It had yellow eyes. That impossibly large pupil watched him with reptilian disregard. It was going to sear him relentlessly. He'd be burned alive. Dying like that would take minutes, agonizing second after second, before he suffocated. As the beast drew back, all Tim Creedy could think was that he hoped it wouldn't follow his scent back to the others.
He closed his eyes, bracing for the pain, but it didn't come. Or at least, the pain he was expecting didn't come. Instead he felt something slam into his side. The force knocked him down, over the edge of the hill he hadn't seen. It had been hidden by the slight rise but as he fell over the edge, he felt a sense of extreme foolishness for almost dying when an easy escape was literally three feet from him.
Better not tell Quinn this one, he thought. I'll never hear the end of it.
Someone slapped him across the face. A woman, and she was pulling his arm rather insistently. "Get up!" The dragon roared behind him, angry at being denied its meal. Some part of his mind decided they had about five seconds before the thing worked out where they'd gone. Another part of him wondered how fast the strange woman had been running to knock him over. She couldn't weigh more than 9 stone, at the outside. The rest of his mind was trying to catch up to his body and not doing a very good job of it.
I'm in shock, he realized as the woman dragged him to his feet and pulled him in front of her. She planted both hands in the center of his back and shoved him towards the very bottom of the steep valley. He spotted a cave and began to run of his own volition. The possibility of survival restored control of his body, if not all his senses. He felt as much as heard the air hiss as the dragon pulled back, breath drawn, ready to roast them. A few precious feet separated him from the salvation of that underground tunnel.
The heat of the blaze pressed against him, the woman slammed into his back, and they dropped into nothing, the fire passing just over their heads. The sudden darkness blinded him and he curled himself up as best he could. God only knew what he'd land on, but at least he was alive. Some manner of good fortune landed him on flat, if a little too solid, ground. He took most of the impact in his legs, and the rest in his arms. He took a second to recover himself before sprinting down the tunnel some odd twenty feet. The woman stopped a few feet past him
Creedy was breathing hard, but he looked over at his savior. She was looking at him, her breath also ragged.
"You all right?" he asked.
"I should ask you the same thing. I'm fine," she said. "Nothing that won't heal. Hell of a run, though." She sat back against the wall of the cave. "I didn't think anyone else was out this way." Her tawny hair was cropped at the jaw and unstyled. It framed her angular features and set off her pale skin. He noticed her eyes were a strange green, slanted and large. Her cheekbones were sharp and cast shadows on her face, setting off her eyes.
"I'm with a group passing through," he answered. He watched the entrance to the tunnel anxiously, wondering if the dragon was still nearby. They were known to lurk in wait for holed up humans so leaving soon would be chancy, but he was a bit nervous to wait in a cave with an unknown woman. He knew from experience anyone could be dangerous when properly motivated.
"I wouldn't risk it if I were you," she said, shifting around to find a comfortable position. "There isn't much left here. They're hungry, and worse, they're patient."
"Great." Creedy dropped to the ground. "Looks like we're here for a while, then."
"Looks like." She settled finally with her elbows resting on her knees and he noticed her limbs were long and thin. Over all she was quite sharp looking.
"Not the best circumstances for a proper introduction." He was stalling on giving her his name. She made him feel vaguely nervous for some reason he couldn't quite pin down, but he put on his best innocuous smile. If she was dangerous, it was best to pretend he wasn't. If she wasn't dangerous, it couldn't hurt to be friendly.
She smiled back. "I'm not sure there are good circumstances for introductions anymore, but let's make the best of these. I'm Rona Moravii. You can call me Rio."
"Tim Creedy," he answered.
"Nice to meet you, Tim." Her smile was curved and a little wicked, but also reserved. Hard to believe she was American. She looked very Teutonic. German maybe. Some Irish there too unless he missed his guess, but with Americans it was always hard to say. The high cheekbones and angular features did tend to give her heritage away, but then again her name was Scottish. Not that it mattered. He couldn't seem to make himself focus on the situation at hand.
"Everyone calls me Creedy," he added. "What brings you to this little corner of England? We don't see many Americans since travel broke down."
Rio looked towards the patch of sky visible through the hole and her face took on the blank expression Creedy had come to read as loss. "I've always had great timing," she replied wryly. "My flight landed in London just as things were really getting crazy."
"I'm sorry." She just nodded. An uncomfortable silence spread between them. He tried to break it by changing the subject. "Is there anywhere safe we can go to after we get out of this? I need to find my friends, make sure they're all right."
He thought she might not answer him at all, but after a time she said, "I've been living near some ruins on the edge of town. I think it used to be a wine cellar, but it's pretty hard to tell. It's dark and cold, but it's got room for at least five other people to sleep and I've got some food there. Water, too." She got laboriously to her feet as if her bones ached. "You and your friends are welcome." She arched her back and grimaced.
"Thank you. We appreciate it." He also got to his feet, but he stepped closer to her and took her hand, gently to be sure his gesture wasn't threatening. He was struck by the green of her eyes, the color of Caledonian pines. Hastily dropping her hand, Creedy did his best not to flush and turned to the last of the daylight. "Right, so I'll check to see if it's gone."
