Natalie’s breaths came in gasps as she ran with all her strength, past the first trees of the forest. Ignoring the branches that scratched at her face, she continued with cuts along her cheeks and arms. Blood slowly crept from her small wounds, yet she was determined to find her horse. She had to find Duchess, before the dragons did. Unaware of her surroundings as she ran blinded by shear determination, she found herself falling as her foot was caught on an ugly, moss-covered log. She sprawled over the small log before her, and hit her head on a flat stone. Her world began to spin and fade just before it all went black.
There was nothing but darkness. Natalie’s mind flickered as she began to dream in her forced sleep. She could see her mother and father, faded images within her mind. She saw Duchess, and pictured her strange encounter with her. Flames burned through her dreams as she remembered her home and the ferocious dragon that destroyed her life. She could see the ugly face of her uncle and despised him as he forced her to work long and hard every day. Moonlight seemed to splash into her pool of images as the picture of the silhouette of the dragon flying between her sight and the moon re-entered her mind. The swarm of dragons, and their conversation with her rippled through her dream, then light seemed to flood afterwards.
She slowly opened her eyes to see the soft, blue eyes of her horse staring in response. Duchess nudged her owner with her muzzle to awaken her, then kneeled to let her rider mount. Natalie rubbed her head tenderly before coming to a realization. “Duchess! You’re here!” she proclaimed with excitement as her dark green eyes widened and her face grew with joy. “We must hurry! Dragons are coming!” Reaching for her horse’s reigns, she picked herself up and climbed upon Duchess’s back.
Without hesitation, Duchess reared on her hind legs and gave a quick neigh. She then bolted through the forest, passing trees and bushes as she traveled. Natalie’s long, brown hair was blown behind her as she felt the rush of riding. She felt secure when she was with Duchess, though she didn’t know why. Suddenly, a long, snake-like dragon emerged from the canopy of the trees and landed in front of the child and her animal. His slit yellow eyes narrowed in on the girl as he sensed her presence with his forked black tongue. His head was just above Duchess’s held up by a long, skinny neck and two, dark gray horns emerged from the top of his elongated head. His silver scales gleamed along the side of his skinny body, and the violet striped markings around his ankles seemed to illuminate in the darkness. Natalie could easily see the forest through his small, transparent wings and the fins on his cheeks. He gave an eerie screech that forced her to cover her ears before he scowled at her. “Thought you could away, did you now?” he asked her with a hiss.
Duchess began to back away, searching frantically for a way to escape. Natalie was reminded of the time that the golden-brown dragon had cornered she and Duchess four years ago. They easily escaped by slipping beneath the dragon, yet this dragon was too small for a horse to pass below it. She felt frightened as the dragon started to walk closer to her, studying her with his menacing eyes. “You shall not take my horse!” she cried out as she felt the courage rise up within her.
“Your horse?” asked the dragon with a puzzled look on his face. He began to laugh with a hiss before continuing. “You don’t seem to know anything, little girl,” he mocked.
Suddenly the silver dragon was pushed into the foliage resting on the forest floor below. Natalie was astounded when she witnessed a large, feathery, brown creature emerge from the darkness of the woods and pounce onto the overgrown reptile. The creature had its back turned to the girl on her horse and tore at the dragon she had pushed over. Natalie heard the screams from the battle as the dragon screeched its eerie cries into the night. There was another screech that was more bird-like than the dragon’s. Natalie covered her ears as she waited for the result. Feathers and leaves were thrown into the air from the action as the feathered creature continued to attack the silver beast. Natalie heard a final screech from the dragon before its attacker revealed herself.
Two large, brown wings turned from her view to show a gryphon sitting back on her haunches. The gryphon glanced to the girl as she licked her golden, lion-like front paws. Natalie saw the deep crimson of blood drip from the creature’s paws and glanced behind it. The mangled body of the dragon lay in the leaves, not moving, and ripped to shreds. This new creature had saved her life! The creature continued to clean itself from the battle as Natalie studied her savior. The gryphon was dark brown in color, yet she had light golden, lion-like legs and ears. Her tail stretched out like a cat’s until it frayed into a display of brown feathers at the tip and her large wings were of the same feathers. The animal’s dark gray beak was stained with blood and her lilac eyes gleamed as she finished licking the blood from her paws.
“Y-You saved me! You saved me from that dragon!” stuttered Natalie still in awe.
The gryphon looked herself over, then turned to stare at the mangled body of the dragon she had just killed. “Yes,” she started with a nod. “Yes, I did.”
“I-I cannot believe that you killed that dragon. Why did you?”
The gryphon seemed to be in deep thought before rising to her four great paws and staring deep in Natalie’s eyes. “Yes, I’ve killed this dragon,” she began as she stalked closer to the girl. A wicked smile crept up her face that frightened Natalie. “But do not thank me so fast, for I only killed it, so I could feast on you!” she cried out as she pounced upon Duchess’s neck. Duchess reared back in pain and fear as the gryphon extended her claws into the horse’s flesh. The mare kicked and screamed wildly as her rider grasped the reigns tightly. Natalie could see the deep fear in her horse’s eyes, and could almost feel the pain herself. The gryphon tried to stay grasped to the side of Duchess, yet was thrown to the ground as the horse turned and began to gallop through the woods.
Moaning in agitation, the gryphon picked herself up and began to bound after her prey. “Run, Duchess!” Natalie screamed as she spotted the creature chasing them. She struggled to stay on as Duchess ran with full speed through the forest. Suddenly, they flew off the side of a cliff and began to skid down its side. Rocks and dirt flew from the mare’s hooves as she scraped down the side of the steep ridge. Natalie noticed wide, open plains before them and saw the sun just hitting the horizon. Morning was coming. As soon as the slope had reached level ground, Duchess leaped to the plains ahead and took off as fast as she could.
Their predator who had been following closely behind was also caught by surprise when the cliff came up, yet she leaped off the edge with cat-like reflexes and spread her wings out far, now chasing the girl in flight. Her large wings pounded heavily against the air as she aimed her sharp beak at the horse. As she came closer to her prey, she reached out with her front paws only to miss as Duchess picked up speed. Natalie heard a hawk-like cry behind her as she noticed the gryphon straying farther and farther behind. Her horse truly was the fastest thing she had ever seen! They pursued on as the gryphon soon gave up the chase and returned to her lair in the forest.
Natalie reached out to touch the watercolor sky ahead as a smile spread across her face. She yelled out in glee as Duchess frolicked and flicked her mane. They were free! They were headed towards a new life…a new beginning.