The air was cool as the new season settled in. The area was surrounded by jagged mountains and few trees, just inside Trindal-VinCar’s borders. It seemed like the plants in the area weren’t able to survive, much less the few animals they’ve encountered.
It was certainly a place of survival verses one of thriving life. A sadness filled Kiaran at the realization. It must have been such a difficult place to live.
Kiaran watched Ryker as his eyes moved along the skinny trees. Just over the hill stood a village. The houses were small, each only one-room homes. Stained rags hung in the windows for curtains and tattered blankets over some of the doorways. The nicer houses had wooden doors, some of them aging.
It was silent, the birds rarely making a sound. Kiaran walked carefully, her ears catching every little sound around them. She pulled her black hood more tightly over her head to hide Nurra.
Ryker walked closely to her as he always did, their horses trailing behind. His attention was caught on the window of the house beside them as a child glanced out. The mother scooped the child away, shutting the curtain once more. Ryker bumped into Kiaran who glanced down to him.
“This is a miserable place,” Cyrin said lowly, his purple-tinted eyes gliding over the town.
“It truly is,” Stella agreed. “It seems that not only the people are effected.” She gestured with her chin toward the surrounding environment.
“I agree,” Petre mumbled, “Plant life is dried up and shrinking.”
As they walked, people stayed hidden in their homes, hushing their children, and keeping out of the windows. The only thing that seemed to catch their attention was a black cat that sat at the corner of a house.
Its tail swished slightly, the dirt clouding up around it. Its orange eyes watched Kiaran as it stood, rubbing its body along the edge of the building.
“That’s odd,” Stella hummed as she watched it. The others followed her gaze. “It is the only animal that has made an appearance all day...And it seems playful.”
“It might be a familiar,” Ryker said. Cyrin looked at him oddly, and he said, “You know...the animal that follows the Destine around--or witches...But usually the Destine.”
“Ah,” he nodded.
Kiaran pulled ahead, following the animal. It bounded forward happily, leading them away from the town and into the fields just east of it. The grass was tall and scarce, the trees still skinny and brittle.
Kiaran flexed her fists at her sides, ready for anything. Anxieties arose inside her, like the night just before a big fight. Ryker’s body grew tense and he looked up to her.
“You feel it as well?” she asked softly. He nodded.
Stella drew her sword, saying, “There is something aiming at us.”
The wind picked up, the coldness cutting through them. Something rustled within the brush ahead. Cyrin drew his sword as well, watching the area.
Kiaran pulled Ryker behind her, drawing her sword with the other hand. Ryker’s hand gripped at her side, looking around her. The black blade she held shone in the light, glinting ominously. It was different from the sword she had in Trindal. Likely because she was hiding her identity as an Avestitian.
At this point, she didn't seem to care who'd figure out her identity. She'd just slay them on her way.
Something barged toward them. It was at least seven feet tall, its body bulging with muscles and leathery, pallid skin. A tuft of pale hair balled up on the top of its round head. Its ears pointed toward the sky several inches. Each tooth in it’s humanoid face was snaggled and exaggeratedly long. Its beady eyes looked them over as it grunted, moving over a fallen tree.
In one massive hand, it held a long ax, the other hand dragging a bolder attached to a chain. Everyone readied their stances, staring at it in horror. It moved one, short leg after the next, slowly making its way at them.
“What is that?” Ryker breathed.
Kiaran looked to Cyrin. He knew random things--perhaps he knew. Stella kept her eyes on the creature, her face hard as stone. “It’s magic-made,” Petre said. “That is all I know.”
“How do you know that it’s made from magic?” Cyrin asked.
“Who cares? We must defend!” Petre howled as the creature roared, spit flying through the air. Nurra growled from within her hood, his muscles flexing. Kiaran could feel what he was feeling, and knew it was time to act. “We don’t have time for a lesson,” she agreed, “It is deadly.”
The second Kiaran took a sidestep, the creature pulled back its arm, thrusting the bolder with the chain. It launched through the air and slammed into the ground amongst the companions.
Everyone darted aside, falling away and breaking formation. Kiaran snatched up Ryker, tossing him aside as she fell. He staggered backward, keeping on his feet. Whipping a hand into the air, he shouted, “Douze en trol!”
The creature shot his eyes at Ryker, its body filling with rage. Ryker kept his arm in the air, his muscles quivering as if he were holding something with all his might.
The creature was unable to use half of his body, the boy keeping it still. Anger exited the thing by its mouth, bellowing a scratching cry. Yanking its arm back, the bolder rolled toward it and was thrown again, swinging the chained chunk of mountain through the air.
The bolder was aimed at Ryker, and it was going to swipe right through him. Kiaran scrambled to her feet and lunged at the boy, slamming him to the ground. The wind off the rock cut through them. Kiaran’s heart raced as they were nearly smashed.
