The Red Bull's Rampage

This is a vingette written by Tenebrous to address the off-camera events that occured between Hotspots! and Truth and Consequences

For all they had evolved, the Bull could not help but look upon the creatures with a mixture of disgust and dark humor. They had no concept of what they were dealing with.

The humans had paid it cursory glances, had attempted to slow its progress with back burns atop their great, fumbling, winged beasts. They had clumsily dug firebreaks on the ground, apprehension written on their faces and in their movements. From its low place at the forest’s edge, the Bull looked out upon those attempts with scorn, its disdain made manifest in the slow devouring of a low-laying shrub nearby. As if either man or beast knew the first thing about flame, real and living, and aware. At best, what the dragons could muster was a cheap parlor trick, flame born of chemicals and their crude digestion process, and their riders were terrified of its touch.

The Bull marveled at their congratulatory calls to one another, stunned at the sheer arrogance of what they thought they’d accomplished. None of them had any concept of the true threat that stalked their land, of the impending charge that could not possibly be stopped by Man or his engineered puppets.

Perhaps a reminder was in order…

To the west, and over the mountains, the winds came, blowing even more strength into the Bull’s limbs, filling it’s furnace heart with glee and it’s belly with need. The other creatures of this planet had been given their chance to stop it, and they had failed. Such failures frequently came at a high price, the Bull noted to itself. It lashed out under the wind’s strength, obliterating a section of vegetation with a single stroke of its fiery hoof.

The Red Bull’s rampage had begun.

It had taken more than a day before the Bull’s charge had been halted, more than a day of laying absolutely waste to the forests to the south and west of the lands that the humans had claimed as their own. Such claims meant little to the Bull, and as it devoured each passing foot of the countryside, it reminded itself that it would make the humans aware of this simple fact in grisly, undeniable detail.

Its course had been erratic over the duration of those hours, taking it on a lazy, winding path through the bowels of the verdant land. Leaf and branch, bark and root fell beneath its razing hooves and horns. The Bull dealt its judgment to all things with equal impunity, be it bush or tree or tangled patch of scrub. It took special delight when it finally found its way into a massive, dried out stream bed. There were few things that it relished more than conquering a territory that its sister had once occupied. The tracks of both man and beast disappeared beneath its own, and its progress only slowed slightly when it encountered the steep hillside that led up to the more frequently travelled paths of the deep woods. The Bull simply adjusted itself and began to climb, inexorably placing one blazing hoof in front of the other. It was no challenge to the creature, and a part of it was glad for its sluggish pace. It simply allowed it the time to ensure that its destruction of the things in its path was complete. Oddly angled trees were reduced to ash in the wake of the Bull’s passing, and rocks sizzled and exploded beneath the lash of its breath. Dead and dying leaves momentarily burst into little geysers of flame, and the Bull was pleased.

At last, the beast crested the hill and, with a gust of wind at its back, began its seemingly unending advance towards a thick stand of trees. Beyond them, it was finally halted.

The place that the humans called Stormhaven had proven itself a supremely irritating obstacle for the Bull. Despite almost completely obliterating anything in the area that could possibly burn, the heart of the area stood resolute against its assault. The Bull had even though to take its fight to the very stones around the waterfall’s passage, but its sister had flicked its hand at the Bull with an only slightly irritated gesture, and the beast found itself backing away. Such a defeat rankled at the Bull’s sensibilities, but there were other victories to be had, and the wind ushered it away from its sister with another mountain-born gust.

It would find its victory to the east, in the form of a foolish human female that had chosen to put herself within its eventual grasp. For reasons the Bull had no interest in, she had chosen to wander into the deep wood, and it set its hellish eyes on her there for the first time. The wind urged it to be cautious, to circle around and hunt its prey from another side, and so it began its slow, stalking march, leaving behind a wall of nearly impassable flame as it went.

