One grut remained. It was wounded, but not ready to give up the battle. It tottered, panting. Its scream became an intermittent, monotonous whine. Its coat was mottled with blood, black and thick as pitch. Its yellow saliva ran to the ground.
Pant . . . Pant . . . Pant . . .
Seemingly with a second wind and a renewed commitment to destroy, it approached the hut. Dust spiraled upwards behind its every step. It stood on its haunches, then threw itself against the cabin door. Again, the beast rose. Again, it fell. On the grut’s third attempt, the door shook in its frame.
It’s about to give!
Quickly Mara scrambled down. As her feet hit the ground, the grut looked her way, then turned back. It resumed its pouncing . . . pouncing. Splinters around the latch broke away.
The door could withstand little more. If Mara didn’t kill the creature and do so quickly, it would be inside the cabin in seconds. Rushing forward, she stumbled on a root. The grut glanced at her as though considering whether to pursue her instead of whoever was in the hut, as though daring her to come nearer, to attack.
Dear Good One, don’t let it pounce!
Catching herself before falling fully to the ground, the Oathtaker continued toward the wounded beast.
It turned away, once again rising up on its haunches and dropping down on the door. Its feet back on the ground, it staggered, it heaved, it stumbled, but it did not stop.
Near death but with furious intensity, the beast focused its final efforts on its intended target.
It would only take a touch, a single drop of blood . . .
Another pounce rattled the door. Wood splintered, then cracked. The door swung open. It hung barely on its hinges.
Again the grut glanced at Mara. It seemed to laugh at her feeble efforts. Wheezing, it raised one foot, preparing to step inside.
A scream from within rent the air.
Mara sprinted forward as the grut’s foot landed on the threshold. Just as the beast prepared to take another step, she threw her hatchet. But for Spira, it was her last weapon. It slammed into the center of the back of the grut’s head.
The beast went still.
Mara jumped back.
The grut’s legs gave way. It shuddered, it shook, then flames consumed it. The blast of heat singed the hair on the Oathtaker’s forearms as she instinctively covered her face. A second later, the fire was gone and with it, the last of the thirteen grut and all trace of their ever having been. No hair, no blood, no saliva remained.
She staggered, breathless. Tears stung her eyes. When she reached the doorway, she leaned against its frame and peered inside.
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