The rain lightened momentarily. Lisle lifted her head and pushed back a thoroughly soaked hood to rest dripping about her neck. I don’t know why I even bother to wear it, it’s so wet. She looked to see misty, open air on the other side of the trees to her left. Moving ever North, the companions slogged along, traversing the side of a steep incline, as they pushed closer to Guardian Mountain.
The storm raged on. The group were pummeled with an almost constant downpour. Water streamed away down the incline to their right, rivulets of runoff crossing in front and behind them, rushing to merge into the river far below. The ground was soggy underfoot, mud sucking at their boots. Occasional slides of stones and pebbles made the footing treacherous.
Lisle breathed deeply of the wet air filling the woods. The clean, damp scent would have been pleasant if she had not had so much of it recently. What’s more she was feeling increasingly agitated. She was sure they were being watched, and kept looking around, checking their backtrail every few minutes. Her hand, damp and white-knuckled, gripped the handle of the stoneshot at her belt.
The constant beat of rain pouring down around her was split by a tremendous roar from above that vibrated through Lisle's body. Jumping, she looked up with startled eyes to see Ell arrowing down between the trees. She was terrified that Ell was injured, as Ell landed almost on top of the companions, wings outstretched.
Roaring still, Ell backed into the four of them, herding them behind her, up against the huge trunk of an ancient tree, as she released another stentorian scream of rage at the mist-veiled tree trunks surrounding them.
Frightened still, but relieved, Lisle could feel that Ell was not injured. Ell was terrified and very, very angry.
“Let me see, Ell!”
Yanking her slingshot from her belt, and clamping it between her teeth, Lisle pushed her way free of the green, scaled haunch that held her against the rough, dripping bark of the huge tree. She leapt, grabbing onto a spinal ridge on Ell’s back, and scrambled up to her shoulders, like climbing a ladder.
The sky opened up, rain driving down. Lisle wiped the rain from her eyes and looked to see a dark, man-shaped shadow scuttling from tree to tree, moving ever closer.
Moss, chattering angrily from inside Lisle’s overtunic, pushed her way out and took to the air, only to be grounded immediately by the driving force of the rain. She landed at the base of the great tree and pulled herself up the trunk, climbing the shaggy, wet bark upward. Her hair was immediately slicked against her head by the rain in long, green waves streaming down over her shoulders.
“One curse it, Ell! Let me by!” Gareth struggled his way past the wing that pinned him against the tree trunk.
Another scream of defiance from Ell momentarily deafened Lisle as she stared out frantically from under eyelashes dripping with rain, looking for anything that presented a target for her stoneshot.
“Keep yur cussed head down younger!” Terris yelled up at her, wrestling with the enormous tail that held him. “Let go a me ya’ great lizard!”
Gareth pushed by Ell’s wing, knocking an arrow in his bow as he did so. He moved to stand in front of the raging Guardian. Ell roared deafeningly and knocked him aside and behind her with a sweep of her long neck.
Lisle felt rage, frustration and terror filling her up like an overfull water bladder. She had to let it out before it consumed her and opened her mouth to loose her own high, scream of defiance as she flung a stone uselessly into the trees.
From the woods before them, amidst the clattering of rain on the water-soaked ground, a howl of laughter echoed.
Behind a tree, the Hunter bent over, hands on his knees, choking with laughter. Rain poured down around him, drenching his already soaked overcoat and splattering another layer of mud over his hide boots. It didn’t matter if they heard him. They already knew he was there, and he was delighted by the inept tableau in front of him.
He guffawed as he thought of the Guardian herding and pinning its humans behind it, and those incompetent men fighting against the Guardian, uselessly trying to defend it.
He laughed so hard he could barely catch his breath.
Then he thought of that younger, sounding like some crazed night singer, wildly flinging a stone at him. It was all just too much, and he howled with laughter again, hardly able to stand up.
That Guardian though, it gave him pause. He sobered and stood up straight, tilting his head and looking out from behind the tree trunk which hid him. Rain dripped from the brim of the hat which protected his eyes as he watched the roaring beast before him. He felt an emotion so foreign to him it was almost frightening. He couldn’t put a name to it.
The huge green-scaled creature was rippling with muscle. It stood upright on powerful hindquarters, long, curved claws gouging huge tracts in the muddy earth. With its wings spread wide, and open, sharp-toothed jaws it looked like some enormous avenging demon.
It seemed a creature not of this world, the likes of which he had never come across before. It was all that he had hoped, and so much more. The beast inspired him, a totally new and unfamiliar sensation.
Suddenly he wanted it, more than he had ever wanted anything in his life. That Guardian is mine!
He studied the beast. It was covered all over with scales. Even the belly was lined with yellow protective plating. The Guardian roared again and flapped its wings, its forearms flailing. His attention was drawn to the area just under its forearms. He wiped away the rain which had blown into his eyes and looked to see that under the forearms was covered with small, delicate looking scales. A well-placed arrow there will bring it down, he thought. Then I can deal with the humans.
The Hunter searched the area about him, and pin-pointed a tree which would give him a better vantage point for his shot. Staying low, mist shrouding his movements, he crept into place.
In case you missed a post, or if you've just tuned in to Lisle's story,
here are links to previously posted chapters to save you scrolling all the way through.
Introduction Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13
Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27