Over an hour later, its trap only just complete, the Bull smiled to itself. It was still far from the place where the humans made their home, and it had not expected to strike its first blow so soon. Even as the female looked up, however, even as she realized her plight, it laughed with wicked intent, its glee a firestorm’s bellow. She would die alone, it noticed. Even her faithful pets, the tiny cousins of those slug-like dragons it had seen in the sky days ago, had abandoned her, rising from her shoulders and vanishing to safety.

How exquisite…

The woman had begun tearing a strip of cloth from her long over tunic, wetting it liberally from a bladder of water that hung from one of her shoulders, and a moment later, she had it up and fastened around her mouth. The Bull merely continued to bear down on her from all sides. The water only postponed the inevitable.

It was foolhardy of him to have expected Janelle to be awake at this hour, Tenebrous decided. Giving one last nod to the part of the forest’s edge that held the Wher dens, he turned and started back towards the Weyr proper. Niva had all but given him permission to pack a sack lunch from whatever he could get his hands on in the kitchen, and while he could certainly continue to subsist on his normal diet of fresh vegetation and the occasional bit of fish or bovine, Hasha had long ago taught him that there was definitely something to be said for home-cooked food.

She’d cooked him fish that day, some kind of thick steak with mustard and fresh greens. He couldn’t, for the life of him, remember, but it was the act of trying that nearly made him run face-first into a screaming, blue fire-lizard that he knew all too well. He skidded to a halt some moments later, cocking his head. The little thing didn’t have any messages with him, but he seemed insanely frantic about something. And then Tenebrous smelled the smoke. “What…” Horrible suspicion began to dawn in his eyes, and a moment later, both Truth and Reconciliation appeared above him, trilling nervously. “Where is Phylicia?” he asked, trying to keep his voice level. When no immediate answer came from Ciaran, he looked up to the little gold hovering in the air. “Hide and seek,” he called to her. Then he simply offered her a picture of Phylicia in his mind, and a moment later, both Ciaran and Reconciliation disappeared *between*. Agonizing seconds ticked by, each one a small eternity, before Truth trumpeted in her little voice, and shot off towards the deep woods, Tenebrous ghosting along behind her like a wraith in the trees.

It wouldn’t be long now, the Bull mused. It had been a pleasant thing to watch as the tiny human had tried every exit. It laughed to itself when she had tried to escape down that steep path to the south, towards the Falls beyond. The Bull had taken its time coming up that trail, and the only thing left behind in its wake was a sea of flame and smoke. No one would be escaping to its sister this time.

The human had fallen to her hands and knees under the weight of the smoke in the air when the two fire-lizards arrived, keening to the disoriented woman at the top of their little lungs. The Bull smiled, its teeth flickers of blue flame, even as they landed. Not even they could stay in the air for long when faced with its breath, and they landed, one on either side of her. With little hops and hisses, they began trying to put out the small patches of burning ground that had grown close to the woman’s body, and the Bull chortled with glee. They, too, would fall under its lash. But then it grew puzzled. Why had the little ones returned? It pondered this as it continued to close its fist around first the girl’s lungs and then her body. Even if the flames hadn’t reached her yet, the heat would begin taking its toll in seconds.

The human finally succumbed to the heat and the smoke, collapsing to the ground like a burning bush that had fallen in upon itself. The Bull bellowed its triumph, a scream full of the crackle of trees and the sizzle of death. Its cry was loud, drowning out everything in the area except for one sound. From the north, the air filled with a man’s voice, roaring, “Phylicia!” A moment later, that man crashed through a low-rising barrier of burning brush, his clothing billowing steam. He was, the Bull decided immediately, a certifiable lunatic. His eyes were wild, pits of blue and gray that blazed beneath the light of the fire, seeming to glow from within. His face was already streaked with soot and ash, and his clothing was already smoldering in places from the firestorm that swirled around the area. The Bull simply shrugged to itself. If the humans were actually stupid enough to throw themselves at it, it would oblige them with the painful death they so obviously sought.

