Charlie awoke to a damp, cool morning. He was lying on the frosted grass of a plateau, overlooking a series of rambling hills that curved into the distance. A deep pass, once a river, carved its way through the base of the mountains. Over untold millennia, the river had deepened the valley and wind abraded the mountains into a series of steep hills. A dense forest of ancient pines hugged the hillside, all but blanketing the valley. From his vantage, the dried riverbed looked like a jagged scar cut through a field of green. Despite almost constant moisture in the valley, the hills shed their vegetation as their altitudes increased. Near the summits, they were little more than dark rock and low scrub brush. A dense fog obscured all but the peaks of the furthest hill. The skies were cold and gray with only muted sunlight filtering through the high clouds. The entire setting was laid out as if it were a painting rendered in shades of gray. Charlie inhaled, taking in the thick, clean air, and then exhaled, his face ringed by water vapor heated by his lungs. “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” he said to no one.
Even though he had spoken in hushed tones, he could hear a faint echo reverberating from the distant hills. Not knowing what lay in the valley before him, he resisted the urge to shout his name and claim the valley for his. His training had taught him to be wary. He was a hunter, but could just as easily be prey. Charlie touched the ground next to his makeshift bed of soft pine needles and picked up his heavy oak staff. A large arrowhead made of heavy iron formed the business end of the weapon.
Charlie wore brown cloth breeches and a cloak made of deerskin, collared with white ermine. He strained his memory, trying to recall on which adventure he had trapped the weasels and stripped the fur that now caressed his cheek. It was late autumn now, and the fur was white, so surely it had been the prior winter. Charlie stamped out the remainder of the campfire with his heavy boots and began the descent towards the valley and the mountain pass where the Great Beast was said to winter. It would be a good hunt—for either the dragon, or himself.