gusts whipped through the barren wasteland. The radiating heat stung their
lungs as they barreled over the uneven ground. Long strands of purple haze
lined the night sky. Murky shadows played tricks on their senses as they dodged
the tiny night insects. Turkill snagged a small stone as he turned a sharp
corner. He placed it in the pocket of his sling and swung it over his head. He
regained his footing and twisted at the waist. He let the momentum propel the
stone. It sliced through the air like a razor and hit the Jaduuk square in the
forehead. The creature fell backward at an instant. The pack of Jaduuk still
behind leapt over their fallen pack mate. They dug their hind legs into the
ground and leapt over scattered boulders with ease.
ran onto a half-fallen tree and slammed his walking stick into the ground. His
small frame launched into the air. He
pulled his arms and legs in tight and rolled through the smelly,
orc-like-wolf-hunter’s arms. He somersaulted onto a jagged boulder on the other
side and scurried over the edge.
our scents into the breeze,” Shaz said.
twirled her hands, spinning the air before launching it toward the Jaduuk. The
Jaduuk hunter snarled. Drool dripped from his long fangs at the sides of his
mouth. Long ears at the top of his head twitched, and his snout-like nose
puckered as he caught the scent. He skidded in the soft dirt and shot off
toward them. Turkill leapt behind the boulder Ladtwig was behind and rolled to
should draw them this way,” Shaz said.
then what?” Serin asked.
set a trap.”
those things are twice our size, and we have no idea what they’re capable of?”
we find out.”
know, I’m starting to doubt your logic here,” Serin said.
help me with this rock.”
called the air and sent a puff under the immense boulder. Even with her air magic, the boulder was
almost too heavy to move. She gripped the ground with her toes and stretched
her arms out as far as she could. The boulder inched gradually. Shaz thrust his
shoulder into the stone and heaved. It moved into place and Serin dropped her
arms. They hurried behind the rock and crouched into its shadow.
gripped the cold stone for support. Shaz could tell she was becoming weaker and
he did rely on her air magic more than he should. Think, think, what would Grandfather tell me to do? he thought.
you think you could make a sand pit, while I keep them busy?” Shaz asked.
studied him with a little surprise. She understood from his expression that he
knew she was tiring. She sucked in a deep breath and nodded. Shaz touched her
shoulder and she became aware of his energy. It tickled her skin and gave her a
little more confidence. Shaz gripped the hilt of the sword and rounded the
boulder. At first, he couldn’t see anything, but then, a funny image played out
in his head. He sucked in a deep breath and the image became a little clearer.
two, three, four, five.” Shaz counted.
found five Jaduuk scents and a blurry image of where they were formed. Three
were larger than the other two and he surmised they were the males. He pulled
the sword from his side and allowed the energy to surge through his arm. He
took several steps from Serin and then ran toward the smaller beasts.
slipped off her boots and wriggled her toes into the soft sand. She hadn’t
understood why Shaz wanted the boulder moved but now understood it was because
the ground was softer here. She gathered the strength she needed and began
filling the sand with air. A steady stream of wind burrowed into the sand
making the top bubble and bounce. Serin’s arms ached. She closed her eyes and
tried to focus on the wind, but she found it difficult. She breathed heavily,
and her body began to sag. The wind continued to burrow deep into the ground
making the circle widened. She had no idea how big to make it because she had
no idea how big the beasts actually were, or if they could jump high, or at
clenched his fist. The pounding of the ground intensified as the pack quickened
their paces. He was confident they had him locked into their senses and the
only way out was to fight. A high-pitched snarl echoed over his shoulder. The
enormous jaguar leapt over Shaz and sank her claws into a Jaduuk. The creature
recoiled. A strong odor wafted through the air and Shaz covered his nose.
Jagwynn gripped the sand and slid on her haunches. The Jaduuk snarled and
roared. Jag returned the roar and leapt at the Jaduuk. The Jaduuk dug its claws
into Jag’s flesh. Jagwynn yelped and her eyes widened. She opened her jaws as
wide as she could and gripped the Jaduuk’s face with her claws. She sunk her
teeth into the think leathery texture of the beast’s neck. The Jaduuk reared
back and tried to shove the huge cat off. Jagwynn swung her tail to keep her
balance as her hind legs pushed herself onto the beast. They toppled to the
ground and the more the Jaduuk wriggled the tighter Jag clenched.
ran at one of the smaller Jaduuk. He flipped the sword and sliced the beast’s
chin. The beast roared and stumbled backward. Shaz spun and brought his blade
over his head. The slight glow of the sword’s markings made a mark in the night
sky. He pulled it down with ease and listened to the whipping sound it made.
