I don’t know who it was that I killed. The scene that followed has left me chilled even more deeply than watching that poor boy be eaten by the KoraKora.
Two days ago we began what we believed to be our last day trekking east. What we could not have known was that we wouldn’t make it the full day. The monster that has been stalking us for some time finally made its appearance, and it is larger than any living thing I have ever seen.
It moved on all fours, but could rear to stand much like a man. It was thick, and while its body resembled that of a muscled bear, its dark, hairless skin looked much more reptilian. It was quick, with long talons at the end of bulging arms. Its snout was long, its teeth long and sharp. There were jagged spines running along its back all the way down its tail.
If it hadn’t been for Dionus we would never have heard it coming. The beast moved silently until it attacked. Then it roared.
Dionus could sense the air rippling against its movements, though even he wasn’t certain what it was he was sensing. It was just enough to make him stop. When Dionus stops, all of us stop.
Then with a crash the monster was upon us. It burst through the undergrowth and rolled, throwing the center of our line into disarray. When it came to its feet it roared, and then attacked again. Balthandar’s spear was already in hand, and the rest of us rallied with our swords.
It attacked us one at a time, which left enough room for the rest to counter and beat it back. It did this three times before sweeping the majority of us off our feet and latching onto Dionus’ leg. It began to pull him away when Dionus struck out with a flurry of attacks that bent the trees around us back.
He slashed into the monster’s thick hide, letting loose a flow of dark blood. It released him in shock and he launched himself into the air, unleashing more blows as he retreated.
We shouted and ran to his aid, but the monster was already moving off to a safe distance. It stopped there and glowered at us through the trees. I could have sworn I saw the wounds beginning to heal. That was when we decided to run.
The monster pursued.
We ran for the better part of an hour, stopping to drive the thing back only to run with it fresh on our heels. I didn’t realize we were running north until we burst into a clearing filled with dozens of yellow-painted men: KoraKora.
We stopped, frozen. Images of the carnage from the day before flashed in my mind. And there, in the center, stood the very same man I saw leading the pack days before. The one who had gutted that boy like a butcher might a pig.
Both groups stared at each other for a long moment, then they picked up their weapons and shouted. We just ran to the east as quickly as we could to circumvent them. They were set to take chase until the monster came bursting into the scene and rolled right through them. I heard a cry go out from dozens of mouths: “Bangara!”
Chaos again ensued as we ran back into the thick darkness of the jungle. I didn’t realize until it was too late that we had just passed under the first truly open sky I had seen in a month.
The monster was now embroiled in the KoraKora, giving us a moment to build some distance. But the KoraKora nearest us, possibly oblivious to the reason for their tribesmen’s sudden madness, immediately hooted and gave chase.
Rudimentary arrows were suddenly flying through the trees around us. They stuck in the wood, or got tangled in the vines. Dionus batted the majority away, but he couldn’t keep it up constantly while running. Then he was struck by a dart.
The dart didn’t put him down immediately. In fact, he didn’t notice it at first. But soon he started to slow. Within the hour he was lagging behind so badly we had to drop back and grab him.
The question was raised whether we should just stand and fight. But there had been dozens of the KoraKora, and then there was that monster we could barely repel. We didn’t know the area, I argued. The only sure defense we had at the moment was distance, and none of us wanted to be eaten, by beast or man.
That was a sobering thought. We argued heatedly for a moment, but the first arrow to whip past us settled the debate. We ran.
I have only had to run for my life a handful of times. It gets no more pleasant with repetition. We fled through the night, unwilling to stop unless we absolutely had to. Finding the antidote along our path for Dionus was one of those moments.
Time became a haze, and the jungle blended into an impenetrable darkness as night fell.
We stumbled often, swallowing curses for fear of giving our position away. We intermittently heard the hoots and shouts of our pursuers. On more than one occasion we could hear them all around us. Somehow we avoided contact with them all through the night. I suppose they were as blind as we.
They found us as soon as the morning light began to filter through the leaves.
We were forced to hide Dionus in the tangled roots of one of the trees. They were already falling on us. Balthandar began the killing in earnest, skewering two of the savages with his spear in one thrust. The arrows posed the greatest threat, however. They shot at us more than they attacked head on.
And then their leader appeared. There was a cut across his cheek. Whether he got it from the monster or some branch along the run, I will never know. There was cold intent in his eyes. Murder.
He launched himself forward, bringing around a crude iron scythe with great force. I stepped towards him and met it with my own sword. Our blades ground to a halt as the brittle material gave way.
We fought then.
I haven’t had a good fight in a long while. He almost put one up. I wasn’t worried about losing – I rarely am – I would go so far as to say I enjoyed it. We danced for nearly half a minute, but it didn’t take long to finish him. When I did, I realized I was standing on a silent field. But only for a moment.
His followers had stopped fighting to watch their leader. Balthandar said they had great pride written across their faces until I slew him. Pride quickly drained to despair.
They immediately fell upon his body, moaning and wailing. I have never heard such pitiable cries, even from the mouths of fresh orphans. That was what these men had become. They wept, and began cutting themselves. I was afraid they might consume his corpse, as they had eaten the boy before, but they didn’t touch him. They simply wallowed in their sorrow and bathed him in their blood.
The scene took on a morbid serenity. I found myself fixated and disgusted at the same time.
We didn’t stay long. We picked Dionus back up and began to run again until we were no longer able. After a brief respite we picked up and moved again for as long as we could before stopping for good. I immediately fell into a deep sleep that only lasted a few hours when my dreams woke me. The boy. The man who killed him covered in the blood of his followers. Now, even as exhausted as I am, I cannot sleep.
Night is falling. I must try again to sleep until it is my turn at the watch. I only pray the mourning of those savages has left us enough time to escape.