Part Four – The True Beast
When the Beast, Nhaqosa had first spoken, it had surprised Elad. He had not expected words from such an unlikely looking a creature; a minotaur, that had been the word Nhaqosa had used for himself. Yet as they spoke, Elad had sensed something in Nhaqosa, a strength and nobility of character not yet tainted by the pits, or by the dying world that they lived in.
He should not have taunted the crowd, he knew, but he was damned if he as going to be a willing, compliant accomplice to their pleasure at this barbaric spectacle. There would be repercussions, and the only regrets he had were that it would impact upon Nhaqosa as well.
“The true Beast comes,” Nhaqosa said, turning to face a vast gate in the southern wall of the pit, wherein were housed the wild beasts. The gates, much heavier than those he had come through, slowly ground open, groaning and creaking as they did. A roaring screech echoed from through them, carrying above even the sounds of the crowds, momentarily silencing them. Then their cheers erupted once more in ecstatic approval.
The beast thundered through the open gates, screeching as it came. Twice the length of a horse, stocky and low slung to the ground, it supported its weight upon four wide spread legs, a giant lizard but far more dangerous. A long, spiked tail lashed behind it, while its head ended in a ripping beak-like snout. A fan of spikes sprouted from the back of its head, protecting its neck. Heavy scales covered its body, scales of black and grey and red.
The beast was only a small one of its kind. Elad had seen Behemoths three times larger, crushing armoured knights beneath them in their relentless, unstoppable charges, their beaks snapping men in twain and bodies soaking up formidable punishment before succumbing to their wounds. There were very few things more dangerous than an enraged Behemoth.
The Behemoth saw the pair of them and charged, clawed feet digging deep into the ground, throwing up sand as it ran. Despite its size, it covered the ground rapidly, a low rumbling growl coming from deep within it. Elad exchanged a quick glance with Nhaqosa before the pair scattered, running in opposite directions to avoid the charge. The Behemoth barely faltered in its stride as it pounded on after Elad, backing him up against the wall of the pit. The razor sharp beak snapped shut. Elad dove out of the way of it just in time as it closed a hand-span from his body. The crowd screamed their approval, urging the beast on.
Elad rolled back to his feet, his body aching all over. As he did, he saw Nhaqosa bound to the side of the Behemoth. The minotaur hammered a double handed blow of astonishing power into the flank of the beast, the heavy stone headed maul slamming home with an audible crunch. The Behemoth’s screech rang in his ears, drowning out any other sounds. It whipped about with a speed belying its size, beak snapping at the minotaur that tormented it, forcing him back.
Its attention distracted, Elad moved up behind the Behemoth. He leapt as the spiked tail lashed around, sweeping across the ground in a broad arc. It clipped Elad’s feet, taking his legs out from beneath him. Elad fell heavily, sprawling onto the sand, losing his grip on his sword. It clattered away out of reach as the air was forced from his lungs. Ribs creaked from the fall, and the bruises down his side screamed in protest.
The noise of the fall attracted the attention of the Behemoth and it began to turn again. Nhaqosa stepped up once more, bellowing a raucous challenge and bringing the maul slamming down onto its snout. Another screech followed, and the Behemoth turned its attention back on Nhaqosa again, thundering after the minotaur as he backed away. Elad took advantage of the diversion Nhaqosa had provided to scramble back to his feet and retrieve his sword. Step by step, the minotaur was being forced to retreat by the snapping beak and raking front claws, though as yet he remained untouched.
Only one option, one choice came to mind. Elad knew that at best it was reckless and risky, yet nothing else presented itself to him, not in the few moments he had to devise a plan. He ran at the beast, silent until the moment he leapt, and only then did he let out a roar, screaming to challenge the fear that rose within him. His legs surged, propelling him upwards and he landed heavily on the Behemoth’s back, almost overbalancing and tumbling off again. At the sudden appearance of an interloper upon his back, the Behemoth thrashed about, trying to throw Elad off, spinning about in circles.
Its attention now firmly fixed upon the man clambering over it, Nhaqosa resumed his assault on the beast. The cheers of the crowd were distant now, almost unheard, all attention focused firmly on the battle and simply staying alive. The maul rose and then descended, smashing down into one of the forelegs of the Behemoth. A grinding crack sounded as the blow landed and the leg gave way while piercing screeches filled the air. The maul slammed into the leg again, further crippling it. The beast’s screeches turned pitiful, maddened by pain.
Elad pulled himself along the back of the thrashing beast up to its neck. Unsteadily he rose to his feet, bracing himself, riding the movement. Taking a double handed grip on the hilt of his sword, he drove it down with all of his strength, screaming as he did so. The blow jarred as it struck, cruelling wrenching his grip from the sword and sending pain lancing through him, but it had struck true. The sword drove through the scales of the neck just behind the spined frill. Black blood flowed from the wound and the beast crumpled, its front legs collapsing beneath it, throwing Elad from its back as it squealed. Elad landed heavily, driving the breath from his lungs once more, momentarily dazed.
From where he lay on the sands, shaking his head to try and clear it, Elad saw Nhaqosa step up to the Behemoth. The minotaur raised his maul on high. He seemed to speak and Elad felt he heard a rumbling murmur say the words, “I am sorry. You did not deserve this.” Then with a roaring cry, Nhaqosa brought his weapon whistling downwards. The stone maul smashed into the Behemoth’s head and the pitiful screeches and thrashing lessened. Once, twice, thrice more the maul slammed down onto the behemoth’s head until at last it lay still and silent, black blood pooling on the sand around a head crushed out of shape.
A shocked silence fell upon the crowed at the death of the Behemoth, unable to comprehend just what they had witnessed. Elad picked himself up from the ground, walked across to the dead beast and wrenched his sword clear. He gazed up upon the crowd, who had once more found their voice, screaming their approval, and a sly smile lit up his battered face.
“You wish to be free, Nhaqosa?”
The giant white minotaur stared at Elad, though his face was unreadable to the human. “Of course,” he answered simply.
Elad nodded up to where the lord sat in his private viewing area. “Think you could get me up there?”
A deep, rumbling laugh came from Nhaqosa. “That would require no great effort.”
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