The Dune Dragon’s scaly hide gave the impression of sun-bathed opal, dazzling the hunter’s dark eyes as he watched from the shadows of a nearby dune.
Gilhi raised his spear, crafted from the bone of some past kill. Sweat soaked his robes, evaporated through the pores of his boiled-hide helm and breastplate. A sense of loss weighed in his stomach at the task before him.
He climbed to the crest of the dune. The beast stood twice as tall as the sandy bluff, less than half a league away, turning its head to search for prey. Gilhi buried his feet in the sand, searching for firmer footing. He pulled the spear back alongside his ear.
“Hree-hur! Hree-hur!” he whistled in imitation of a creor bird.
A massive head turned to the sound, opening a mouth large enough to swallow him. Sunlight glinted off teeth like an armory of polished daggers. The entire body spun like a sudden shift in the wind, more quickly than seemed possible for such a massive beast.
A few strides of its powerful back limbs and it would be upon him. Those few moments slowed to hours. It seemed a liquid mountain flowed toward him. The armored tail whipped behind it, shearing the crest of each dune it met. The breast glimmered as if with a coat of jewels. Sinewy, tri-clawed arms hung rather uselessly from the sides, as long as Gilhi’s height but small in comparison to its body. The beast shimmered like a white ship riding waves of sand.
The beautiful terror thundered toward him, fist-sized eyes glinting at the rare prospect of food. Gilhi felt his spear arm tense. It was almost within range . . . he launched the spear, watching it soar like an eagle swooping for the kill.
It pierced the left eye. With a guttural cry which threatened to collapse the sand dunes, the Dragon fell, shaking the earth’s foundation. For a moment its great body twitched, then went still.
Gilhi slid down the mound of sand, producing the array of knives and tools he carried in his robes. Only the final few inches of the spear’s shaft protruded from the beast’s eye; it had found its inner mark. Gilhi stopped short of touching the beast, wishing to honor it a moment longer.
Tears pricked his eyes, and he blinked them away, knowing he couldn’t afford to lose any more moisture. Few in the history of his people had thought to challenge a Dune Dragon, fewer successfully, but having done so would not make him a hero. To slay one of the revered desert beasts was to condemn oneself to a life of exile.
But the meat would sustain his village until a new irrigation system was built; the bones, scales, hide, grease, and sinew, used or traded. Once dead, no part of a Dune Dragon’s sacrifice could be wasted.
At last he touched a single finger to one of the alabaster scales. “Forgive me,” he said, “but thank you.”