He fell hard to the ground, his visor clanging down to cover his face. Tibi contemplated briefly on the nature of luck and fate as the monster gnawed on his visor, where a moment before his face was exposed. Then Tibi kicked upwards and rolled, pushing the monster off of him and escaping the reach of its claws. The beast righted itself and faced the knight, and in that moment the fire caught the true horror of the thing’s face. The monster was unfamiliar to Tibi, unrecorded in the many bestiaries he had scoured. Tibi empirically noted how disfigured human features were seemingly melted onto the face of a panther, equipped with large sharp carnivore teeth. He noted the predatory slope of its bristly body, the gleaming claws dug into the dirt, the barbed tail hovering dangerously above them, brushing against the leaves of the canopy. He also noted the gleam of his sword near the fire.
Adrenaline, anger, and his usual sense of disembodied enlightenment flowed through Tibi’s veins. Briefly, for a moment, Tibi thought he felt a tinge of fear amongst it all.
“Fear is a natural response,” Tibi said to the monster, suppressing the quaver in his voice, “it will always be there and indeed has its purpose. The greatest men are a master of it.” He slid the dagger from his belt.
The monster blinked its squished, misshapen eyes unknowingly at his words. Then it made its move. It flicked its lethal spiked tail toward Tibi; Tibi saw the tail disappear from above the thing’s head and in the same instant he threw himself heavily to the side. The tail whizzed over his head, missing by a few inches, and Tibi stumbled forward and grabbed the tail as it whipped back towards him, wrestling it to the ground and hacking the deadly barb from it. The creature lunged forward and bit against his breastplate, its large teeth gnashing painfully against the iron suit.
Tibi gritted his teeth against the vibrations running up his armor and rattling his helm. He grasped the detached tail-barb in both hands and plunged it forcefully into the monster’s face. He felt it sink into the beast’s flesh a satisfactory length and heard a garbled shriek, then at once the teeth around his torso released as it recoiled. Tibi didn’t bother to look behind him as he ran to retrieve his sword. When he grasped it sturdily by the handle he turned and was batted in the head by a massive paw.
His head rang. He felt the ground collide unyieldingly with his side. Dizzily he tried to get his bearings but the holes in his visor blurred together to make a blotchy cloud of light before him. He became aware of a dank, warm influx of air whistling through the gaps, and the noise of ragged animal breathing. Panic flooded through him as a great pressure groaned against his breastplate. Tibi tried to utilize breathing exercises of calmness and composure to combat his gut wrenching panic, but found that he couldn’t breathe. He reminded himself that his sword was still in his hand and that he could fell this beast still. He thought of the monster’s body shape, the likely location of its vitals relative to its paw, and thrust his sword upwards with the strength of a man fearing death. When it removed its paw and began to thrash about, Tibi leapt up and pushed his entire body into the attack, ignoring the blows against his sides and the pinging of claws on iron. Finally he forced the beast to topple over and he brought his blade to its throat.
Tibi contemplated on the existence of a monster’s soul, running his blade through the monsters throat, then its temple. He retrieved his unfinished letter and stowed it away to finish later. “To begin is to nearly finish,” he conjectured aloud. The trees around him said nothing, or rather, Tibi heard nothing. The trees were in fact having a quiet, uninterested discussion about the fight they had just witnessed below.