The blade sunk deep into the shoulder of the oncoming Jaduuk. A high-pitched
howl pierced Shaz’s head and he flinched.
flew several feet from another Jaduuk’s fist hitting him in the ribs. Shaz
struggled to breathe as the pain raced to his brain. The cold gritty earth
found its way into his lungs as he gasped for air. Shaz coughed and gagged as a
mixture of blood and sand escaped his lungs. The metallic taste the blood left,
sank into his consciousness. The heat of the Jaduuk’s breath ripped down his
spine. He couldn’t make his body move. No matter how hard he tried and how much
he yelled in his mind, it wouldn’t respond.
here,” Turkill said.
are you going to do?” Ladtwig asked.
don’t know yet, but I have to help.”
are way too small, they will eat us alive,” Ladtwig said.
that’s the way we fight them then,” Turkill said.
do you mean?”
they can’t fight something they can’t see.”
they see with their noses.”
pulled all his leather armor and clothes off, clear down to his skivvies.
Ladtwig’s eyes popped out of his head. Turkill pulled his knife from his belt
and sliced several desert plants off their stems. He rubbed them vigorously
until his bronzed skin no longer showed.
followed and covered himself.
plant stinks,” Ladtwig said.
removed his sling and gathered as many rocks as he could and shoved them into
his pouch. He secured them around his waist and crept out from around the
boulder. Ladtwig filled his pouch and grabbed his dart gun.
thought you were out of darts?” Turkill asked.
am, but you never know.”
steady wind had long dried all the water from their bodies. It was hard to move
around without feeling the sting of their skin cracking. The heavy clouds thinned
letting a soft hint of the moon’s light shine over the wasteland. Turkill
caught a glimpse of the pack running toward Shaz and Serin.
there,” Turkill said.
nodded and hurried around the other side of a broad faced rock. They froze in
place when they heard Jagwynn snag her prey. Seconds later Turkill waved to
Ladtwig and they maneuvered closer.
largest Jaduuk waited at the back of the pack. He twisted his ears back and
forth and sniffed the air. Turkill crept up to a desert plant and cringed as a
twig snapped under his foot. The Jaduuk cocked his head and flicked his long
pointy ear backward. Turkill froze and held his breath. The beast turned and
studied the landscape. He sniffed again and sank his massive claws into the
ground. A deep orange glow radiated from the creature’s eyes. Turkill’s heart
sank and he pushed the bile back into his stomach. Ladtwig tossed a stone
across his path on the other side and the beast turned. The Jaduuk meticulously
searched the night.
laid a stone into his sling and sucked in a deep breath. His arm shot above his
head and his wrist flicked the sling so hard that the motion didn’t even take
half a second. The rock soared through the air like lightning and sank into the
back of the beast’s skull. The Jaduuk stopped mid-step and hesitated. He
touched the back of his head and felt the stone. He turned around in slow
motion and tried to make sense of what happened.
held his breath as he tried to understand why the rock didn’t take him down. The
beast shook his head and the orange glow returned. Turkill gulped and sunk as
low to the ground as he could. Ladtwig flicked his sling sending another stone
into the Jaduuk’s temple. The beast stumbled but didn’t fall. Turkill scoured
around in his pouch for the sharpest stone he could find and loaded it into his
sling. He stood, raised his arm and flicked his wrist. The stone shot out of
the sling and ripped across the sky.
fierce rotation of the rock became like a razor as it sliced its enormous bicep.
Ladtwig slipped as he stepped over a rock and fell. He rolled over and rubbed
his hiney. He hurried to his feet and positioned himself behind a rock. He
reached for another stone, but his pouch wasn’t there.
Jaduuk turned and moved toward him. Ladtwig hurried to the bush to search for
his pouch. Turkill moved behind a dead tree trunk and loaded his sling. He
peeked over the trunk but couldn’t see the beast. He moved to the end of where
it had been, but it wasn’t there either. He hurried to the other end and peeked
under the haggard roots. He could barely make out the Jaduuk and crept to a
gripped his ribs and closed his eyes. A strong sensation coursed his torso
calming the pain to a tolerable degree. He caught a glimpse of Serin stepping
back behind the boulder. His heart swelled with undeniable gratitude for her.
