides and picked up speed as he dove toward the fleeing buck. He struck it full force from above driving it into the snow and breaking its back. He followed that with a killing bite to the neck. It was a quick and merciful death. It took him a few minutes to work the huge buck out of the snow, but once he had it in his grasp, he headed toward the den where he hoped his friends would be waiting.
There was no sign of Austere or his friend when he arrived. He had severed the stag’s jugular and it was bleeding all over him and the snow in front of the den. He placed his kill under a stand of nearby trees and pushed a pile of snow over it to keep it from the smaller scavengers. When he turned back toward the den he was appalled at the bloody mess. Austere was going to kill him, marking her place like this. No game would come within a mile of the place now. The air reeked of the coppery smell.
Austere’s three older brothers were unaware she was not at her hunting den. They had no idea she was safe at home in the clan’s lair. They decided to fly over and check on her after the white-out of the day before. Surprise her. After all she was their little sister.
On their approach they saw the unfamiliar, very large Furry and all the blood outside the usually pristine and concealed hunting den. The Furry was pacing in agitation. If Austere had not been killed by the Furry, surely she was badly injured and hiding within the den. Enraged they dove from above in a fury to save their sister.
If it hadn’t been for a fluke cross wind off the lake that made one of the Frostie’s wings flutter, they would have been on Trenic without warning. As it was, Trenic heard the wing ruffle, had time to think it was from the opposite direction then where he thought Zodic and Austere would approach, and when he turned, it was into the face of three descending Frosties. He was able to crouch quickly enough to avoid two. One’s claws raked his back and he knew it drew blood. The third came in lower and when he hit he bowled Trenic over in the snow. The two rolled several yards before the Furry landed on his back with the Frostie above him.
Trenic started to yell for an explanation for the attack just as he was struck in the muzzle with a clawed paw. Blood flew into his eyes - his blood. Another of the Frosties joined in the fight. He growled and ripped at Trenics wing with claws and teeth. The Furry roared in pain. He placed his huge paw on the Frostie’s chest above him and flipped him in what Zodic would have recognized as ‘that killing maneuver.’ Trenic was on top now and he bit down hard on the Frosties neck as he put all his weight on the dragon’s chest. The Frostie was dead before he could take his next breath.
One of the brothers roared at the sight of the killing and jumped on Trenic’s back biting him viciously on the shoulder. The other was back at his wing, shredding it with tooth and claw in an endeavor to keep the larger Furry dragon grounded. Trenic roared and rose up to throw the two smaller Frost dragons off. When he was free, all he could think of was escape. He ran and as soon as he was clear, he leapt into the sky with the two remaining Frosties close behind.
“Oh, No!” Austere exclaimed as she and Zodic approached her hunting den.
The snow was stained with blood, as if it had rained it. There was a Frostie lying motionless a few yards from the entrance. She gave her wings a powerful down thrust and dove toward the Frostie.
Zodic landed beside her.
“It’s my brother, Morllo,” she cried.
She crouched and lifted his head gently in her paws. “Who would do this?”
Zodic wasn’t looking at her or her dead brother. He was looking at the tracks in the snow. There had been a fight here and Trenic was in it too.
“Your mother said you have three brothers?” Zodic asked.
Austere was not listening. She was leaning over her dead bother, crying.
“Austere? Do your bothers hunt together?” It was registering with Zodic that there were way too many tracks to be made by just Trenic and this one Frostie lying before them. Trenic had been fighting all three brothers. He had to find Trenic.
He thumped Austere with his wing edge. “Do they hunt together?” He demanded.
Austere looked up with tears streaming down her face. “What?” Her brain began to recover from the shock of losing a brother. There were two more out there that might be hurt, or dying. “Yes, they always hunt together.”
Zodic cursed under his breath and let out a fearsome growl.
“What?” Austere asked. She gently placed her brother’s head down and rose. For the first time she took a look at her surroundings and saw what Zodic saw. “We need to find them,” she breathed in shock.
“Those are Trenic’s paw prints,” Zodic indicated with a wave of his wing toward the snow around her brother’s body. “Maybe I should go alone.”
“No!” Austere almost shouted. “We need to find out what happened here. If you fly up on them fighting with Trenic, what will you do? You would have to join in against them.” She came to his side. “I can’t lose you,” she sighed through her tears.
“The blood trail goes that way,” Zodic pointed with a paw. “We need to hurry.”
Zodic spotted Trenic from the sky. His grey coat stood out starkly on the white of the snow. The field around him was speckled with pools of blood. Zodic knew he was dead before he reached him. Most likely the two Frosties had driven him to the ground. His left wing was shredded and his back bore a series of long oozing gashes where they had dove at him over and over again with claws extended.
Zodic landed at a run and hurried to his friend’s side hoping he was wrong. Praying he was wrong.
He nuzzled Trenic and felt the cool of death already creeping over his large frame. It was stupid, but the only thing he could think about was keeping his friend warm. He gently pushed the Furries shredded wings in close to his body. He lied down beside Trenic and placing a protective wing over him he buried his head in his friend’s shoulder and cried.
Austere lied on Zodic’s other side and tired her best to comfort her love. She nuzzled his neck and thought of her own lose as she shed more tears. What had happened? Why were her brothers and Trenic fighting?
An hour or so later, Austere nuzzled Zodic gently. “I have to go home,” she said. “My brothers will have gone back for Morllo’s body and taken it home.” She licked Zodic’s ear. “I have to find out what happened.”
“Go,” Zodic said softly. “You’re right, you should go.” He shrugged his shoulder which forced her muzzle away from his ear.
“Don’t let this drive us apart,” Austere said in a pleading voice. “I love you, Zodic.” She placed a wing over him and squeezed. “Remember that. I truly love you.”
Zodic felt her warmth leave his side and the chill started to spread through him, all the way to his heart.