Tenebrous could feel the head on his face long before he approached the blaze, skidding to a halt several feet away from the inferno that had begun devouring the deep forest clearing. Through the haze, he could see a form on the ground, huddled in around itself, and two moving forms next to it, doubtless Ciaran and Cila. “Phylicia,” he roared. “Get up,” he hissed, urging her with his words. “Get up!” Already, his hands were moving to his satchel, pulling out his own bladder of water and dousing his body liberally with it. Frantic eyes searched the wall of flame, looking for some point of entrance that wasn’t guaranteed suicide. The only thing that even remotely suggested itself to him was a low, burning pile of brush, a path through to Phylicia that didn’t promise death as much as it did many, many different burns. Finished with the now empty water bladder, he threw it aside and backed up, gathering room for speed. “There is no way this is a good idea,” he growled, and then started forward at a dead sprint.

In his mind, he’d thought to simply dive over the blaze, but at the last moment, he simply leapt, tucking his knees up and under himself. Said knees were covered with hide patches, and he came down with them leading the way, blasting through the pile of brush and scattering it to ash and burning fragments. The ground came next, and he simply rolled with the impact, coming up on one ruined knee-patch and surveying the area. The heat was intense, and he could already feel it leeching out his strength. He lurched forward without another thought, and the two fire lizards scattered at his approach, Cila vanishing *between* with a little hiccup. Ciaran stayed as near to his fallen mistress as possible, fluttering up to land on Tenebrous’ shoulder as he knelt to pick Phylicia’s limp body up in his arms. He never saw the young tree’s collapse, off to one side…

The On Duty at Xanadu’s infirmary nearly choked on her klah when the gold firelizard and her smaller green sister erupted from *between* with trumpets of alarm, and a few moments later, her dragon managed to relay the sentiments that the little creatures were trying to convey. It was only a few moments before she scrambled out of the front door of the Infirmary, an emergency pack over one shoulder.

Near the forest’s edge, a burdened form was slowly making its way towards the Weyr proper, passing through the meadow with labored, exhausted footsteps.

In the end, Phylicia’s burns were more extensive than Tenebrous’ own had been, by simple virtue of her exposure. The skin on her forearms and on patches of her legs was mottled with blisters and bright red flesh, and her entire face looked as though she’d spent far too long in the sun. The healers had no doubt at all that not only would she peel, but extensively. The real damage had been the smoke that she had inhaled. Her vocal cords had been ravaged by the smoke and her lungs were so weak that the doctors had placed her on oxygen, and hadn’t yet removed her. Both wounds would heal in time, provided she survived the first few days without any kind of infection. But it would be a nervous few days. After that, it would simply be an issue of managing her pain, which would be significant.

Tenebrous had suffered fewer burns than Phylicia, but at least one series had been worse. The tree that had fallen on him had struck the right side of his body, and its toll had been heavy. By some miracle, his shoulder and upper arm had taken the brunt of the impact, leaving only a fraction of it to transfer to the side of his face. The alternative would have been much, much worse. The end result had been deep bruising on his right shoulder, a blow to the side of his head that had left an impressive-looking bruise and a concussion, and burns that covered him from the top of his scalp down to his jaw. The healers had decided that they would heal without needing grafts, but it was doubtful that they would be able to prevent scarring. One of them had casually joked that, given the poor shape the rest of his body was in, the scars would fit right in.

They’d called it an accident, a fluke of nature that no one could have predicted. Days after he was admitted to the infirmary, Tenebrous would argue that, given the conditions that the entire Weyr was under as a result of the drought, someone should have. One of the Weyr’s precious diplomats had tried to deflect the seriousness of the issue, stating that the blaze had likely driven any nesting felines from the lower reaches of the deep woods. Tenebrous had quietly argued that the absence of the felines didn’t excuse whatever massive dose of incompetence that had led to the blaze in the first place.

To listen to the casualty reports was to believe that the damage to the Weyr and its occupants had been light, and that the fire had been ‘contained’ to the southwest section of the forest itself, along the spine of the mountains. What remained of his apprentice, bandaged and healing in the Infirmary, silently begged to differ. His own wounds, less grievous, still filled his head with the constant hum of agony in the back of his mind.

The Red Bull’s victory had been more complete than it realized.

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