Monday, March 24, 2008

Chapter Thirteen

Vijhan stalked the low scrub bordering the nearby plain. A strange, pungent scent wafted toward him on the morning breeze, raising his hackles. He had to stifle a low growl. The Canid, a skilled hunter, inhaled deeply, trying to pick up more of the scent. Perhaps if he could get a nose full he would be able to identify the scent. Gripping his spear just a little tighter, he inhaled again.

Vijhan recognized some of the threads of the scent. Whatever it was, it was a predator. The coppery smell of a meat eater was easy to discern with his sensitive nose. There was also a curiously strong smell of rotting meat intermingled with the predator’s. The sweet-tinged rot masked the finer nuances Vijhan needed to identify what kind of predator it was.

Spooked, the Canid gave one last sniff and then began to back away. There was no way to know what was giving off the scent, but he could tell that it was very close. After warily retreating to a safer distance up a low hill, Vijhan strained his eyes to see if his new vantage point allowed him to catch a glimpse of the hidden predator. No such luck.

Felling confident he had slipped away undetected, Vijhan fell into a ground-eating lope. He decided to cut his scouting trip short and let his companions know that something seemed amiss ahead. Earlier in the day he had discovered a wonderful camp site, but had rejected it as not far enough along his route. If he hurried, he might be able to intercept Brayden and Sethyr before they reached the site and explain the situation. Based on their best guess, they would find one of the trade roads in the next day or so. Ending the day early would be a welcome respite from the constant travel of the past several days.

As Vijhan traveled gentle breeze began to blow from the north. He muttered a curse for the change in the wind. With the wind directly in his face he could smell anything that he was moving toward, but anything coming up behind him would have its scent blown away from the Canid’s keen nose. For Vijhan the effect was akin to wearing a blindfold, eliminating his ability to detect any pursuers by their scent. He was, however, comforted that he caught the faint scent of his companions on the breeze blowing toward him.

Vijhan’s pace remained constant and quick, as if the scent of his companions was pulling him along. The scent grew more distinct in his nose as he ran, reassuring him that he was growing closer every minute. Vijhan’s tail began to wag on its own at the prospect of seeing his companions again. Even though it was a natural reaction among his kind, it bothered Vijhan that his tail seemed to have a mind of its own. A few times he had considered wearing breeches that would conceal his errant tail, but dismissed it each time at the thought of the possible discomfort.

With a chuff of determination, Vijhan decided to leave well enough alone. Not even Sethyr seemed poked fun at him for the minor foible. He thought perhaps it could be that she might be as self conscious of her tail as he was in the presence of Brayden. Despite their vast differences, Vijhan knew that he and Sethyr both shared a strange admiration for Brayden. Before meeting the Protector, the Canid never had any interest in Humans, other than as possible prey. Vijhan assumed that Sethyr shared similar feelings because she chose to travel with Brayden rather than stay with her own folk.

The breeze shifted abruptly, no longer blowing in Vijhan’s face, but from behind. What he smelled stopped him in his tracks. He paused and inhaled more deeply to pick up the scent better. The strange rotting smell was so strong now it caused him to sneeze. He recognized the smell, with its mixture of rot and predator. However, this time the smell was much closer and it made his mind cry danger. The smell was unmistakably from a dákde t'ooch.

Vijhan whirled around, ready to fight. A massive bear galloped into the clearing, its head up and sniffing the air. Vijhan let out a gasp at the bear’s size. On all four feet, it looked directly into his eyes. He had seen one at a distance when he first began to hunt with his pack, but that experience utterly failed to prepare him for meeting a dákde t'ooch face to face. The bear swung its huge hear from side to side, scanning the clearing. It was then that Vijhan saw the reason for the rotting smell. A horrible burn marred one side of the bear’s face and neck, all the way down to its shoulder. The wound was blackened, but had broken open and putrid yellow ooze seeped from it. Vijhan saw that the wound was terribly infected and was driving the bear into a fevered rage. If the dákde t'ooch had not been deadly enough, being mad with pain made it doubly dangerous.

It took the bear a few moments to catch sight of Vijhan. Dákde t'ooch depended on hunting with their sharp noses and had very poor eyesight, but it was good enough to identify prey at a short distance. The bear shook its head and bellowed a challenge, flinging drops of ooze from the wound out to either side.

