A plump raindrop landed with a wet plip in the puddle by Nikolai's head every 4 seconds, give or take. He had been awake for a few minutes now, but was uncharacteristically feeling some reluctance to get up. The foolish dragon he was paired with had almost lost him two targets the day before, and his jump from her back had jarred his knees. He was tired, aching, and soaked to the bone.
Reluctantly, he applied himself to the ever- more difficult task of mentally communicating with Ragta. He was going to formally warn her that he would have to make Skade aware of her mutinous behavior when they got back, but something moved just outside of his field of vision. He sprang up, and shouted "Password!" to the forest.
Across the campfire came a mental shout from the dragon, "It's cylell!"
He rounded on Ragta without a second thought, grabbing his sword and thrusting deep into her flank. The beast bellowed with the pain of a wound deeper than flesh, and before he could pull his blade out she jumped into the skies. He was a fast draw, though, and as Ragta's wings came low in a downbeat, Nikolai attacked the thin, papery skin with a small skinning dirk, blindly ripping through vein and cartilage. She keened madly, and pulled above him, breathing an intense scarlet fire that lit green trees several feet away from the flame like matches. She tried to fly above the canopy but her wing would not cooperate. Piping hot blood spurted from both wounds, drizzling down onto Nik's upturned face. He wore a confused, sad, expression, and dropped the dirk with something like intense embarrassment. Above him Ragta swept crazily back and forth, trying to gain altitude but failing, circling around slower and slower with every try.
Before a minute was up, Ragta landed heavily on the other side of the clearing, and was about to launch back up again when a figure emerged from the thicket beside her. From where Nik stood, he couldn't make out much except for that the newcomer's clothing was brown, which stood out against his dragon's orange scales but blended well with the forest.
"Hello," broadcasted the figure with smooth, slow articulation. "I am called Yulehr."
Nikolai looked at the orange scales of his dragon, looked back at the dirk at his feet, and felt his knees go soft. The ground rushed up through the blackness to greet him.