Natir Whitebridge: A Grain of Respect

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Chapter 38

Beyond the Sun

Overwhelmed by panic, their cries made the whole forest seem in an uproar.

The torch regained its flare and revealed the scene.

Wide-eyed, panting like dogs, and shouting like mad people, Natir was on her knee brandishing a twig in the air with Viri and Teyrnon in front of her in awkward postures, one armed with a sword and the other with a spear and an axe, which they were brandishing in each other’s faces.

Natir had slammed into Viri head-on as they ran into each other, while Teyrnon—who was just a step behind—had stumbled upon her and crashed face-down.

The three of them dropped on their backs. They needed a moment to regain themselves.

Natir cursed, “Oh fuck..oh fuck..I can’t breathe.”

“It’s Natir.”

“Curses...that hurt.”

“My chest will..explode. You scared me.” Said Natir.

“You scared...me.”

“Where did you two...come from?”

Teyrnon threw his arm to the side, grabbed the torch and wedged it in the snow, so it wouldn’t go out. “We...in the dark...first light we saw...we ran to it.”

She rolled on her side to look at them. “Where are your horses? Weren’t there three of you?”

“We got separated.”

Viri said, “Something attacked us. We let it have...the horses. I don’t know where Hefeydd is.”

“You abandoned your horses...and ran...on foot?”

“What? No. Not like that.”

“We had to sacrifice them. It came after the horses, mess, it was a mess, everything happened so fast, and we ran.”

“What came after the horses?”

“I don’t know. Something. The same thing from earlier.”

They sat up. “What happened to you?”

“Why are you alone?”

Natir sucked in a breath and sent her upper half shooting up. “I was—”

Her face darkened in an instant and she yelped, “You’re bleeding!”

“What?” Viri checked his shoulder. His whole side was coated with blood. “Oh, Veles! When did this happen?”

“Viri? You’re injured?”

“When did this happen?”

“Oh my gods!” Her eyes widened, and her hands flew to her mouth. “I was holding a spear.”

He stared at her, shocked. “YOU STABBED ME?”

* * *

Earhart had found his way to Gull’s group and heard the story of what had happened.

“So where is it now?”

“It will be back,” Gull said, sitting next to a fire.

“With all these fires around, I doubt that it will.”

“I said it will be back. What matters right now is where is Milos? What is he doing? I need him here.”

“He...he will catch up with us shortly, but right now let’s take care of these wounds,” Earhart said, nodding at the cuts Gull suffered to his chest.

A man offered, “Use this to bandage it.”

“No,” he got up, “what we need right now is to set up more traps. It didn’t panic and run in the direction we had expected and ended up avoiding the ones we’d prepared. But next time it will not be so lucky.”

* * *

“I can’t believe you stabbed me,” Viri said as Natir worked on his wound.

“I did not stab you.”

“This could have easily been to the heart.”

“Yes, except that I didn’t do it.”

“You admitted that you did!”

“Look, I don’t want to get in trouble, all right? It was dark, and we don’t know what really happened. You could have injured yourself!”

“Just hurry and tie it up.”

“It could have been anything! Just look around you, there are all kinds of sharp—” She couldn’t find something to finish her line with.

“Twigs?” Teyrnon suggested.

“Not helping.” She gave him a look.

“Yes, yes, fine. Just get it done with,” Viri said.

She mumbled after a pause, “I didn’t stab you.”

“Good grief! I said get it done with.”

“All right, I’m done. There,” she declared.

He got up with their help. “Veles, it really hurt.”

Teyrnon nodded towards the light coming from the direction of Gull’s group. “We need to get there and re-join the rest.”

“It’s not far.”

“I can’t find my spear,” Natir said.

“Take mine,” Teyrnon said, shoving his axe in his belt. “Get the torch, too, and I’ll hold Viri. Let’s go.”

Just as they were about to head out, Viri and Teyrnon were suddenly alerted.

Worried, Natir asked, “What?”

Teyrnon signaled her to be quiet. He listened attentively then whispered, “It caught up with us.”

The men armed themselves. Natir tensed, spear and torch in her hands as her eyes searched the dark to ascertain what it concealed.

She whispered, “What is it?”

“The thing that attacked us. What do we do?”

Viri said, “Put the torch out and escape?”

She said, “Putting the torch out is to gouge our own eyes out. We need the torch.”

The grunts became clearer then she saw the creature slowly emerging from behind the trees, walking on all fours sideway to them, only twenty yards away.

Its sight horrified her.

“What is that?”

It stopped in its tracks and watched them while turning its head in awkward manner between them and the dark.

Viri said, “We need to run. We need to run now.”

“It’s too close,” Natir said.

“We won’t make it,” Teyrnon said. “If we run, it will hunt us down, just like before.”

“For Veles’ sake, we need to run before it’s too late.”

Natir looked at her companions; they were more terrified than she was and already stealing steps back.

She sucked in deep breaths and tightened her grip on the spear.

“We can take it out,” she said.

“What?”

“It’s just one, and all three of us are armed. We can take it out.”

“The fuck are you saying, woman?”

