3.08.03 Hail Dragons: Beginning the Quest

Food was not a concern. We hunt, and if the arthropods of the inland were as plentiful and as tasty as those of the shore, we would be fine. Though hunting them may be more of a challenge, as we didn’t know their habits. But that would only prove interesting.

But we did talk briefly about this before setting out. And this one, along with three companions, left the shore only an eighth of a moonpath since the black smoke had disappeared.

We knew we were watched, so the setting out itself was a test. If we were not stopped, then we perhaps had the black smoke’s blessing?

With tentacles and feeding arms laid across the tops of our shells to keep them from dragging, eye stalks leaning forward between them, we scurried low and fast toward the grasses. And while the Collective behind us scattered for hiding places, we dodged through the marsh toward the bush, to crawl beneath it to the spot before the tree where we’d met Shaw, and stopped there.

This one knew the smell of Shaw personally, so we used their tentacles to taste the sand first. When we found the spot that was the most rich with zeir scent, we each took our turns tasting it. Then we scattered and tested the ground around the area to track the trails. We compared them to our memories of the event, and chose the trail by which Shaw had left the scene, all four of us tasting the ground as we moved forward.

We still kept our feeding arms high and dragged our tentacles almost behind us as we rushed our search. And, by flashing the strength of the scent we each detected by color, we were able to stay on track unerringly. We chose our camouflage pattern for that. So the farther we each strayed from the path, the brighter and paler the individual became, reflecting the moon, while those on track blended in with the ground as best they could. It was a good way to remain focused.

These are elementary hunting tactics for us. We share it here for those who are not familiar.

We are good hunters, but we were certain that Shaw would eventually lose us. Zey were not trying to evade us, but zey were trying to evade the black cloud, and zey were bigger and faster than we were. We expected that either Shaw would travel far enough that zeir trail would fade for us in the weather before we caught up, or zey would use an inland trick to hide zeir trail that we could not account for. But, at least we would start out in the right direction.

The trail led us out across a field with grass stalks that were five times as tall as any one of us, which made it possible to follow Shaw’s path visually for a while, as zey had broken stalks in zeir rush. But it wasn’t long until this led us into a wooded area, with gargantuan trees many times taller than the one under which we first met zem.

The brambles, nettles, and ferns of the undergrowth crowded around worn trails that must have been created by creatures larger than even Shaw. We have yet to find what you call them. We have seen them on occasion exploring the shoreline in various parts of the world. Some even swim. They are clearly not dragons, for they have a uniformity similar to ours, even if their shape is dramatically different. We stay clear of them, however, and do not know what to make of them. So it was somewhat terrifying for us to venture into their territory.

But Shaw’s trail clearly led us there, and we followed zem through the woods as zey zigzagged through these animal trails.

And it was in this pursuit we quickly learned that the food inland was not prepared for us. Occasionally, though not frequently, one of us would by chance alone catch prey with one of our tentacles while running nearly full speed. Our reflexes grasped the food before we could even register the flavor of it consciously. Such morsels were quick work for our beaks. Admittedly, it was hard to avoid making tiny chirps of delight every time, to let the others know. When it came time to dine, we would feast in these woods.

The trees did obscure the moon’s light, and we had mixed feelings about that. Darkness makes us brash and confident. It’s our time and our element. But we were in alien territory, and having some light would help us to recognize the existence of obstacles we were not used to looking out for, such as tree roots, fungus, strange plants, or even animals we have never encountered before.

After a while, we could start to feel the effects of adrenaline in our bodies, and decided to slow down and examine our surroundings more carefully.

We became acutely aware that we were further from the ocean than we had ever been before.

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