Natir Whitebridge: A Grain of Respect

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Chapter 41

Light

Natir rolled down the slope and crashed into snow by the lake’s narrow bank.

She was in a terrible shape and barely had any strength left in her. When she realized where she was, she reached for the torch and dragged her spear by her side as she pushed forward, crawling weakly towards the water.

She almost made it there when she heard the beast’s roar resound from above.

Natir panicked and rolled onto her wounded back, only to see that the beast had gone mad, racing down the slope towards her like a demon overwhelmed by panic.

The beast couldn’t wait to get to her, and halfway down, it snarled and threw itself at Natir.

In the heat of the moment, Natir put up a final struggle.

Natir screamed a mad cry and could only summon enough strength to throw herself up on one knee, brandishing her spear at it in the nick of time with one end wedged into the ground, and the beast fell over it.

The impact was so strong, it burried the back of the spear a foot into the ground while the other end pierced the beast’s hard scales straight into his chest and out its back. Her arms were too weak to sustain the weight, and the spear broke in half; one half escaped her bloodied fingers while the other snapped in the body of the beast, and the motionless beast rolled down into the lake.

Embraced by pain and exhausted, Natir dropped on her back.

Her chest heaved like a woman suffering from fever and sobs raced out of her mouth. She couldn’t believe it was over.

Painted with blood all over, not all of her wounds would have been visible to her, not even if she had ten torches to aid her, but the one to her side was certainly the worst.

Natir whimpered with so much pain as she exposed her waist to look at it. The mere sight of the gruesome wound filled her heart with panic; there was an inch-wide hole in her body pouring blood all over her belly with her flesh sticking out of it.

Natir pressed on her wound with one hand and held the torch with the other, crying in pain with every motion, as she dragged herself towards the lake once more in a pathetic sight.

She needed to get there. She needed a sip to wet her cracked lips. She needed to wash her wound and bandage it before she bleeds to death.

Just then did Natir notice the foul scent of the place. It smelled like rotten eggs, exactly the same as the beast and the little girl in the village. The odor seemed to be at its strongest somewhere close to where she was.

Natir pushed towards it.

On the snowy bank there was a weak stream with yellow plants floating over its surface that emitted the foul smell.

It looked closer to moss and unlike any plant Natir had seen before. She reached for it.

Suddenly, the beast emerged from beneath the surface of the lake, howling with pain and with a broken spear stuck in its chest; when it saw Natir next to the plants, it screamed like the howling wind.

Natir couldn’t believe her eyes. The beast was still alive. And it was making its way through the water towards her a hurry. It was like getting stuck in a nightmare she could never wake up from.

The torch was her only weapon. She depended on her elbow to raise herself but repeatedly stumbled back down in her weakness, and the moment her torch accidentally touched the plant, it ignited like oil.

Stunned, Natir watched with disbelief as the fire spread all along the stream to its mouth at the base of the mountain.

Half-submerged in water, the beast jumped and howled and screamed and stabbed the water, going insane for the loss it suffered.

Natir understood what had happened: She had destroyed the very thing the beast was protecting.

Unfazed by its hateful madness and all the threatening growls it sent her way, Natir reeled tiredly up to her feet, bleeding from head to toe and trembling with pain.

Natir sucked deep breaths and looked back at it; battered in body and steeled in heart, she faced it once more, not flinching in the face of woe.

The beast sent a great scream at her then ran the other way. It slipped down repeatedly as it climbed the snowy slope with much difficulty, with the spear still stuck in its chest, until it disappeared into the forest.

A horrible quietness fell upon the place…

Natir collapsed, face-down onto the ground.

She lay motionless, barely strong enough to breathe, watching her pale fingers dripping blood into the lake.

“Aina—”

Slow and steady, her torch died.

* * *

The battered beast returned to the hill of flesh where the scene was empty but for the fires. It struggled to pull the spear out of its chest but failed repeatedly, then its foot landed on a trap that sent a wedge, hidden in the hole, through its rear foot.

The beast cried with pain and pulled its foot out, with the wedge still in it, just in time to evade the net they threw its way.

Immediately, the ambushers appeared, shouting aloud with their spears and axes intercepting it. It tried to fight its way through the attackers with its one good arm, but the men pushed back and forced it to run the other way where Gull was waiting to for it.

Gull ran towards it and struck the beast with his axe, knocking it on its back.

Before the beast could rise again, the nets covered it and the men gathered all around it like a pack of wolves.

They stabbed and cut the screaming creature from every direction as it twisted and struggled in every way beneath its butchers, and soon Gull delivered the final blow as he sent his axe at the beast’s neck until he separated its head from its shoulders and raised it in the air with a triumphal cry.

* * *

A reign of the dark.

A sightless world of quietness and cold engulfed her, and time itself lost all meaning…

Then, as if in a dream, she saw a light hovering over the surface of the water.

Too weak to think straight, reality and illusions were woven together in her mind.

Natir didn’t understand what she was looking at. All that she knew was that it was there, an orb of pure purple light shining beautifully in the dark, as tender to the beholders’ eyes as the moonlight and emitting a comforting warmth unlike anything she had experienced before.

She stretched her arm towards it as it came closer, just an inch more and she would have touched it, but the light slowly retreated away and soon disappeared over the surface of the lake.

Realizing that she had allowed the phantoms of illusion to get the best of her, Natir forced herself to snap out of it and struggled to her knees.

“Aina… Aina, wait for me.”

It hurt. Everything hurt. Her very existence was pain, and death had never looked so kind in one’s eyes. Yet she endured what no human had endured before her and forced her body to obey, living through an immense agony with every motion, every tremble, and every word she spoke.

“Wait for me.”

With weak, trembling hands, she ripped pieces of her clothes and worked on her wounds.

“Wait for me...you will not...you will not be left without a mother. Aina, you will not grow up alone. No. Never. Momma is coming home. Momma is coming. Wait for me, Aina… Wait for me—”

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