“You didn’t see what it can do.”

She insisted. “Listen to me. Look, it’s not attacking, it’s waiting to see what we’ll do next. Even that thing understands better than to attack a group. If we stay together and fight back, it will surely run.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“It isn’t cornered!” she said. “It has the whole forest at its back. It will run.”

The creature approached them very slowly, drool dripping down its hideous mouth.

They stuck close together as several horrific moments passed by. Sweat coated their faces as the creature creeped nearer and nearer, and then it suddenly jumped out of sight and circled around them in the dark.

They spun together, trying to track it down with their eyes, and caught fleeting glimpses of the beast. It wasn’t attacking, but it wasn’t leaving them alone, either.

“What now?”

“We should have run when we had the chance.”

“We can’t outrun it.”

Natir panted with anxiety, “Whatever happens, we can’t give it our backs.” She motioned with her head. “That big tree over there, you see it?”

“Yes?”

“We must stick together no matter what. If something happens, run to it and let’s regroup there.”

“This is stupid, let’s just run already.”

“We can’t give it our backs!”

“Do you see where it is?”

A sudden growl shook their hearts as the beast bolted out of the dark and landed between them.

“RUN!”

In an instant they all jumped out of its way.

The beast had slammed into Viri’s shoulder, causing Viri to grab Teyrnon’s cloak in order to not fall. Natir shrieked and escaped to the side when she saw it coming. While Teyrnon sent a blind hit into the air, Viri’s grasp on him caused him to spin out of balance and he lost his axe.

The creature shattered their group in a heartbeat, and as swift as it had appeared, it leapt and disappeared back into the dark.

Natir immediately made her way to the tree, but when she got there, she was all by herself.

She shouted and looked everywhere, “Here! Teyrnon? Viri? Over here! Teyrnon? Teyrnon?”

Running in the dark, the two men fell down a ditch in the ground.

They looked about in panic then back at the direction of Natir’s torch, just fifteen steps away.

Her cries filled the air, “Teyrnon? Viri? TEYRNON, WHERE ARE YOU? TEYRNON?”

“Curses!” Teyrnon spat.

Viri whispered, “Run, this is our chance.”

“We must get her.”

Viri pulled him in and whispered, “We need to run now.”

Teyrnon said with shock, “What are you saying?”

“TEYRNON?”

“I’m injured, and you can’t use your other hand. We can’t fight this thing. If it catches us, it’s all over.”

“But—”

“Use the dark. Escape while it’s distracted. We must find Hefeydd and the rest, it’s our only chance.”

“TEYRNON, WHERE DID YOU GO? PLEASE ANSWER ME. DON’T LEAVE ME. TEYRNON?”

“We can’t just leave her.”

“It’s just a woman,” he hissed. “Now move it or I’ll leave you, too.” He ran towards Gull’s group without waiting.

“TEYRNOONNN?”

Teyrnon hesitated, turning his face between Viri and Natir’s light with self-struggle.

Teyrnon shut his eyes hard and let out a low grunt then let his legs run loose, abandoning her.

Natir panted with terror. Nothing but the cold wind had answered her cries, and darkness was everywhere she looked. She stuttered, hurt, “Teyrnon…? Why?”

She fell to her knee.

Left to die, an unimaginable pain overcame her, turning her breaths into sobs and bringing tears to her eyes.

The beastly grunts emitted from the dark and she raised her face towards it.

Death was calling for her.

Overwhelmed by despair, Natir did the only thing left for her to do: she wedged the torch into the snow and unveiled the ground with her hands.

She reached for the spearhead with a trembling hand, cut her palm on it, and watered the ground with her blood.

“Great Veles of the earth,” she prayed with a shuddering voice as she dug the blood-tainted mud and wiped it on her mouth, “for my daughter. Give me strength.”

Holding back her tears, she shut her eyes hard and pled, “Let me see her face again. I beg you. I beg you.”

She wiped her watery eyes and rose up, brandishing her spear in the face of the dark, and prepared herself to die.

She panted, breathless with anxiety.

“Call my name, and your heart shall know no fear—”

Surrounded by silence, her voice rang.

“From the barren lands, to the heart of wilderness, I answer, and you shall conquer your enemy—”

The ugly grunts rose.

“In my hand I hold dominion over every beast, every terror and every fang of the night—”

It came from everywhere as the beast circled around her, causing Natir to turn towards the noise each time.

“FOR I AM THE LORD OF DARKNESS. I AM THE RULER OF THE EARTH. MY ESSENCE IS PERFECTION—”

Bloodstarved, the beast shot out of the dark.

“AND BEYOND THE SUN IS MY MIIIGHT—”

She echoed a mad cry as she spun towards the beast, waving her spear in the air, and struck it with the back of her spear with such force that its end broke against the beast’s jaw.

The creature crashed and rolled on the snow within the light of her torch, but it had the reflexes of a dog, and almost immediately it was on all fours again, jumping at her.

It came within a mere inch of her throat. Natir barely escaped its claw in time as she leapt back in between two trees which obstructed its strike, wood shrapnel blowing in her face from the insane force of its attack.

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