He shook his head and flung the Honor Blade behind him, letting the motion
carry him back to his feet. The Jaduuk jumped back but not far enough. The tip
of the blade raced over its belly.
parried and sidestepped. The Jaduuk pulled a battle ax off his back. Shaz
studied the images in his head the best he could and readied himself. Shaz
threw up his sword and caught the ax at its head. He spun the blade and yanked.
The Jaduuk gripped the long-hardened wood shaft tightly in his paw. Shaz let
the blade slip away and parried back. The Jaduuk pounded its chest and howled.
The grounds vibrations rippled into his body. He identified the remainder of the
pack and learned they had mobilized toward them. Still keeping the beast in
sight, he checked to see if Serin was ready yet.
leaned against the boulder and wiped the sweat from her brows. Her lightweight
cotton tunic stuck to her slender frame. She tried to steady her breathing but
found it difficult. She rubbed her aching arms and shivered from the wind as it
blew against her wet skin. She examined her sinkhole and confident it would at
least take a few of the beasts. Serin brushed off her feet and slipped them
back into her boots. She boosted herself from the boulder and curled her tongue
between her teeth. A high-pitched whistle whipped over the air. The long-draped
fur at the top the Jaduuk’s ears curved over to shield its inner ear from the
noise. Shaz closed the gap and brought the sword up to a side strike. The blade
made contact at the base of the creature’s neck. The ridiculous stench wreaked
havoc on Shaz’s senses and he struggled to keep his nerves. The Jaduuk
staggered, swaying back and forth until it lost consciousness and fell with a
thud. Shaz searched his night vision and determined the rest of the pack wasn’t
released the lifeless body and searched for her next target. She narrowed her
eyes and slunk close to the ground. The coolness of the red dirt felt good on
her warmed fur. At the back of the pack, she found the smallest Jaduuk and made
her way. Jagwynn lay in the taller straggly grass and waited until the Jaduuk
came close enough. She lunged with her forceful hind legs and released her
claws. Jagwynn sunk her claws into the Jaduuk’s shoulder and flung it to the
ground. She flipped around and lunged again.
Jaduuk went sprawling to the ground. Its look of shock and instant fear fed
Jagwynn’s excitement and she sank her teeth into its neck. The Jaduuk squealed
and flailed around but Jagwynn gripped tighter.
found his pouch and tried to tie it back onto his breeches. The hot breath of
the Jaduuk caressed his bare skin. The hairs on the back of his neck stood out
and his body shivered. He gulped and turned around. His head lifted upward as
far as it could go. The orange glow was now dark red. Its long snout flared,
and drool dripped from its giant fangs that crested its eyebrows. Ladtwig
searched his pouch but his heart sunk when there were no stones. He slid his
didn’t see the rock behind him and toppled over it. He scooched backward
scrambling to figure out what to do. As he grappled the ground he brushed up
against a prickly plant. He broke off a long stem and jammed it into his dart
gun. The Jaduuk opened his mouth wide and roared. Ladtwig sucked in and blew as
hard as he could through the dart gun. The stick shot out and lodged into the
back of the beast’s throat.
the Jaduuk dropped its ax and grabbed at its throat. Ladtwig scurried out from
under its extensive claws as it staggered around. Turkill shot across the dirt
and loaded his sling. The rock ripped across the sky with a whistle and
embedded into the Jaduuk’s throat crushing its airway. Ladtwig jumped to his
feet and darted back to the boulder they had left their clothes behind.
more second,” Shaz said under his breath.
whistled again and peeked out. Shaz dug his boot into the ground and lunged toward
her. He crossed the distance at full speed and slid to a stop as he rounded the
you ready?” he asked breathing heavily.
but I have no idea how many it will hold?” she said.
nodded and peered around the rock.
about ten seconds, run that way as fast as you can and don’t look back,” Shaz
scowled and searched his face. He wasn’t playing, and a hint of fear crept into
propelled herself from the rock and dug her boots into the sturdy ground. She
was glad the clouds had thinned letting her see enough of the landscape, so she
didn’t have to stumble around. The pounding of the beast’s heavy claws drowned
out the blood beating in her ears. The sudden boost of adrenaline surged
throughout her body giving her a satisfying renewal. She leapt over a fallen
tree trunk and caught herself as the loose ground moved under her feet.
the corner of her eye, she found Ladtwig and Turkill huddled under the lowest
ledge of a substantial rock. She picked up a rock and chucked it at them. They
jumped, grabbed their things and darted toward her. She slowed her pace, so
they could catch up.
stop running,” she said as they met up with her.
Shaz?” Turkill asked.
coming,” she said.