_Restful_Sleep_ by http://www.furaffinity.net/user/dragontalon/
This story is rated PG for mild violence.
Petra ran hard, her lungs burning with the strain. Her hooves hit the dirt in a galloping pattern, mixing in with the sounds of her two brothers and parents as they ran. She risked a look back, nearly stumbling but catching herself and resuming the strain of trying to keep up with the rest of her family. The humans were RIGHT behind them. Her tail slashed behind her as she imagined the sting of their arrows sinking into her rump. She had heard the stories all her life of humans and their demon cursed weapons. Unicorns rarely had to fear humans and their like, able to sense an attack almost before it came, and backed into a corner, their horns could pierce any shield, deflect any blow. But not the those cursed by whatever demons some humans worshiped. These flew straight and when they hit, could drop a unicorn in their tracks... helpless as the humans came with their knives and obscene sacrificial rites.
"The Divide is right ahead! Jump hard... we can make it, but the humans can't!" said the great stallion as he thundered out of the sparse woods and into the open. The Divide was a great chasm that split the land for a hundred miles, a vast river flowing at the bottom. One rumor said it was created by a great wizard, another said the land shook for a dozen days and a dozen nights and when it was over, the huge crack was here. Whatever the cause, it was surely impassable by the humans on their mortal horses.
Petra spread out with the others, all racing to the edge. The humans were close, but too far to catch them. They were going to make it. She watched her father slam his hind hooves into the dirt and send him flying into the air. Then her mother, and brothers, and finally it was her turn. She slammed her hooves down in a giant leap, and stumbled! The edge of the ravine cracked under her foot and she sailed into the air, but not high enough!
The stallion landed hard, taking the strain on all fours and turned his head to watch his wife and sons land beside him. His joy turned to terror as he saw his youngest, his daughter come in low, too low! No! He saw her chest slam into the side of the ravine, her head flying forward to smack her nose hard onto the dirt, and then she was gone, her golden horn flashing in the light as she tumbled back out of sight into the ravine. "PETRA!" he screamed. He looked in fury across the ravine as the humans stopped just short of the ravine and began to loose those cursed arrows at him and his family. One flew near enough to send cold chills down his spine, nearly sending him to his knees. He saw his son stumble as one made a near miss. He whinnied, "GO!" as he turned and ran, not knowing if it was a blessing or a curse that he would not be able to look down for the body of his poor daughter. There was still danger. Who knew what magics the humans might have. The ravine would delay them, but not stop them, They had to reach their fellows, reach the safety of their ancestral woods. His blood burned as he fled, vowing revenge.
The lead hunter watched the herd escaping, angry that they were getting away. A whole family would have made him rich beyond his wildest dreams. A single young unicorn however would only make him rich. He looked across the ravine at the form of the smallest of the unicorns. He had seen her strike the side, and thought she was lost, but by instinct or luck her horn had slammed into the side of the ravine and she now hung there, perhaps two dozen feet below the edge. He knew she was still alive because her body had not turned to marble like all unicorns do at death. Not unless you have the spells and demons who could turn a worthless unicorn into something far more valuable. "We need to find a way across, and fast. If she falls we come away from this whole hunt with NOTHING! Mark this spot so we can find it again, and make for the nearest crossing" he ordered the other two riders. He still held his bow, wondering if he should try and pin the unicorn filly to the side of the wall to keep her from falling. He squinted, looking off to his left where the sun was shining bright in the mid-afternoon day. Did something move over there? He only looked UP when it was far, far too late.
Karth dove at the humans, coming at them right out of the sun like he had been taught. His flame turned the first into a screaming tower of fire, the second catching the arms of the next. It would not matter, dragon fire burned with a searing intensity and could not be put out if directly caught in the path of a dragons breath. The two horses were already collapsing, their heads burned away to ash as they took the brunt of the dragon flame. He lashed out with his tail, feeling the spikes rip into and through the third human, then he was turning into the ravine, leaving the humans and their hideous cursed weapons behind him. He wanted to grab that unicorn before she fell and deny the three humans even that small victory. He flapped his wings once to steady himself and screamed. His right wing burned, and a glance showed a gash in the membrane. He must have been hit, or somehow snagged one of their cursed weapons for only that could make such a minor wound hurt that badly. Luckily it was in just the wing membrane or he would already be falling. As it was, he knew it would only be a matter of time, and very little time before he could not fly at all.
