SSS FINALIST: Dragon Slayer _Story by Metablue, finalist of the [Skins Story Slam]( *** Something wasn’t right. Tia couldn’t get the thought out of her head. All day she’d felt… uneasy. It wasn’t as though she’d found evidence of bandits, or worse, Noxian scouts. That type of uneasiness she knew all too well, living so close to the border. No, this was something different. It was a feeling she’d never encountered before, almost animalistic. For once in her life she felt that she could empathise with the shagyak and white elk she hunted. She could almost see herself in her mind’s eye, head raised and ears pricked, alert to the fact that something was out there, waiting. Watching. She shook herself, falling back to reality. Now wasn’t the time for daydreams. If she wanted that new bow Arglaive had brought into market a few days ago then she was going to need to focus on the hunt. She needed to bring down something special. Fortunately, she’d discovered what she suspected to be tuskvore tracks earlier that morning. It was strange for the beast to descend so far down the mountains, one of the many contributing factors to her uneasiness. Tia shivered slightly as an eddy of winter air brushed past her cheek, taking her thoughts with it. _Come on Tia_, she chided herself. _Time to move._ The tracks were easy to follow. Tuskvores were temperamental beasts at the best of times, and this one was no exception. Trees wept sap from jagged gashes in their trunks and a trench had been gouged through the snow, evidence that something big had passed through. Something big and angry. She followed the tracks as they ascended the mountain, doing her best to ignore the fact that everything was so silent. Normally the cries of rough-feather eagles could be heard far above, alongside the chattering of squirrels who sought refuge in the hollows of Demacian pines. Right now the only thing she could hear was the light crunch of snow under her boots as she stepped forwards, the chill of the air her only companion. Instinctively her hand moved to the heavy bow on her back, the wood smooth on her fingertips. She felt her doubts lift a little. _I can handle this. It’ll be fine._ With that thought her pace quickened. It took an hour of tracking until she reached the clearing. Once again her uneasiness returned as she noticed how odd it was for the beast to only ascend such a short distance. Sure enough, at the far edge of the clearing lay the tuskvore. Tia crouched down low, shifting her bow forwards from her shoulder to her hand and nocking an arrow to the string. The tuskvore was sound asleep, its back facing towards her in a common defensive pose employed by the species. The skin on its back would be far too thick for her arrows to penetrate, even with a bow like hers. She was going to need to get closer. She began the slow crawl to the creatures right, grateful for the snow that was now dampening any sounds she made. By the time she had made it to a suitable position her toes had well and truly gone numb, the cold seeping through her boots. _The sooner this is over with, the better._ She raised her bow, the weapon sliding naturally in her hands as she began to pull her shooting arm back, the string an extension of her body. She paused. The feeling had returned, now stronger than ever. She stared at the tuskvore, unsure of what she was looking for. Then she realised. _It’s not breathing._ Shards of fear grew from her doubts, forcing their way through her veins. Her heart sprinted ahead of her, and suddenly she was standing on the other side of the tuskvore, staring in disbelief at its mutilated underbelly, the snow around it growing crimson petals that slowly expanded as she stood, frozen. _What could have done this?_ Something growled from across the clearing. Then it roared. *** _That sound_. He knew it all too well. It was the sound of a challenge. The man rose from where he had been examining the charred remains of a flock of shagyak, their blackened bones still exhuming the scent of burning flesh. His armour slid against itself, creating a faint ringing of steel on steel. He cocked his head, his horned helm casting his face in shadow. He was still for a moment. Then, slowly and deliberately, he crouched down. Underneath his helmet, he smiled. *** Tia was in trouble. She knew that from the fact that across the clearing now stood a dragon. Strangely her first thought was that it was smaller than she’d expected, but she’d only heard the tales told by that half-wit Rigurd back in the tavern. That braggart could make an iciclehog sound like a frost troll, so she couldn’t say she was surprised. Of course that didn’t make her any less afraid. The dragon’s scales began to pulse like hot coals, light flowing up to its neck. As it began to open its maw she realised what was happening and broke herself out of her stupor, rolling to the side just in time to avoid a stream of molten flame. The snow crackled and popped as ice and fire fought against one another, the mixture of hot and cold air blasting past Tia’s face. _I’m going to die here._ Despite the futility of the situation she forced down her fears, bringing her bow to bear and firing. The arrow hit the dragon on the armoured part of its head, bouncing off harmlessly. It shook itself, glaring at her before roaring. Even its breath felt dangerously hot, like when she used to get too close to the fire as a kid. _Great, now I’ve just pissed it off._ The dragon lowered itself, its muscular haunches bunching up in preparation to jump. Tia closed her eyes and braced. This was it. She would never forget the sound she heard next. It was impossible to describe, although she’d try at the tavern later that night. The closest she’d be able to get would be to say it was as though the mountain itself had split in two before flying back in on itself with a mighty crash. A shockwave passed through her body, leaving her with a tingling feeling in her stomach and a metallic taste in her mouth. Her eyes shot open to see a figure in ornate armour crouched between her and the dragon. A few metres away the beast lay on its side, stunned. The armoured figure didn’t hesitate, leaping forward with inhuman speed, bringing to bear a spear and shield the likes Tia had never seen before. A small plume of rocks and snow flew from his feet as he slid to a stop next to the dragon, simultaneously pulling back his spear and unleashing a flurry of precise strokes to its soft underbelly. The dragon roared in pain, swinging its head around in attempt to knock the warrior off his feet, but the man knew what it would attempt before it had even started moving. With a single, powerful blow he slammed his shield into the beast’s skull, sending it crashing back into the ground. In the same movement he drew back his weapon, the tip glowing red as he plunged it deep into the creatures chest. The high pitch scream of sizzling flesh rang sharply through the clearing as the dragon shook, fire dribbling from its jaws. Then it was still. The man took a step back, admiring his work. Looking over to her he gestured towards the dragon. “Do you know from which direction it came?” Tia stared at the man. He was dressed in shadowy armour made from dragon scale, a material that was rarer than the creatures they were taken from. That wasn’t what drew her attention though. It was his eyes, two glowing embers amidst a backdrop of shadow that seemed to challenge you to look closer, to peer further, to lose yourself in the adrenaline, the screams of battle, warhorns blaring as you ran- The man grunted, turning back to the dragon’s corpse. Tia exhaled sharply, not realising she’d been holding her breath. Hurriedly she shouldered her bow, almost dropping it in the process. “Th-thanks.” She waited for a response from the man, but didn’t get one. Not that she minded. Quickly and quietly as she could she edged away, breaking into a run once she thought she was out of sight. Pantheon sighed as he gripped the horns of the slain dragon. Humans always feared what they failed to understand. But it didn’t matter. He finally had a lead. With a powerful shout he leant back, tearing the horns from the creatures skull before tossing them aside. Underneath the split skin a small runestone could now be seen. Yes, he finally had a lead. A lead to the Dragon Sorceress.
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