The Last Artican

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Chapter 22

Chapter 22

The tingling turned into a sharp pain, surging through my chest. My breath caught in my lungs and I cried out in pain before I collapsed to my knees. I could feel its presence now, somewhere behind us, but I couldn’t tell how far. The pure amount of evilness that seethed from this thing was causing my magic to work overtime. It overwhelmed me. I couldn’t breathe.

Arsan was next to me in an instant with his arms around my waist. “Tabri?”

I gasped for air, trying to make sense of what the magic was telling me. Take control, I told myself. I needed to be in control of my magic, I needed to breathe.

“Why have we stopped?” Shouted Nell.

“Something’s happening to Tabri. She can’t breathe.” Arsan sounded desperate and scared. I didn’t want this. I needed control of myself. I screamed in my head, Take control! My breathing, although ragged was beginning to neutralize. My mind strained to bring the screaming pain in my chest down to something more manageable. That’s right, Tabri. Take control.

Nell sensed something. Her head shot up even though the light was dim where we were. Could she feel it too?

“Not good.” Her words were feeble, not like her. I could hear the fear in her voice. What was it that she was sensing?

I inhaled a deep breath, finally able to control my lungs and the pain that still burned through my chest. With Arsan’s help, I forced my shaky legs to stand again. He held me close to him, not letting go of my waist. I was glad for the support. The pain was still a lot for me to handle and standing was one less thing I had to worry about.

The look on Nell’s face scared me. There was fear present there. It wasn’t something I was used to, but whatever it was that was near was a very bad thing. My words caught in my throat, only coming out as a whisper. “What is it?”

Nell’s breathing was quick and sharp. She glanced at me, panic stricken. “It’s a … hellhound.”

I had never heard of such a thing, but the fact that it sent paralyzing fear through Nell, and overwhelmed my magic, scared me to death. “What’s a hellhound?”

She wasn’t moving, only staring into the darkness behind us. I placed my hands on the sides of her face, forcing her to look into my eyes. “Nell, what’s a hellhound?”

“It’s a beast of the Underworld. It is the most vicious of all the living dead.” Her voice came out in a whimper, small and uncertain. “There is no way to stop it.”

“Sent by the Underkeeper?”

“No,” whispered Nell. “I don’t think it was.”

I felt the pain surging through me again. I grasped at my chest, wanting to rip the feeling from my body. With every passing second it was getting closer, and I had no idea how to stop it. I was trying not to panic, but the force of my magic was so powerful, it overwhelmed my senses. I couldn’t control them.

“My arm is burning.” Ruan was next to me. She pulled her sleeve up, revealing a thin red line climbing up her arm. It was magic in her veins. She was obviously feeling the same affects I was from the beast, but only a small amount. She was lucky.

“I feel a burning too.” Arsan still had his arms around me, holding me up as the feeling grew worse again in my chest.

“It’s come for us. We should scatter. That will distract it. Yes, scatter.” Nell’s whisper was almost inaudible. Her body disappeared, turning into a grey mist before diving into the brambles. She was gone, leaving us to our fates with the hellhound.

“Coward!” Shouted Arsan into the darkness. He took my hand and placed it on a vine over my head, squeezing my fingers around the branch so I would hold on tight. Without another word, he furiously began to pull at the brambles with his hands and the knife Farenan tried to kill me with. How far did he expect to get before the undead creature was upon us?

Ruan curled her arms around my waist, whimpering into my side. I placed my free hand on her head and stroked her hair to give her some comfort. Why couldn’t I save her? She was just a child. She didn’t ask for any of this, no one did. Rage filled my body. The magic was surging through my veins, burning my insides with its power. My feelings were spinning out of control, raging, wanting blood.

Arsan’s hacking of the vines synced with the rhythm of my heart beat. I concentrated on it, listening for every grunt of force, every cry of exasperation. He was getting nowhere, and I could already feel the beast lurking close by. We didn’t have the time that we needed to escape. It was so unnerving, standing here, waiting for death.

I squeezed the vine above my head in frustration, trying to force all my anger into my hand. I felt the familiar release of magic through my fingertips. My hand burned and the plant crumbled away, showering hot embers over my head. I scurried quickly away, pulling Ruan closer to me. The vine was burning. A deep red heat, like a fuse spreading through the vine I was holding onto. It lit the darkness we stood in with a dim glow, burning quickly and disappearing into the mess of brambles. The dead vine crumbled away, leaving no trace it was there and leaving us in darkness again.

