Chapter 3: Competition

A sound, distinct from those made by useless creatures. This was the sort of beast they came here for, and it was difficult not to be excited by the discovery. The direction of the source told him it was a type he’d met before, though. That would be a slight disappointment.

Kadmus opened his eyes, could feel them failing to adjust to the darkness. The soft blue-green glow from the patterns on his arms and chest framed the black, accentuating its impenetrability. The light could illuminate nothing save the material that gave it.

It was a thick paste of mushroom and berry, Lummush, something all the hunters brought several pouches of.

The elder and her apprentices would use Lummush to decorate the hunters before each outing, both to help them identify each other and as some superstitious ward against danger. Many mumbled some silly poem as they drew the swirling pattern over the hunters’ bodies.

Still, he was grateful for how diligently the crone foraged for it. This paste made patience less necessary.

Kadmus pulled a glob from his pack, one that remained balled by a wrapping of damp leaf.  The foreign noise repeated: a strain like tightening leather. He hurled the sphere towards its source.

The glow appeared in sync with the sound of impact. It rested high, and the faint light was enough to confirm his target to be the beast he suspected.

He took several evasive but silent steps backward. A brief whistling preceded the puncture of soil as the creature thrust its free limbs in his direction.

The clan called them sloth-striders. They had many legs, the amount often differing for each individual, but they typically outnumbered a spider’s. Each leg had many joints, and each ended in four wicked spines.

Though the legs looked like they belonged to a bug, these were lizards. Their bodies were suspended just below the lowest branches of the enormous trees. It was high enough to allow most men to walk underneath the beasts without stooping, though trying such a thing would be suicide.

Kadmus reached over his shoulder and unslung his favorite weapon: an axe with a beard nearly as proud as his own. He was eager to bury it in the strider’s hide, but he needed to be careful. This wasn’t exciting prey, and the sloth’s meat was scant, but it was still a tremendously valuable kill. He’d hate to mangle any useful bits.

The two moved in similar fashion; after all, the first clansmen had learned to navigate this place by mimicking such beasts. The strider hadn’t strayed from where he’d been marked, made wary by the harmless impact. This instinct would work against the beast.

Kadmus could not see, but he knew the path was clear. Stealth was now an obstacle. He charged.

His approach would have seemed silly, were it possible to watch. Each step was a leap, taken like he was crossing a river by jumping along a path of randomly-strewn boulders.

The sloth stabbed at each footfall, leading its thrusts on the assumption its attacker would take a direct approach. It would be difficult to dodge this stabbing, so the trick was to not try. The beast was reacting to him, after all. He’d just need to be unpredictable.

With a final jump, he arrived. The strider’s spearing ceased in turn, and for a moment, there was absolute silence. Slowly, the dry stretching of the beast’s joints could be heard, and the slither of its tongue betrayed the location of its head as it audited the blades on its feet for signs of a kill.

Kadmus swung for the neck, but to his surprise, the creature recoiled from the silent strike, skittering back to safety. He smiled and reached for another ball of Lummush. Perhaps this would be a better challenge than he’d thought…

A heavy thump was quickly followed by another. Kadmus heard the sigh of the strider’s wind fleeing its lungs and caught a flicker of light, flame, and spark in its blind eyes - certain signs of its death.

Kadmus held his breath for several seconds, feeling an electric mix of fear and anger. The kill was stolen.

He’d have seen the swirling glow of the clan’s Lummush marks long before a fellow hunter would have had the chance to insult him like this. Could it be anything but another beast of the forest? He’d never heard of this happening before.

He smirked and restrained his anger, just a little. This might be a fun change. Any beast capable of this was bound to be both a better challenge and a better haul.

Slight rustles and bumps betrayed the newcomer’s movements about the carcass. The munching and dragging he’d expect from the usual predators was absent. Did this new thing kill for reasons other than food?

He pitched the second ball of Lummush, which connected with a solid splat. The light painted something which resembled an ape’s oversized shoulder.

It straightened its back, and he caught a brief glimpse of glow against the beast’s head as it strained its neck to peer at its shoulder. The glow became obscured by a massive, hand-shaped shadow as it slapped at the Lummush.

The creature suspended its open palm in front of its face. After a moment, its long snout appeared in the light: an ugly, lip- and cheek-less feature. Its teeth were large and flat, a certain sign of a leaf-muncher, and it licked at the Lummush with a cow’s tongue.

It seemed to like what it tasted. This wasn’t strange; the hunters carried these clumps as both tools for the hunt and as food rations.

The creature was not one he’d met before, but the behavior did not lie. This was no predator, and its reaction to the Lummush proved that it could see. Kadmus wasn’t certain its death would be valuable, but the clan did not scavenge off other hunters. If a kill was stolen, it could only be reclaimed by hunting its hunter.

They still needed the sloth-strider, so its killer must die.

The worst approach against a sloth-strider was the best against plant-eaters, especially ones with sight. He’d have to hope good eyes came at some kind of cost to its hearing.

Though his steps were muted, the painted back of the beast disappeared as it turned to face him. Still, there was no urgency in its movements, no sign of agitation. He felt it a shame that his foe should make such a fatal mistake.

Guided by the glow of Lummush on the beast’s teeth, he brought his axe to cleave at where the skull brain should be. A connection was made, but it seemed blunt, and the beast only grunted in annoyance.

The warrior leapt backward, in need of distance while he tried to understand what failed. The answer came from the diminished weight of his weapon: the axe was now headless, a simple shaft. He ran his hand around where the wood was supposed to end and the steel was to begin, but all metal was gone. This was curious, as he could feel the grooves and notches that were supposed to keep the blade secure.

This was unfortunate. Good steel wasn’t something they could make themselves.

Kadmus would understand if the haft had been splintered, but with the entire shaft intact, he couldn’t fathom how the blade came loose. Since his prey had not felt the blade, only the blow of bare wood, the cleaver slipped free before contact was made. How? Did the creature do something, or was it some impossibly unlucky accident?

Kadmus smiled and cast his ruined partner aside. He drew his broadsword from its sheath and twirled it once. Would luck save this beast a second time?

He charged.

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1. Were you entertained?

2. Was there tension/suspense? In other words, did you feel the kind of stress or curiosity that keeps you reading your favorite books?

3. Did you understand what was going on? Did you ever feel like the image was murky?

4. Did you ever struggle with the language? Was there ever a time you couldn't determine a word's meaning without looking it up? It's fine if you could tell what it meant from the context of the words around it.

5. If you had stumbled upon this post by accident, would you have suspected it was me who wrote it? Was it obviously amateur, or could you believe it was written by a professional?

And again, extra credit: the meta-critique! These questions deal with how this chapter connects to the rest of this episode:

A.) Was there any question that Kadmus was a hunter belonging to the same clan as Dahlia, Lyn, and Matron Cascata? 'Cause he totally was.

B.) Was the monster description excessive? Follow-up: I doubt it, but would you like MORE description of the sloth-strider and the mystery beast?

C,) Are we alright with Lummush? It's a tool we're going to see a lot of; still, did I spend too much time explaining it?

 

The End

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