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Blue-white halogens tower forty feet above the gas and diesel pumps (thirty-two of each). They throw the pads into stark relief, their actinic glare broken only by fluttering clouds of small winged creatures that surround each one. You might look up and see only night-bugs hunted by a stray bat, or catch a glimpse of a battlefield teeming with fey creatures locked in a struggle to hold precious territory against miniature, furred demons swooping in for the inevitable kill. It might be a trick of the light, or simply a question of which light you choose.

- Doyce Testerman, Misanthrope

Rijn had been sent from the Homelands to the Land of the Many Suns to do battle. He knew no other purpose than to seek out the hoards of Wooly Dragons, lure them away, and engage them. The dragons came to feed on what they thought were helpless Chaparro-Folken caught unawares by their stealthy attacks. Rijn and his tribe knew better.

This would be the first time that Rijn had left the Homelands. He thought wistfully of his fatherís home; nestled in the highest branches of an evergreen oak. His many brothers and sisters were probably discussing him right now, wondering if he would be returning to them when the Rising came, or whether they would be wearing the Cloaks of Morning in his absence.

Rijnís family held no position of esteem in the Chaparro society; but neither were they Low-Folken. He had been trained alongside the Kingís sons, but had never been invited to the Great Hollow to share Bark-Nectar afterwards. His father held no position on the Council; nor did his older brothers or sisters.

His mother was no longer with them; she had fallen prey to the Wooly Dragons before Rijnís wings had even sprouted. His memories of her were mostly tied to the feel of her hand as she caressed his head, the smell of her hair, and her silhouette surrounded by moonlight as she sang him to sleep. It was her memory he now focused on in order to channel his anger for the battle that lay ahead.

In the days before the Many Suns, so the tribeís legends go, the Chaparro-Folken were virtually helpless against the Wooly Dragons. They would swoop down at night while the Folken slept and carry many away to feast on. Some say they would hang upside down and suck the blood from the Folken, but no one who had ever been carried off had lived to tell stories, so such stories were rumors at best. They were still rather effective at motivating the young ones to stay on the safe side of the bark at night, for certain.

But then the Giants with their Monster Rocks came and created the Land of the Many Suns, where glowing balls of encased fire made the nighttime brighter than day. At first the Chaparro-Folken were more afraid of the Giants than they were of the Wooly Dragons, until the fateful night when Salyok the Hero had strayed in among the Many Suns while trying to outrun a Dragon who was determined to carry him away.

They Folken now celebrated that night as The Night of Salvation. Because when Salyok had paused between the Smooth Rock Trees that seemed to hold on to the Many Suns, he had seen an amazing sight. The Wooly Dragon who had moments before been directly behind him had fallen back. His pursuer began to wobble in its flight between the Smooth Rock Trees and actually ran head-first into one. The furry beast fell to the ground, and Salyok took the opportunity to leap on the creatureís back and stab his thorn spear directly into its heart.

The Folken were aware that the Dragons did not have very good eyesight and instead relied on their hearing to seek out prey. Young ones were taught early on to remain motionless and silent if they spied a Dragon in hopes that it would fail to see them amongst the branches. But what Salyok discovered that night was that the Dragonsí eyes were pained by the light from the many suns.

When Salyok returned to the Homelands with the Beastís ears, it marked a turning point for the Chaparro-Folken. No longer did they have to cower in fear of these beasts that had taken their friends and family year after year. Not only could they now defend themselves, but they could actually hunt these creatures and destroy them before they had a chance to seek the Folken out.

The strategy was fairly simple; the Hunters would fly around the Chaparro in search of the Dragons. Once they found them, they would lure them into the Land of the Many Suns, and while the beasts were disoriented by the lights, they would attack swiftly en masse. They had become so successful at this that the Folken had even begun using the dragon fur and wings for clothing and other necessities, and though their diet consisted primarily of vegetation, had even developed a taste for the Dragon-Jerky that some of the men had discovered how to prepare.

Though the Folken as a whole now saw the Dragon Hunts as fairly commonplace, Rijn at that moment was terrified. He had trained ever since he was old enough to for this very moment, but that did not change the feeling of panic that was rising up in his chest. He remembered is fatherís advice; stay back and take cues from the more seasoned hunters.

The Hunters were in great numbers this evening; this was the first Hunt for many of Rijnís friends and classmates. The Folken suspected that more Dragons were coming from the North Lands, and so they wanted to have a show of force to help any new Wooly Beasts understand the way things worked in the Chaparro.

Up at the head of the procession, voices began to shout that a group of Dragons had been spotted, and their shouts were carried back by each member of the Hunting party until it reached Rijn; who in turn began to shout as he had practiced. The alert was both to prepare the party for their flight, but also to reveal their presence to the Dragons.

There were approximately twenty dark-haired demons sitting in the trees ahead of the party. They responded to the Folkenís shouts with high-pitched screeches of their own as they took flight in pursuit. The party immediately shifted direction as if with one mind and headed directly toward the Land of Many Suns.

Rijn did not think he had ever flown as swiftly as he now was; not even during the races on Harvest Eve. Never before had his life actually depended on his speed. But Rijn had been complimented by one of his teachers for how fast he could fly, and so he had no problem keeping up with the party and keeping away from the beasts. The Hunters practiced the route they now took almost daily. It was not necessarily the most direct route to the Suns, but it was the safest; they didnít want anyone to be left behind. Using themselves as bait was one thing; making sacrifices was another. The party flew on until finally the trees and brush gave way to the cold, hard rock ground of the Land of Many Suns. Rijn glanced back briefly to see Anjok, his friend, lagging at the back of the group, with a Dragon immediately behind him.

ďAnj, look out!Ē he shouted, but it was too late. The furry beastís sharp fangs pierced Anjok directly through the heart from behind, and he disappeared into the creatureís maw in a matter of instants. The creature never even slowed his pursuit of the rest of the group as he lunched.

Rijn had to resist the urge to change direction and attack his friendís killer, but he knew that until they were among the Suns, his chances of actually defeating the creature were next to none. So he continued his flight over the unmarred surface of the land and towards the Smooth Rock Trees.

As he neared the trees, there was a sudden rush of noise from the side, as though a mountain were moving directly towards he and the rest of the party. Rijn didnít even have the chance to turn and see what it was before his body was smashed against the surface and his life ended instantly.

ďUgh,Ē Smitty spat in response to the sudden splattering of bugs on his windshield. He didnít know what it was about the Midway, but this place always seemed to have more moths and other winged buggies flying around itís halogens than most truck stops. He flicked on the wipers, and then immediately flicked them back off. It was going to take a squeegee to get rid of these suckersÖ

Word Count: 1,387

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Page last modified on April 07, 2006, at 11:12 AM by Ted Carter

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