Petre was able to redirect the bolder--if not only by a few inches--with his magic. Ryker lost his grip on his magic hold of the creature and it roared victoriously, thrashing its arms above its head.
“It doesn’t seem intelligent!” Cyrin shouted toward them, “We can defeat him if we think it out!”
As the rock slammed into the ground, the creature lunged forward. Its legs were strong enough to jump several feet toward them, swinging its ax through the air.
Stella doubled over and the second the blade was past her, she stood, twirling with her sword, the blade hitting off its side. Its skin was so strong that her blade hardly cut through it and she was knocked off balance from the contact.
Once its swing was finished, it brought its arm down, trying to smash her. She darted backward, still trying to keep her footing. Surprisingly difficult, she barely stumbled away.
Cyrin moved around the other side while its attention was on her. He held the blade in the air, pointed at the creature, his elbows out. With great agility and strength, Cyrin leapt into the air and stabbed at its neck.
The hide on its neck was even thicker, as thick as leather armor. His blade barely stuck him. Cyrin fell back to his feet, his eyes wide.
The creature growled aggressively and swung his fist, the chain raveled across its knuckles. It slammed the fist and chain links into Cyrin’s shoulder. Cyrin spun and dropped, his arm dangling and blood staining his shirt. Nurra climbed up the creature’s arm like a lizard, spitting lava-like saliva, burning one of its eyes.
Cyrin’s hand shot to his arm, holding it tightly to his body. As the creature aimed to smash him, Kiaran lunged through the air like an acrobat, grasping it by the tuft of hair on the top of its head.
Like a hero from an exaggerated legend, she held her blade into the air, bringing it down on its face. It stepped back, swaying as her sword cut through its hair, hacking it’s scalp straight off. Blood ran down its face as it wrapped its hand around her wrist, yanking her to arm’s length.
She gripped the hilt in both hands, stabbing its fingers. It flicked its wrist, tossing her away like an annoying spider and she rolled across the ground. Kiaran skidded to a stop beside the bolder, and the creature nearly grinned at her. It pulled on the chain as to drag the giant rock over her body.
“Kiaran!” Ryker cried out her name. He lifted both arms, his palms facing the creature. The creature froze in place, its mouth snapping as it growled and roared angrily. “Now!” he shouted.
Stella slashed at the creature. “Its throat is the only weak spot,” Kiaran grunted as she stood.
“Hurry! I’m losing my grip,” Ryker groaned.
"The blood's blinding him!" Cyrin roared. "GO!"
Petre joined the young healer, binding the creature in its place with his added strength. Stella climbed up the leather straps across the creature’s chest, her fingers slipping slightly in its blood. Bringing the blade to its throat, she shoved it through its flesh.
It roared and staggered as Ryker’s arms dropped. It took hold of Stella and threw her with great strength into a nearby tree. Instantly, her body grew limp as she fell to the ground. Petre cursed and ran to her side, checking her vitals.
The thing staggered backward, blood pouring out over its chest. Finally, it fell, dead. Nurra shot away, running across the ground to Cyrin. Kiaran rushed to Stella, rolling her onto her back. She seemed in tact, but was unconscious.
Whipping around to Ryker, she found him sitting without any energy. Chances were slim that he could heal her. She was still breathing, and her heart was still beating; as far as anyone could tell, she was fine. That hit, though, was too strong to not damage something.
“Can you heal?” she faced Petre.
“No,” he shook his head. “It was a talent I could never master.”
Her eyes landed on Cyrin who looked at her, pain across his face. His fingers were blue and swollen. Kiaran walked to him, sitting beside him on her knees. She reached to him, pulling at the buttons on his shirt.
He pulled the shirt off his wounded arm, groaning in pain. His shoulder was nearly destroyed, his skin peeled back and his arm pulled out of the--now, no longer existing--socket. Nurra climbed up his chest, his back feet still on the ground. He inspected Cyrin’s wound anxiously.
“Damn,” she breathed. “How...” her eyes looked to Ryker, “How can we fix this...?”
Cyrin’s bloody hand grasped her by the hand which still held his shirt aside. She faced him once more and his attention was just past her. Glancing over her shoulder, she found the black cat sniffing at Stella’s face. Its tail flowed high in the air. It looked over at them and meowed, prancing toward the trees. It paused, watching them quietly.
“Take Stella and follow the cat,” Ryker said as he sluggishly made his way to them. “I’ll bet the Destin can help. I’ll stay here with Cyrin and Petre can help if we need it. Here in a few minutes, I’ll have enough energy to heal him. But I fear that her injuries are more drastic.”
“Right,” she nodded. Nurra darted toward the cat, lowering himself to inspect the animal without seeming threatening. “Nurra, stay with the boys to protect them,” she said. It dashed back to them, watching her anxiously. It was awkward lifting Stella’s limp body and thrusting her across her shoulders.
Taking a deep breath, she stilled her nerves. Then, she darted forward, following the cat.