“Arsan!” I called to him franticly. “Burn the vines. Concentrate on your magic and burn the vines.”

I grabbed his arm and pushed him out of the way. My hands flew from vine to vine, releasing the magic with every touch, the brambles lit up like a fire. Within seconds a hole had formed in front of us. I pushed through, keeping a steady pace forward. Arsan, grabbed Ruan’s hand and followed me, trying to burn the vines with his magic, but nothing was happening. “Concentrate. Visualize burning the vines in your mind.”

Ruan placed her hand on a vine as she passed it. She squeezed and the vine began to glow read with fire. It began to burn and crumble away as it snaked through the thicket. I was shocked at the speed in which she learned her magic, and at her young age too. Her brother wasn’t far behind, and soon we were flying through the brambles, both hands seeming to blaze with the fire of our ancestors.

We moved with good speed and just in time too. A thick mist began to creep over the ground around our feet. It moved forward, slowly and deliberately, lapping at our legs as we climbed through the thicket. And the smell it brought, it was like decaying bodies, rotting in our nostrils. I had to subdue the urge to gage.

A crashing and crunching of vines boomed loudly behind us. The hellhound must have reached the edge of the brambles and dove in to find us. I could feel its evil pulling at my magic, burning my insides. The pain was worse than anything I had ever felt, but I had to press on. We had to escape this maze of vines, and then maybe, out in the open, we would have a chance to defend ourselves. The beast howled nearby. It was a bone chilling sound. I knew it had picked up on our trail. It wouldn’t be long now. It would find us.

I reached out and burned a vine, pushing with all my might to plunge through the hole it left behind, to gain a little more ground. As I did the wall of brambles in front of me gave way and I fell into an open area, a path through the thicket. It stretched out to both sides disappearing around a corner twenty feet away on each end. Which way would lead us out, if it lead anywhere at all?

The hellhound crashed closer behind us, howling, reminding us it was near. The putrid smell was becoming overwhelming. I had to pull my cotton shirt up over my mouth to try and stifle the sent. It was of little help with the beast so close.

My magic pulsed, my head snapped over my shoulder. There it was, in the tunnel behind us, only yards away. The hellhound, its red eyes glowing in the darkness were all I could see. It stood there, watching us, not moving. I stared back in horror, waiting for something. A twitch. A movement. Something to tell me what to do, which way to go. Then it sprang forward, streaking towards us. Its black matted fur catching what little light was there. The hell hound was coming for us. We were out of time.

It was coming for us, the hellhound. It’s piercing red eyes glowing brightly in the darkness. Ruan cried out in fear. The only thing I could think to do was run. I didn’t know how far we would get, the beast was fast, but we had to try. I came this far and I wasn’t going to wait for death to strike. Not this time.

I grabbed Ruan’s hand and bolted down the path to the left. I had no idea if it was the right way, but we didn’t have time to think about it. My senses were overwhelmed by the hellhound’s presence, and it wasn’t providing much help. We had no choice but to take our chances and hope that it was the right path.

“We can’t out run it,” shouted Arsan.

“I know, but what other choice do we have?” I could hear the heavy breathing of the beast behind us. It was on our heels, gaining with every bounding stride. The path turned in front of us again and I pulled Ruan around the sharp corner with Arsan running closely behind. The beast skidded on the dirt covered ground, slamming through the wall of brambles in front of it. The delay was enough time to put some distance between us and the beast again, but how long would it last.

The path began to wined, turning every few feet and narrowing. Without fail, the hellhound would slide on the loose dirty ground right into the wall of vines with a crash. It didn’t seem to be very smart, always gaining to much speed to round a corner. It gave me a little piece of hope to hold onto.

Where was the end of this maze of corridors? I was beginning to feel claustrophobic, trapped in a never ending race to nowhere. There had to be some way out. The path turned again, shooting us out into the bright sunlight. There was nothing in front of us, but a vast open landscape of frozen ice. We didn’t stop running. The beast would surly catch up with nothing to slow it down now. I glanced over my shoulder and there it was, turning the last corner, sliding into the wall of brambles. It quickly recovered and shot forward, out onto the frozen tundra. Its eyes burned a bright blood red, glaring at me, excited for the chase.

