Nights of Fire
Part Four- The Hunt
A tangled passage of growth lay ahead, interspersed by swift flowing streams of freezing water that cut through the forest, running fast across beds of smooth worn stones. They lost all sense of direction in the maze of foliage beneath the thick canopy, unable to pick out any markers in the distance. Their only guide to keep them on the path they wished to follow came from the pendant that hung around Nhaqosa’s neck, tugging them along the direction they needed to head.
From time to time trees groaned as if in pain as branches swayed, and sudden sharp calls of unseen beasts rang out, their unnerving calls echoing through the forest, producing twitched responses. All were on edge in such a melancholy environment, uncertain as to what to expect, or what lay in store for them further into the forest. Imaginations ran wild, creating threats in their minds.
They forded through icy streams, scrambled across fallen moss shrouded trees, vast in dimensions, and pushed further on, an air of charged expectancy looming as the day drew closer to dusk. An unspoken air of the approach of things unknown touched them all. Nhaqosa could not shake the feeling. He was uncertain as to its origin, whether it was a construct of the primordial nature of the forest, or of a sense that at long last the journey they were undertaking was coming towards a conclusion.
After near a day of trudging through the forest, they began to climb again, starting the long ascent towards the mountains that lay beyond the forest through which they were traversing. With evening once more closing in upon them, they began to search out for a place to camp for the night.
A sudden surge of noise interrupted their plans, and the crashing of something in the undergrowth sounded nearby. Weapons came free at the noise, eyes swivelling towards the source of the disturbance, trying to pierce the dim veil for a sighting of what manner of creature caused the noise.
They waited, expectant, as they sounds grew louder yet, coming ever closer. Ahead, a tree was shouldered aside, crashing to the ground with a terrible splintering, and a large lizard crashed through the forest into their sight. It was immense, standing near man height at its shoulder despite being low slung and broad legged. Its tongue flickered, tasting the air, as it scurried on by, disappearing again with a lashing tail, back into the trees.
“Big beastie,” Lakach noted laconically, watching along the way it had gone.
“The Behemoths that come out of the deserts are larger,” Katako announced.
“Some, perhaps,” Lakach admitted,
They had started to relax again after the lizard had vanished and the crashing faded away, when a new sound took up from the direction that the lizard had come from, followed by a bestial hooting. It sounded in some part like the noise a man would make, yet at the same time there was a savage, feral aspect to it, more akin to a wild beast than a civilised man.
A creature came knuckling along out of the trees, in pursuit of the lizard. Massive in form, alike to an ape, not even Nhaqosa could match it in size. It had a hide of shaggy white fur and atop its head it bore curling horns much like those of a ram’s. A solid, jutting brow and heavy chin marked its face, while sharp eyes shone as it studied them. Within them an obvious if limited intelligence showed, enough to set it apart from a common animal.
It came to a sudden stop as it spotted them, resting on knuckled forearms. It raised its head and sniffed at the air. Weapons were held at the ready in it direction, the company prepared should anything untoward happen. The giant beast shifted, first one way and then the other, its dark eyes watching them intently. Then it gave a hoot and loped off again, following the trail that the lizard had crashed through the forest.
“What manner of beast was that?” Abasan asked after it had gone.
“They go by many names,” Alianore told him. “The most common of them is the yhara-te, the ape-men. It is said that they are reclusive, living in the high mountains of the north, seldom seen except when on the hunt, like now. They may look like beasts, but they have some intelligence, able to fashion crude weapons and tools from bone, wood and stone.”
“I would guess that lizard is the meal of the day,” Lakach noted. “Just glad it didn’t decide to have a go at us. Even the Kwaza would struggle against one such as that, I’d wager.”
“The tales I heard when young, “Alianore went on, “Told of times when the yhara-te did stalk men as prey, of villages destroyed and those that lived there carried off, though they may just have been tales. There was never any evidence that it happened when I still lived here.”
“Men fear what is different,” Nhaqosa said. Bitter experience had taught him that lesson well.
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