Chapter 17: The Battle
Darren stirred at Kerri’s feet. Mind racing, she hurried to establish what side of the chest the arrow had penetrated. Not the left. Dammit...
Rising to his hands and knees, Darren earned another arrow to the back of the thigh.
He screamed, the shrill yowl of the forest cat superimposed over the voice of the man in a chilling dissonance that raised all the hairs on Kerri’s body.
Scurrying into the shelter of the trees, Darren found his feet and retreated to the forest, the two arrow shafts protruding out behind him as he limped into the growing shadows.
Pawn bested, the Unnamed let out a roar, its hollow cry thundering over the mountainside, shaking snow from the low branches in its fury.
Kerri cowered, dropping the heavy rock in her haste to clap her hands over her ears. The sound went on and on, longer than humanly possible, loud enough Kerri could feel the waves of it traveling up through her boots.
Finally, it ebbed. The creature was hunched from the effort of its furious cry, and as the echoes of his revilement lifted from the hills, it was to the rising sound of drums, stronger and more insistent than before, as if the mountain itself were thrumming with lifeblood, the drums the rhythmic beating of its heart.
Blinking open her squinted eyes, Kerri watched in horror as the Unnamed turned to Mahasani. The sound of its rage rumbled in its chest as it stalked toward the old shaman, eight hair-covered arachnoid legs uncoiling from beneath the ragged animal skins on his back.
Mahasani did not falter in his calm. The very image of him, arms broad and feathered like the eagle’s, head dressed with the coiled might of massive ram’s horns, even the whispering scuff of his feet as he moved with the rhythm of his calling, lent him the air of permanence. He was solid, undeniable, immutable.
Claws emerged from the mass of fetid skins, clenching and extending in its eagerness to strike a blow at its captors. Still, Mahasani danced on, arms opening wide as the cry of an eagle pierced the sky. A blue haze enveloped his wing-like breadth, and the drums rose in volume.
Kerri could hear his low voice chanting in a language created by the blending of civilizations joined in a common mission. Cadence rising and falling with his motions, he closed on the Unnamed, ash-painted eyes distant in his purpose.
The creature lashed out, claws tearing a path toward Mahasani’s center. But the old shaman simply moved with him, luminous wings flaring as he spun with the momentum of the Unnamed’s attack, striking a blow with claw-tipped gauntlets as he came full-circle and pivoted around behind his opponent.
The leather gauntlets left a wide rent in the layers of skins covering the Unnamed’s massive form. Tasting their foe, Mahasani’s claws, too, began to glow, and the halo image of a great bear rose in challenge around the steady form of the old man.
The Unnamed struck again. And again, Mahasani ghosted out of his reach, dipping and spinning to the sound of the drums and slashing a double blow across the thick pelt covering the creature’s legs.
The mountains shook again with the force of the Unnamed’s fury, but Mahasani didn’t waver in his resolve, feet scuffing and shifting to the steady rhythm of the drums, wings drifting and claws flying in his increasingly lethal dance. Each time the creature pushed its assault, Mahasani evaded, shifting with a fluid ease and answering each attack with his own.
Bloodied, the Unnamed suddenly faltered, shifting back a step and curling its lips over its savage, wolfen maw.
The archers took their opening.
The first arrow soared over Mahasani’s outstretched arm, its passing echoed in the arc of his diving wing as it plunged into the Unnamed’s neck. The creature staggered back, a rasping gargle emanating from its throat as moss-hung antlers shuddered.
Another arrow struck it in its chest, then its shoulder—its chest again. Over and over the warriors released, striking their mark with lethal precision, each arrow’s passage marked by a ghostly streamer of sacred ash.
Finally, with an otherworldly wail, the Unnamed turned and fled into the trees, pursued by the steady pounding of war drums.