"Don't!" she hissed, vehemently. Creedy looked over in surprise at the viciousness in her voice as she seized his arm. "Don't," she repeated, a bit more calmly. "It's still out there."
The mouth of the cave looked no different to him. "How can you tell?"
Rio watched him intently for another moment and when she was sure he wasn't going to move, she let go of his arm. "Watch." She picked up a stone approximately the size of a small potato and hefted it testingly. She took aim, and tossed it up through the gap. The dragon zipped past and snatched it before it had time to hit the ground.
"Jesus." Creedy had a brief vision of what would've happened to his head had he peeked out. His heart felt like it was doing its very best to quit its job. Rio started walking toward the back of the cave. "Where are you going?"
She picked her way carefully along the treacherous floor and didn't look at him as she called back, "To get deeper. That thing is going to be out there all night. We'll have to sleep here, and I don't like the idea of sleeping so close to a dragon." It made sense, but Creedy couldn't help looking longingly at the open spaces beyond the mouth of the tunnel.
He hoped Quinn was all right. He hoped everyone was safe. Most of all, he hoped they wouldn't move on without him. All this ran through his mind before he turned his back on the last light of day and followed the stranger into the dark. It was not the first time he'd been in this position. He still remembered sitting alone in the dark for three days until the smell of the bodies got to be too bad. He'd been trapped in an elevator with the rest of his family when the power went out for the city. Stupid thing to do in retrospect, taking an elevator, but the stairs were broken off.
If it had been him as he was now, he'd have jumped the gap and had Quinn toss him the children, but at the time he was only nine. He'd not yet met Quinn, or become a man. It was his father he looked to for answers, and his father had told them all to take the elevator. Creedy was so wrapped up in his memories, he barely noticed Rio in time to avoid running into her.
"We'll sleep here," she announced. She'd chosen an alcove just off the main tunnel. It was shielded by a wall of rubble, maybe five feet high. Not perfect protection from anything, but it would leave them with a place to rest out of plain sight, and some protection was better than none at all. Inside there was a bedroll tucked away, a small flashlight, and two chocolate bars. Rio immediately began to unwind the string tying up the bedroll.
"Been stuck down here before, have you?" Creedy noticed a fist sized hole in the ceiling. To let in air? He wasn't sure, but it let in enough light for him to see by and tinged everything a strange purple. Who knew sunset and pitch black evened out to violet.
She laughed a little. It was a nice laugh. "I've been stuck everywhere around here in the last few months. Food here is scarce for them now." She looked up at him from her crouch, her eyes unreadable. "You're the first person I've seen in almost a month." Rio contemplated him for another minute, and Creedy felt the flush from earlier threatening to return. She probably thought he was a lunatic, standing three feet from escape staring down a dragon like an idiot. "How are you feeling?"
He started to say, "Fine," but realized as he went to answer that he was not fine. That had been the closest call yet, and Creedy had seen plenty of close calls over the last few years. His heart was still beating in his ears, he felt dizzy, and he realized his legs were trembling. "Not too great, honestly."
Her gaze sharpened and he felt a bit embarassed for making a big deal out of it. "You're in shock," she said, confirming what he had briefly realized as he rolled down the hill. "You need to lie down." Taking his hand again, she pulled him to the opened bedroll.
"Really, it's not that bad." Despite his insistence Creedy felt none too steady and he sat when she tugged him toward the floor. The bedroll was more comfortable than the broken ground and privately he was very grateful for it. She ignored his admittedly weak protests and pushed him back until he was mostly lying down before handing him a water bottle.
"Take small sips of that every ten minutes or so," she instructed. Her fingers caught his wrist in a strong grip, turning it face up. She checked his pulse with practiced efficiency. "Don't try to get up for a while unless you have to. Your heart rate is still too fast." She started to move away but Creedy caught her wrist.
"Hey, uh... thanks." Rio's eyebrow drew up. "For getting me out of the way. And for bringing me here. You didn't have to get involved at all. So thank you."
Rio smiled softly. "I wasn't about to just let you die," she said.
"You could have," he answered. "Most people would've."
"Would you have let me die if it had been reversed?"
Creedy had a brief flash of the moment in his senses again. The terror flooding him, the numbness, and above all that eye... staring... He shuddered. "No, I wouldn't let anyone die like that if I could help it." A gentle squeeze of her hand brought him back to this moment.
"Neither would I."
"You took a big risk, though," he went on. "I could've turned on you -- taken advantage of the gesture. Most women have had it happen these days, at least once." If asked at that particular instant what the most awkward moment in his life to date had been, Tim Creedy would've said nothing had ever been more awkward than trying to delicately talk about rape with this woman. "Just... thanks."
"You're welcome." She just watched him for a minute, before delicately but persistently tugging her hand back and Creedy realized he had a death grip on her wrist.
"Sorry." He released her and sank down onto the bedroll. He suddenly had a throbbing headache and his last thought before he fell asleep was to wonder what Quinn was doing at that exact moment.