Her breath came in pants, clouds of white spewing into the cold with each exhalation, lost in the mist that blanketed the moors. Exhausted as she was, the heavy air was smothering but she took thanks in its cool nature. She did not know whether the droplets scattered across her scales were sweat or condensation but she was grateful for the way they soothed her burning muscles. Their battle had lasted only minutes, if that, but Ruan’s body was beginning to feel the strain already. It was becoming too much.
She hacked a couple more times, expelling fresh blood from her wound onto the grass, gagging at the metallic taste. So self-absorbed she was, in those few seconds, that she didn’t hear the cry of her opponent. She was only drawn back into the battle when she heard that familiar whip-like noise. Her attempts at an instant kill had been for nought it seemed and she was growing frail. There was no time to be cautious – Disease would not be patient that day.
Cracked skin and worn-down scales creaked as she turned to face her foe. Her wings stretched, testing the once-infallible muscles, capable of carrying her on the hunt for days at a time. Now, they would ache and buckle after just an hour in the air, as though they had already accepted their defeat and were submitting without resistance to the illness that racked her organs. She had hoped for decades more to her life at the least but perhaps that was just denial. Would this be the last tournament she would face?
She would miss it; the pounding of her heart, the strain on her muscles, the feel of bones crunching beneath her claws. The crowd would scream for her and she would roar back with such vigour that no enemy could stop themselves shivering at her presence. She was the largest and the mightiest of anyone that had ever stepped on the tournament’s grounds but was it to be over so soon? She would not go out whimpering in pain, but biting until her final battle. She was prey to no one; not even death.
Every cell in her body protested, urging her to settle, but her blood was already boiling. She refused to lose just yet. It was the semi-finals after all – She was so close… so close.
The ground appeared to ripple as she crouched, the muscles in her rear legs bulging as they tensed to their full capacity. It was an intrepid strategy for her but there was little alternative left that she could see.
“COME AT ME!!!”
He had screamed but Ruan could not just casually pander over, no. This was both her only option and her final chance. The moorland plain heaved, soil spraying into the air, as she thrust herself upward. Sinewy wings took her weight – just – with each stroke swirling the mist like a tempest. Coupled with the thundering sound of each beat and the dirt that flew through the air, one might think a storm had settled over the arena. She roared through the aches and the agony that blasted across her chest, denying her mind the opportunity to dwell on such trivial feeling.
The world flickered into a rainbow hue as her infrared sight activated and her cry turned into a low moan as pain rent through her head at the exertion. She could see her target, blurred by the interference of mist, but his defiance obvious even through the haze. She had one shot.
For a split second, the world went still.
Like a bullet, she propelled herself forward, faster than anyone could expect, diving towards the human that dare stand against her. The mist buffeted her, causing her to squint, but she tried to keep her aim true. If she were successful, the enemy would end up between her teeth, snatched from the ground like a worm. If not, Ruan would be helpless, the last of her energy used up in her bold attack.