Vijhan’s knees nearly buckled from the roar’s ferocity. He imagined that the force of the roar ruffled the furry tufts of his ears, making them unconsciously flatten against his head. Vijhan, his reason frozen by fear, gave his body over to his hunter instincts. His lips curled into a feral snarl and he howled, summoning the rest of his pack to the kill. A kernel of though trapped beneath the carnivore reactions knew there was no pack to summon, but it remained trapped, unheeded.

Enraged by Vijhan’s challenging howl, the bear snorted, lowering its head for a charge. With another roar, the beast leapt forward. Vijhan reacted instantly, scrambling to the left, putting him on the side of the bear with the injured, cloudy eye.

The bear’s jaws snapped on empty air. Realizing that its prey had escaped, the bear reared up on its hind legs. It towered nearly three times Vijhan’s height. Letting out another titanic roar, it scanned the clearing for the Canid.

Before it spied Vijhan, the Canid jumped forward, stabbing his spear forward. The blade bit deeply into the beast’s hip, summoning forth another angry roar in response. The bear whirled around, dropping to all fours. The creature’s sudden move ripped the spear from Vijhan’s grasp.

Sensing an advantage the dákde t'ooch lunged at the Canid. Vijhan managed to dance out of the way, drawing a small, bearded axe from his belt. The bear snapped at him, but missed again. Vijhan smashed the axe downward at the bear’s head as it snapped at him. He scored a glancing blow against the blackened wound on the bear’s face. The scabious mass split wide, spitting a fountain of putrid corruption.

The bear let out a high-pitched bellow of pain, shaking its head in agony. The pain showed no signs of discouraging the bear. In fact, it seemed to redouble its ferocity. The bear struck out with a ham sized paw, catching Vijhan before he could backpedal. It connected with a glancing blow on the Canid’s arm with a sickening crack. Vijhan sailed through the air, landing in a heap at the edge of the clearing. The axe flew from his mangled grasp as he hit the ground, clattering against the trunk of a scrawny tree.

The bear plodded in a circle, bellowing and pawing at its injured Muzzle. The pain made it forget the fallen Canid for the moment. Vijhan took those precious seconds to gather his wits, getting to his feet. He cradled his broken arm close to his side, wincing with each movement. He spotted his axe lying under the tree where it had fallen and he stumbled over to retrieve it. Carefully leaning down to pick it up, Vijhan’s injured arm brushed one of the low hanging branches. He stifled a yelp of pain and grabbed the axe.

The sound was enough to distract the bear from its pain long enough to recall its prey. It rounded on Vijhan, panting, its huge shoulders heaving as it slowly padded toward the Canid. Vijhan raised the axe in a feeble defense, but the bear rose to his hind legs and batted it away, sending it flying into the trees. Now defenseless, Vijhan reverted to his instincts. Unmindful of his dangling arm, the Canid rose to his feet and leapt at the bear. His teeth closed on the bear’s thick neck and he bit down with all his remaining strength. His teeth met tough hide and a thick, oily pelt, but did not penetrate anything vital. There was just too much flesh there for the Canid’s teeth to find deadly purchase. The bear swatted Vijhan to the ground, dislodging him but paid for it by losing a large patch of hide from its neck. The back of the Canid’s skull struck a rock as he hit the ground. It sent stars across his vision and his head swam.

The dákde t'ooch loomed over the stunned Canid, a combination of saliva, blood and pus dripping down, spattering Vijhan. A shout drew the bear’s attention away from the fallen Canid. Its head lifted, searching for the source.

Brayden stood among the trees just outside of the clearing, his broadsword drawn and his shield held defensively.

“Leave him be, beast!” Brayden shouted. Dropping to all fours, the bear sniffed the air suspiciously. Some glimmer of guile still left in its fevered brain warned him to be wary of the newcomer. It growled threateningly, but did not make a move to attack.

Brayden took a step forward, shouting and banging his sword against his shield. The racket startled the bear, but it still did not back away from Vijhan.

Brayden took another step forward, continuing his clanging barrage. The bear shied away from the harsh metal clanging, but did not fully give ground. It continued to stand over Vijhan, unwilling to lose its prey to the newcomer.

It reached out with its paw, rolling the Canid closer and eliciting a pained groan. The bear leaned its head down, eyes never leaving Brayden, and began to pick up Vijhan in its mouth.

“NO!” Brayden screamed. The Protector rushed forward, swing his sword in an overhand arc.

