One – 02

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

Roots erupted from the ground, reaching for the camazotzi even as it plowed into me, claws raking. If the pendant’s chain hadn’t been wound through my fingers, I would have lost it entirely as I hit the ground, air rushing out of my lungs all at once, leaving me gasping like a fish trapped on the river’s bank. Tendrils of power wrapped around the monster on top of me, power I had little control over—it was almost instinctual, flowing from the pendant in my hand.

My own power was returning in fits and starts—the roots had sapped most of it by way of an opening volley. I’d have to end this fast if I wanted to keep breathing.

The roots tore at the camazotzi. Blood ran down its black, leathery flesh in dark rivulets. I could smell the scent of burning flesh, as if the light was searing its way through skin and muscle. Whatever magic that pendant held, I was glad it was on my side.

Darkness nibbled at the edges of my vision. I tried to get my legs between me and the camazotzi, hoping to kick it off of me. The motion ended up being more like feeble flailing, my boots scraping the mud.

Focus, Merlin. Focus.

I gasped in one breath, then two. My vision started to tunnel.

What would Mom and Dad do?

Jaw tightening, I twisted beneath the camazotzi and drove my hand, palm-first, into its jaw. It reeled back, screeching, and the roots promptly seized it, buying me enough time to scramble out from beneath it.

I wasted no time in stumbling to my feet and taking off at a dead run, bleeding and barely able to breathe.

Don’t look back. Don’t look back.

The slope back up was steep, steep enough that I threw myself against it at first rather than actually starting to climb. It was more of a mad scramble, feet and hands slipping on the embankment, fingers and toes scrabbling for purchase. I scraped knuckles and knees on roots and tree trunks, on rocks and branches. Air burned in my throat, my chest, vision narrowing down to a fragment of its normal scope. Blood roared in my ears, so loud I couldn’t hear the camazotzi, couldn’t tell if it was giving chase. I couldn’t even spare the effort to try to sense it.

It was taking everything just to get up the side of the ravine. Once I made it to open ground, maybe I would have a chance.

All I need is a chance.

Dimly, I heard a shriek that must have been ear-splitting—would have been, if I could have heard much more than my own heartbeat. I heaved myself up over the lip of the ravine, stumbling a few steps before I ramped up into a dead run—a run for the old bridge, for the safety of the wards.

I had never run so hard or so fast in my life, each step shaking the old steel and concrete, setting the old bridge vibrating. There was another shriek, this time to my right, from the ravine.

I hope I got its wings. I hope it can’t fly up here. Please, please, I just—

There was a thud that I felt but couldn’t hear. I didn’t risk a glance back, steps carrying me to the end of that old bridge. It was only a few more yards.

Just a few more yards and I’d be safe on the other side of the wards that had been my mother’s work all those years ago.

The camazotzi shrieked again, near enough that this time I did hear it clearly.

Just a few more yards.

I dove for the safety beyond the edge of the wards.

Blackness swallowed me whole before I hit the ground.

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