Mara climbed to a position high enough that no beast could reach her, but low enough to get a clear view of the vulnerable targets she sought. She checked her balance. Nocking her first arrow, she whispered, “Ehyeh, Lifegiver, let my aim be true. Help me to bring destruction to these minions of the underworld.” She looked at the howling mass below.
There, that one that just turned to the side.
She loosed her arrow. It sang through the air, moving straight to her intended target behind an ear of one of the grut. On impact, the beast stopped short in its tracks, howled, and then fell. Instantly, and to the Oathtaker’s surprise, it went up in flames—and disappeared.
The stench of sulfur infused the air. She tried to rid her nose of it.
Her second arrow nocked, she took careful aim, then loosed it. Another perfect shot, this one to the center of the beast’s chest. A flash of fire and smoke, and the second grut vanished.
The next four shots were just as true.
Six down, seven to go, with six arrows remaining . . .
The young Oathtaker’s kills agitated the remaining grut. They stalked warily, hauntingly.
She readied her seventh arrow and shot. “Blast!” she muttered. “Missed.” Now only five arrows remained while seven beasts prowled.
She took aim for the eighth time. She loosed the arrow. It hit her intended target. The seventh grut disappeared.
The next three shots also found their mark.
One arrow to go and three grut standing . . .
Mara paused, watching the manner in which the remaining beasts paced. She took her time. She found an opening. She aimed. She fired. Another grut went up in flames.
With her arrows spent and two grut standing, she reached for one of her three knives.
Each grut’s disappearance reduced the noisy wailing. Now more consistently, but still only sporadically, came the sounds of moaning from inside the cabin. She hoped the grut had not touched someone or surely, he would die.
She tested the weight of her knife, then scooted further out in an effort to get a closer shot. Momentarily off balance, she paused to steady herself, wiped her brow of sweat, shifted her weight, and then took in a few calming breaths.
As she turned her attention back to the grut, one turned and looked directly at her. She loosed her knife. It spun through the air, end over end, and landed—nearly as intended—not straight in the beast’s eye, but right between its eyes. Imbedded deeply, the weapon looked like a horn protruding from the creature’s face. The grut yelped and pawed at it. Then it let out a shrill whine and dropped to the ground, raising a cloud of dust. The wound attracted the attention of the other remaining grut. It stopped screaming and approached its injured pack mate.
Is the burning away of each grut intended to keep the others from being lured away from the target they were sent to destroy?
Seeing an opening, she readied the second of her knives, took aim, and then let it fly.
Curse it. Another miss.
Finding the as yet uninjured grut in a position that made for a perfect target, the Oathtaker grasped the last of her three blades, took aim, and then threw it. It was a good shot, but not the best. It stuck between the grut’s shoulders, full to its hilt. The beast howled and bolted.
The grut wounded between the eyes staggered toward its pack mate and pounced. The two beasts snapped and snarled, each seeking the jugular of the other. With teeth gnashing, each sought to shred its adversary. Tails lashed, leaving bloody gashes. The grut struggled and screamed in their battle.
Shortly, the grut wounded between the shoulders dealt a fatal blow to the other. It burst into flame and vanished in a flash.
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