Zoltar didn’t know how long he’d been lying there, but it felt like hours. The light of the fire rocks glowed dimly off the cave walls as he stared at the tunnel outside.
‘What time was it?’
Groaning, Zoltar shifted his weight, trying to get comfortable on the rock platform he was resting on, but nothing seemed to work. He couldn’t fall asleep.
Just then, he caught movement out the corner of his eye. He jerked around to see a shadow flit across the cave opening.
A shiver ran over Zoltar as his back spines prickling. Sliding out of bed, he slunk over to the entrance, his hackles raised.
Carefully he peered around the corner, but to his surprise, nothing was there. He sniffed the air, trying to catch any unfamiliar scents. There was nothing, but even more disturbing was the complete lack of any smells.
Brushing it off, he continued to search, venturing further into the maze of tunnels. The light of the fire rocks grew steadily weaker as faint scuttling sounds echoed out from the growing darkness. Little tendrils of ghostly grey mist clouded the air around him and everything began looking strangely unfamiliar.
Unease began to churn in Zoltar’s stomach like an acidic storm. Something wasn’t right.
Swinging around, he tried to go back the way he’d come, but the tunnel had disappeared and was replaced by an empty black abyss.
Terror began to flood through him as he looked around widely. The fire rocks had vanished, plunging him into a hazy void.
“Hello,” Zoltar yelled, panicking as he desperately tried to find the walls of the tunnel, his talons scraping at thin air. But nothing met his claws, only a never ending emptiness surrounded him.
“Help!” he called again, taking a few steps forward.
That’s when his talons knocked against it, a cold, scaly thing that hissed and scuttled away upon contact.
Flailing wildly with his barbed tail, Zoltar tried to defend against whatever it was, but it had melted back into the darkness.
Silence enveloped him, a thick, tangible entity that stifled out even his own cries for help.
Then a faint brush of air rippled down his back scales and crackling growl broke the stillness.
Whipping around, Zoltar had just enough time to make out the snake like figure of a dragon before it lunged at him, a terrible scream erupting from its gaping jaws before it clamped down on his throat.
Zoltar sat bolt upright with a strangled yell, clutching at his neck. His heart was hammering in his chest as his breaths came out in quick, shaky bursts.
It took him a moment to notice the dark figure looming over him, their obsidian horns tainted red in the light of the fire rocks.
Flinching, he leapt back off the bed, landing with his tail raised and teeth bared.
“Wow, Zoltar. Calm down,” The dragoness yelped, her wings flared in alarm, “It’s just me.”
Dropping his barbed tail, Zoltar let out an abrupt snort as he realized how silly he looked. It was Nira.
“What made you do that?” Nira asked as she circled around the rock platform, a nervous grin on her snout, “I just nudged you. You were moaning in your sleep.”
“Oh it’s nothing. Just another nightmare,” Zoltar said, chuckling a little, though his heart was still pounding heavily against his chest.
Nira gave him a look, but didn’t say anything as she sat down and twined tails with him.
“When did you get back?” Zoltar asked as she rested her head against his neck.
“A few hours ago. You were asleep when I came in and I didn’t want to disturb you.”
Zoltar nuzzled her snout and rested his head on hers. He breathed a deep sigh as the tension began to leave his body. It had just been a dream. Nothing more.
Still, this time it had felt so real, as though he was really there. It was nothing like the ones he’d had repeatedly over the last few years. He’d grown used to them, though they could still be disturbing.
Just as he was about to suggest going back to sleep, Zoltar’s sharp hearing picked up on the faint knocking of claws on dirt as a shadow slid past the tunnel outside the room.
He was up in a flash, his heart once again ready to burst out of his chest.
Nira had heard it too and was on her feet, her eyes fixed on the wall outside. She eyed Zoltar and tipped her head towards the sound, gesturing for him to follow her.
Together, they slunk towards the opening, back spines bristling and barbed tails poised to strike.
Zoltar was the first to edge around the corner, his muscles wired to spring him out of the way of an oncoming attack, but the tunnel was empty. The only movement was the faint flickering of the fire rocks strewn along the walls.
Whatever had passed by had disappeared into the gloom of the passageways.
Zoltar tried to calm the churning in his stomach. These was how his dream had started.
A barrage of thoughts fought for his attention. What if the dream had been a premonition? It felt like too much of a coincidence that this was happening. Maybe he should just stay in his room? Maybe he was just seeing things?
He felt Nira’s wing on his side as she pointed at the ground. Breaking through his fears, Zoltar put all his effort into focusing on the present.
“Shyfu tracks,” Nira continued, sniffing the scuff marks in the dirt, “It must be after the food store.”
Zoltar groaned inwardly. This was the second time this season that a Shyfu had found its way into the tunnels. Food was practically gone on the lava fields and now the serpents were looking for any scraps they could get hold of. Even if it meant going into a dragon den.
“Come on. We need to find it before it takes anything,” Nira hissed, her snout close to the ground as she hurried deeper into the warren. Zoltar followed.
They moved swiftly, but silently down the corridors. No one else seemed to have been woken by the Shyfu as all the rooms they passed were either empty or had a dragon deeply asleep inside.
It wasn’t long before they heard the quiet scrape of scales against the dirt floor. Slowing to walk, the two dragons slunk around the bend where the sound was coming from.