It was early morning and heavy breathing rumbled the air. The sun was up and there was dew on the grass coating the mountainside. Up here, there were only small patches of scorched earth, but below, several of the thatch-roofed houses still burned while a trail of black smoke rose above them. Jak had run after his father grabbed him out of bed and dragged him outside. Their home was one of the few still burning in the morning light. He could see it though the thinning smoke. The small speck of brown his father would confine him to when he went out hunting. The house was big enough to spend at least a few hours before getting completely bored.
His father hurried with the other men of the village to put out the fires as quickly as they could. They’d been at it for hours already. Jak simply watched from the mountainside. He had run away at first from the intense heat. He didn’t know exactly where he had been heading, but he had climbed halfway up the mountain when he finally turned back and saw the half the village on fire. From up here, he thought it looked like a small fire, but he had never been this far from the village before and the heat was far away. The sun filled the sky and the cold began to leave his bones, so he decided to venture further up to search for the creature responsible. The men of the village would start a search party to find the creature. They always did, and they always came back disappointed, but Jak had heard something in the night and as he drew closer he could feel the rumbling in his chest.
Inside the small cave, toward the back, was the source. Little light came in from the entrance, but Jak could see the scales shifting. The large wings and long tail. The horns behind the eyes and the canines protruding from its jaw. It couldn’t have been larger than a horse. Jak drew closer. He convinced himself only to run when the breathing stopped its steady rhythm though he knew it might be too late once that happened. He crept ever closer. All he needed was a scale as proof that he had found the creature. Without any proof, no one would believe him. Even his own father who would more than likely become embarrassed at the ridiculous declaration after he and many others had searched the mountain for the beast dozens of times.
There was no practical way to remove a scale without waking it, but Jak had spotted one lying on the cavern floor beside a half-eaten rib-cage of a goat. It sparkled in the sun and rattled on the ground with every breath the beast took. Though it was merely a few feet from the creature’s head, Jak refused to turn away. He had come this far despite the stink and the raw remains and the fear. He had inched ever so slowly until he was close enough now that if the breathing had changed, he would be dead before he drew a breath of his own. He could see the blood and a piece of bone stuck to the creature’s lower jaw, but the scale was only inches away. He reached. He tried not to shuffle his feet against the stone floor. He reached and touched the scale. He concentrated on it so closely that he forgot everything else, and he never noticed that the breathing had stopped. The rumble had disappeared.
Then a deafening roar filled the cave and fire erupted from the creature’s mouth. Jak’s eyes had just enough time to widen before they were consumed in flame. His clothes burned from his flesh. The few pieces of leather shriveled and fell away. He was frozen in a crouch as the creature unleashed the fire on him and he knew he would be turned to ash.
But the fire vanished and its heat with it. The creature looked at Jak in confusion and curiosity. Head cocked to the side like a dog. Jak rose and looked at his unburned flesh. The dark specks could have simply been dirt. He turned toward the creature and smiled.