The Bear, having a hold of the Canid, whirled on all four feet and galloped away from the charging Protector. Even carrying the Canid, the bear moved much faster than Brayden. It began to outdistance him, Vijhan flopping in its huge mouth like a doll.

“Blast you, beast…STOP!” Brayden yelled, but the bear paid him no heed.

“Sethyr, do something.” Near panic showed in the Protector’s voice.

Just at that moment, Sethyr did do something. The mage materialized directly in the path of the charging bear. She held nothing but a tree branch in each hand. The bear chugged on, bearing down on the mage like a charging bull. Sethyr simply smiled one of her knowing smiles and spoke a single word.


The branches she held burst into bright flames, whooshing as they ignited. The sight of the flames did get the bear’s attention.

The huge beast froze, its juggernaut bulk heaving to a halt five meters from the flames. Its good eye grew large, transfixed by the guttering flames.

“Ah, I see by you wound you are familiar with fire,” Sethyr said. She took casual step forward, moving the burning branches closer to the bear.

“Be a good, little pet and drop our companion.”

The bear let out a high-pitched whine. Its head swung to and fro, searching for a way around Sethyr. It stepped to the right, but the mage waved a branch and the bear shied away from the fire, sending it backward a few steps.

Sethyr slowly continued her approach, a step at a time.

“You silly bugger, drop the dog and you can go…Oh you stupid animal.”

With a bellow of pain, the bear dropped Vijhan and whirled around. Brayden stood behind it, his sword wet with blood. The Canid forgotten, the bear advanced on Brayden, enraged at its new tormentor. Sethyr could see more than a little concern on the Protector’s face.

“Allow me,” Sethyr said, and waved one of the burning branches in Brayden’s direction. A gout of flame leapt from the branch and executed a curved path through the air toward Brayden. The protector held his sword aloft, intersecting the path of the flame. When the two touched, the sword’s blade transforming into a brand of fire.

The flaming bland gave the bear pause. It hesitated in confusion, its fear of the flames warring with its insensate rage. The rage won out and the bear lunged at Brayden, its eyes filled with hate.

The Protector danced aside easily, avoiding the snapping jaws. With a quick chop, he brought the sword down on the bear’s neck, its blade slicing neatly through it. The flames sizzled as the bear’s blood splashed on the blade as it passed though the bone and sinew.

The bear’s head dropped neatly to the ground, but the body plowed into the ground a few more feet, driven by the momentum of its muscled bulk.

“Sethyr, douse these flames, we don’t want to start a wildfire,” Brayden called as he rushed to Vijhan’s side.

Sethyr gave a bored sigh. “As you wish.”

The mage held the burning branches in front of her and blew casually on them. The flames guttered out, leaving the branches smoking, but extinguished. As the flames on the branches died, so did the ones engulfing the blade of Brayden’s sword.

Brayden dropped the sword absently into the grass as he reached Vijhan. The Canid was unconscious, but still breathing. The protector carefully removed the Canids woolen shirt, searching for wounds. The bear had left several deep punctures on his shoulder where it had carried Vijhan in its mouth. The arm was obviously broken, but other than that, Vijhan seemed fairly intact.

Brayden hastily removed his heavy leather gauntlets and probed the wounds on the Canids shoulder.

“A am going to fix these first and then I’ll need you help to set his arm,” he said to Sethyr as she approached casually.

Without waiting for a response, Brayden put his hands over the punctures, closed his eyes and, began to chant a prayer to Chanti. A bright glow appeared around his hands. The visible bruising slowly faded as the chant continued. Finally, Brayden finished his prayer and moved his hands, flexing them painfully as if afflicted with arthritis.

He turned them over, revealing a web of bruises on the palms of his hands.

Sethyr hissed when she saw them. “It’s a high price to pay for the healing touch,” she said.

Brayden looked up at his friend. “Perhaps, but one I am willing to pay. I’d do the same for you.”

“It’s a pity it won’t knit bone as well as flesh,” Sethyr responded.

“Aye, but I don’t know if I’d even survive that…now help me make him comfortable so we can set his arm in a sling. It’s fortunate that he is still benumbed. It’ll make it much more pleasant for all of us.”

Brayden removed a blanket from Vijhan’s nearby pack and rolled it behind the Canid’s head, trying to make him as comfortable as possible before beginning the task of resetting the Canid's broken arm.

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