Petra was only half conscious, the strain on her neck painful, her chest a mass of bruised flesh which ached every time she tried to draw a breath. She couldn't call out for her father, and had felt him leaving, abandoning her! She hung there, trying to call out but too dazed and out of breath to make a sound. She felt so exposed, hanging with the river so far below, her belly open to the arrows of the humans. She thrashed weakly, blacking out again and only coming to when she heard screaming. Then wings blotted out the sky as a creature from her nightmares made a curving swoop and yanked her free from the cliff, diving downward with her in it's clutches! It was all too much for her and she closed her eyes tight and waited for the jaws and talons to tear into her.
Karth grunted as he grabbed the unicorn in all fours. Even with working wings it would have been tricky. With one hurt he could hardly keep airborne. He did his best to level out but was dropping fast. There HAD to be someplace to land. As a last resort he could always land in the water, find a rock to rest on, but that would be risky and worse, wet! He scanned in front and blow with keen dragon eyes. There! A shadow of a cave. He angled in it's direction, the pain in his wing growing worse and worse. He came around and back-winged as hard as he could, his wing a mass of agony now. He let go of the unicorn with his back legs just in time to land on the lip of the ledge, hitting hard and tumbling into the cave, forearms holding onto the unicorn. His wing clipped the side and he screamed, pain exploding through the wounded limp and he collapsed into the the stone. He gasped, feeling the spread of the cursed wound flowing into the very bones of his wing, and knew he was finished. Stupid, stupid dragon! His head hit the stone, eyes closing as he slumped unconscious.
Petra gasped as she lay on her side, one leg pained from the rough landing. Eye eyes still closed she waited for the killing blow, and waited some more. Finally she opened one eye and quickly shut it again as she saw the red scales of the dragon right next to her. Minutes passed before she opened it again, this time opening her other eye as well to stare at the unmoving dragon. Was it dead? She wasn't sure if SHE was dead or not, she hurt so bad. But her healing powers had been hard at work, and with her neck no longer being under the strain of holding up the rest of her, she was able to at least breath again. She got up to her hooves, shakily but standing. She looked at the dragon and took a step back. One wing glowed an angry green. Not the shiny, ruby-like glint of the rest of him. She could tell at once he had been struck by the humans weapons. She could see the green slowly creeping up the main wing bone where it met his shoulders. She knew instinctively if it got that far, if it reached his heart, he would die. Good! He was a dragon, an enemy of all things good and pure, like unicorns! But... she didn't like seeing anything die. Not like this. He deserved a clean death. She gulped and lowered her horn, pointing at the dragons head. One quick thrust and she could make her escape and rejoin her family! He horn wavered. What had it been DOING here anyway? She remembered screams, the flash of fire. He had attacked the humans, she could remember that now that she wasn't strangling on her own weight. Then he pulled her off and took her here. Was this his lair? She looked at the wing, then at the dragons head, then back to the wing. He COULD have just dropped her, or torn her throat out. But he didn't. She watched the green creep ever closer, and made her decision, stabbing down with her horn.
Petra looked down at the river flowing far below. She sighed unhappily. The cave was a simple hole in the side of the ravine walls. There was no path down, except to jump into the rocky river which would be sure suicide. There was only one way out for her, and it was an iffy one. She turned around to face the dragon, now sleeping peacefully. It had been painfully and made her feel sick to touch her horn to the diseased wing, but she had healed the infection before it had reached the dragons body. It wasn't as big as she had thought. Those wings were huge, but the body was much smaller. Far bigger than she was, but not bigger than her father. A young dragon. She hoped she could convince, or threaten it to take her out of here. The cave was shallow and had no other exit. She saw the dragon twitch and stir and she lowered her horn at him, ready. With her between the dragon and the only exit it wouldn't leave this cave without her! And she certainly wasn't going to let it eat her!
