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Amanda Sun
Heir To The Sky

My mind races. Is it a monster? An animal? It’s immovable, like a stone. I raise myself onto the balls of my feet to see its head better. Its yellow tufted hair fades to purple stripes on either side of its eyes. Its nostrils drip with condensed breath as it stares back at me. But that’s all I can see.

I pull my hands slowly back from the grass tops. What now? If I run, it will chase. If I yell, maybe I’ll scare it. If I fall over dead, perhaps it will go away, but it may also devour me.

I reach into my pocket for the sharp piece of flint. It will have to do until I can get my hands on anything else. If I survive this, I’ll whittle a spear from a branch. Ashes and filthy soot, why did I spend all that time aimlessly walking in a world of monsters?

My foot lands on the leathery leaf of a yellow-and-blue fern, and it snaps in two with a loud crack. The beast lurches forward, a horrible growl echoing through the clearing. It looks like a giant barn cat from Ulan, but massive, the size of the giant Phoenix statue in the citadel courtyard. Its matted fur is striped bright yellow and vibrant purple, and its fangs look like horns curving out of its mouth. Its paws pound against the ground as it comes for me.

A monster. Not an animal, not harmless or friendly. It’s a monster, out for blood.

I dart into the trees, clutching the flint in my bleeding fingers. I hope the maze of trunks will slow him down, but I don’t dare to look. I run as fast as I can, my legs tangling in my long red skirts. I can hear his panting and the fall of his huge paws as they tear up the carpet of moss beneath us. I know I can’t outrun him, but instinct takes over. My chest burns as I try to take deeper breaths.

Then a force like a stone wall shoves me to the ground. The monster’s foul breath floods my nose and his sharp claws dig into my shoulder. I wrench myself to the left, reaching with my flint as his weight holds down my right side. I slice wildly at the air above me, hoping to hit him. The jagged rock scrapes across his moist nostrils and he cries out, shaking his head as dark plum-colored blood trickles down his nose and on to his curved fangs.

I twist onto my back as the hold of his paw loosens and I strike again, going for his eyes. He rears back and I scramble to my feet, taking off across the field. He’s behind me, and we’re running again.

A shadow falls over me like a dark cloud. The entire clearing becomes night in an instant. A screeching sound vibrates through my head and I cry out, falling to my knees in pain from the high-pitched noise. The giant cat screeches a horrific version of the wails I’ve heard from barn cats in Ulan, and then a blast of wind nearly knocks me over.

The shadow lifts from the clearing, the sunlight streaming back in, the tall grasses flattened to the ground from the gale.

I look up and swear under my breath. A dragon has snatched up the massive cat in its talons. A dragon. A real one. Its black-and-red wings stretch out across the clearing as it lifts into the air. Its snout is long and sharp like a beak, and tufts of spiky fur sprout from its head and its breast like a shield of bone needles. Another gust of its wings flings me against the ground. The giant cat squirms in the dragon’s sharp talons as it lifts him away. It shrieks once more, and I clasp my hands over my ears from the pain.

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