Chapter Six

17 0 0

Layne shuddered and kept close to the ground as Beth stood up and turned back to the tower. "What next?" Layne flinched. The words were violent, like a curse, and even though she knew Beth was talking to Eon she couldn't fight away the misery that clung to her heart. Is she mad because I made her hit me?

Eon waved a hand dismissively. A door all the way on the other side of the arena exploded outwards in a cloud of metal and wood fragments. Beth had a clear impression of shaggy, dark brown fur and a thick mane and then it was gone, the huge creature somehow suddenly too far away to be seen again though the distance had not changed.

"Kill it."

"Stay down," Beth told Layne. "It's a predator. It'll know you're there but it'll go after a moving target first." And with that, she leapt away. Without her even noticing, some of the red had crept back into her vision. It wasn't more than a slight tinting but it was more than enough for her to forget all the stakes at hand. There was only her and the monster.

It threw its head back and roared, then bounded forward. Each distant pounding of paws sent an image, clear as a snapshot from an incredibly fast camera. The beast had the hulking body, horns, and massive head of a buffalo but the paws, mane, and facial features of a lion.

Beth cast a casual look around; a rope she'd not noticed before hung taught from one side of the arena to the other. Dangling from it was a sort of spear, studded along the sides with spines. Another snapshot; the spines were dripping. Poison? Better be careful...

And then the beast was there. It trumpeted in triumph, swinging its huge head. Beth pushed off to one side, saving herself from being impaled by the horns but her arm slid into the thick mane and came out laced with stinging cuts. She dodged again as it reared up and dropped down; a claw nicked her leg but she hardly noticed. Blood pounded in her ears; with every throb of her heart, every pulsation of pain on her nerves, set the red veil thickening and leeching over her. She was down to a thin tunnel when one of the massive hindpaws lashed out and caught her in the chest.

Completely red.

Layne lifted her head from her arms. An urgency throbbed in her chest. Help her, help her, help her. She slowly started getting her legs under her.

Her arms flew out and she grabbed onto the ankle, hanging on for dear life even as the limb kicked and thrashed to dislodge her. Four claws lurched drunkenly in and out from the concealing fur, ripping into her skin, scraping brutally against bone. It hurt badly, cutting through even her detachment.

Suddenly, the buffalo-lion twisted and stomped down. The claws retracted and Beth had a moment of pure bliss before the full weight of the beast pressed down on her. That was worse, so much worse. She couldn't breathe. Beneath her, one of her wings gave a soft popping sound as it dislocated. The strain was unbearable; she was suddenly aware of the strength and, even more, the fragility, of her bones. How much, she wondered, would it take until they snapped? How much longer until she was just a smear on the ground?

And deeper, she wondered who would protect Layne.

The pressure relaxed for a moment as the buffalo-lion prepared to stomp down again. And then suddenly, Layne was there. She shrieked and straddled the beast like a horse, biting down on an ear almost completely hidden by the surrounding mane. It screeched and rolled, attempting to crush her, but she was no longer there.

Beth spun, trying to locate her, until a flash at the very edge of her vision drew her attention. Layne was skillfully running along the top of the wall, her eyes set firmly on the rope with the spear.

"Careful!" Layne gave no sign that she'd even heard.

A huge snort brought Beth's attention back to the fight. The buffalo-lion glared down at her with bloodshot eyes and pawed at the ground, threw its head back, and then charged at her. Beth stood her ground until the last moment, and then tossed herself upwards. There was no breeze in the arena and she gaining height was a graceless struggle that involved a panicky moment when her right wing took a moment to realign in its socket, but the deadly horns missed her. It reared up on its hind paws, swiping at her. She let the air whoosh out of her wings and plummeted down, kicking it in the nose. The blow, small as it was, carried the thing off balance and knocked it backwards where it lay momentarily stunned.

Flight of Dappled ShadowsRead this story for FREE!