Karth groaned, then winced as he moved his right wing. It was sore and felt like a giant had stepped on it, but the burning was gone. He opened his eyes to see an empty cave in front of him, then struggled to his feet. Turning he saw the little unicorn, her horn pointed at him. He sat down on his haunches, inspecting his hurt but untainted wing. "So.. you did this?" he asked.
Petra said, "I did.. and I can do a lot worse if you don't fly me out of here RIGHT NOW!" She stomped her foot and put on her bravest stare. She still wasn't sure if she had done the right thing.
Karth let out a snort of amusement, then lifted his wing with a wince. "Thanks for saving my life, but I won't be flying anywhere for a few days until it heals. I'll take you with me, don't worry."
Petra snorted in disappointment. She was far too young to heal physical injuries. That took skills she didn't posses. It was much easier to purify wounds, removing infections and poisons and spells. "Oh."
Karth inspected his wing and said, "Thanks. If I had been killed by those bastards I'd be pissed! Flame take the lot of them! Ha! It did. Two of them anyway, my tail did the rest."
Petra said, "You... killed them then?" She had been wondering if they had just been driven off, and wasn't sure if she was happy or sad they were dead.
"Of course I did! I kill any humans that carry those cursed weapons. They tremble in fear at my name and hide from any shadow in case it's my deadly form that cast it!" he said, puffing up his chest.
Petra asked, "How many have you killed?" She was impressed... all magical creatures were wary of demon cursed weapons.
Karth looked guarded, "Including the three of them?"
Petra nodded, uneasy with sharing the cave with a killer.
Karth coughed and said, "Three."
Petra couldn't help but giggle.
Karth harrumphed and folded his wing gingerly against his side, "I'll kill more. I will!"
Petra took a few steps closer into the cave, her fear of the dragon now less than her fear of stepping back and falling out of the cave to her death. "Why? Did they hunt you like they hunted my family?" she asked. She gasped, "Did they kill them....?"
Karth shook his head, "Dragons don't have families like you do. We hatch and when we are old enough are driven out into the world. No... I just don't like what they DO. Catching creatures with magic like you or I. Corrupting your horns, trapping your souls in them and using them for obscene rituals and rites. Making armor out of dragon hide, using our skulls for helms, draining out blood while we still live for potions. It's disgusting!"
Petra nodded, "Why did you save me.. after you killed them?"
Karth said, "Because they wanted you dead! Anything they want, I will not rest until I stop them." He yawned and settled down onto the floor. "My wing hurts..." he said grumpily, eyes lowering as the toll of his fire-breathing, near death experience and now injured wing finally came due. "Maybe we can try to get out tomorrow."
Petra nodded, yawning as well and realizing she too was exhausted. It was draining to use her powers to heal another. She stepped further into the cave, the air cold as it came up from the shadows of the ravine. She shivered a bit and said, "So... you won't eat me then?"
Karth snorted, eyes still closed, "No." He didn't fear the unicorn and her little horn. Besides, if she wanted to kill him she had plenty of chances before now.
Petra watched the dragon sigh and grow still and she looked around at the cold floor unhappily. She missed her parents and brothers. She settled down but didn't like how close she still was to the edge. She looked at the dragon and thought it would be MUCH safer over there...
Karth held his breath as he heard the soft sound of hooves drawing nearer, his scales itching as the unicorn walked right up to him. Was she going to stab him? He opened an eye just a crack, watching as she gently eased herself down next to him, making a pillow of her tail and laying her head down on it. She sure was soft. He let out his breath and closed his eye. He supposed she could lay there. Was this why humans liked their funny blankets to sleep with? He curled his tail a little tighter around himself and the unicorn and drifted off to sleep.
Petra too let sleep take her, the dragons scales warm against her side as she leaned into him.
It was a long, lonely and cold night, but neither dragon nor unicorn felt either.
This was a short story inspired by the title image above. I had vague ideas about these two for some time, but seeing Fortuna's artwork crystallized the idea into this.
It's rather different than my usual work, but I liked it. So here it is. On of the few published stories of mine not related to my FotU series.