The sound of the hellhounds claws, scraped against the solid ground, coming closer with every stride. I glanced one more time over my shoulder. The black shaggy dog lowered its snout and sprang, using the force from its immense hind legs, its teeth bared, ready to strike.

Arsan leapt at me, knocking Ruan and I to the ground, just as the hellhound sprang over our heads. We skidded across the ice, watching as the beast landed gracefully in front of us, only a few feet away.

“I don’t know why I did that.” Arsan sounded confused. He scrambled to standing, pulling us along with him.

“It’s your magic. Give control to it. Trust it.” He had to trust it, it might just save him.

The hellhound turned as soon as it could grip the ice with its claws. Its bared teeth dripping with saliva that dropped to the ice in a ball of flame. I could see now, that its coat looked burnt in patches, singed by fire. It was massive, as big as a horse, and it intended to kill us. The sight of it sent a shiver up my spine.

Subconsciously, both Arsan and I pushed Ruan behind us, ready to protect her. She wasn’t as scared as she was before. I could feel her magic working in her, the magic taking control. She was learning to let go, and trust her instincts. I could feel it in Arsan too, a warm blanket of control surging through him. Hopefully, our combined efforts would be enough. Hopefully.

The beast growled and scraped its claws on the ice, preparing to attack. This was it. This would show me just how far my magic could go. With a twitch of the dog’s eyes, it came at us, running full force. I sprang into action, flying forward, ready to collide with the undead dog.

“Tabri.” Arsan shouted. Ruan and him were only a few steps behind me, ready for a fight, ready to help me. The beast leapt at me again, its jaws open wide, ready to snap at my face. I threw my body underneath its front legs, grabbing hold of its thick neck. The magic surged through me with the strength of my ancestors, a flame that could never die. I pulled with all my strength as my body slid under the beast. Its head lowered beneath its legs, flipping the dog upside down as it flew through the air. I let go and watched it fly.

Arsan jumped up to meet the beast in the air, Farenan’s dagger in his hand. He lifted the dragon hilt over his head and plunged it straight down into the hellhound’s heart. The force of the blow slammed the dog to the ground, shattering the ice around it, leaving a shallow crater.

The mangy beast rolled violently to its feet, throwing Arsan to the side, the dagger skidding across the ice next to him. Blood gushed from its wound, covering the ground in a red pool. The dog looked at the gaping hole in its chest and laughed a deep throaty chuckle. I was shocked to hear the sounds coming from the animal. It was unnatural.

The flame in my chest burned with the desire to rid the world of the undead beast. It had no place here, except to destroy us, and I wasn’t going to let that happen if I could help it. I let the flames consume my insides, losing control in the magic’s wave.

I locked onto the hellhound’s red eyes. It was staring at me, watching me with a hungry glare. It howled, an eerie sound that chilled my bones, then crouched to spring at me. No, not at me, at Ruan.

Arsan screamed her name. She was only feet away, but neither of us would reach her in time. My heart beat franticly as I let the magic consume me, willing my legs to carry me faster. The hound jumped, its claws scrapping the ice with a piercing screech.

Ruan stood her ground as the beast came at her, jaw opened to destroy her. I was nearly there, but I knew I wouldn’t make it in time to save her. All I could do was hope that she let her magic consume her, trust the magic. I silently pleaded that she would trust the magic.

As the beast came down upon Ruan, I heard an exhale of breath as she closed her eyes, letting go to your magic. Her shoulders moved slightly to the side. Her hand balled in a fist near her ear, pulling back to strike. The whole movement took only a second. Her fist swiftly made contact with the side of the hound’s skull, stopping it in midair, and forcing it to the ground. I heard a crunching sound as the body of the beast created another crater in the hard icy ground. Ruan sprang backwards, landing crouched a few feet away. She was obviously pleased with herself.

Arsan was on the beast in a flash, driving the dagger into its neck. It let out a mournful yelp as he pulled the blade from its flesh. It laid there for a moment, blood pouring from the wound and pooling under its chin. We stood back and watched, not knowing if we had done enough to stop it. No, we hadn’t. The hellhound slowly crawled to its feet, shaking its head and breathing rapidly.

Turn and run. Run now! My mind screamed at me. Something was happening to the hellhound. All my senses warned me to run, but I was glued to the ground in horror, wanting to know what it planned to do.

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