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The Pass: Part 4

Two lengths of its body away, the thing pauses, crouching. The tension is palpable as it coils itself to spring forward. Instead of waiting for it to prepare its rush, I slowly retreat two steps, holding in my mind's eye the location of the parasite eye within the shadow of the thing's misshapen mass. Emboldened, it advances even further, just barely outside the range of my spear. Before it can crouch again, I lunge. My weight drives the thrust home but the thing's body feels tough and resilient even as my spear drives into it. I’m pretty sure I didn’t hit its eye. It gives an inhuman shriek of pain though. Then it roars so powerfully that it shatters my resolve and for a moment I pull my spear free, backing away hastily, on the verge of panic. My back runs against the spur of rock and bone. One foot nearly goes off the edge, but I catch myself on the verge of tumbling into the abyss.

The momentary distraction is all the thing needs and it lunges at me. I barely manage to jam the shaft of my spear into the creature's jaws to hold it momentarily at bay. It snaps its razor fangs against the wood, splintering it. A wrenching shake of its spiny head snaps the spear in two. I keep my grip on both halves, striking at it with the spear end to make it retreat. I throw the butt to distract it, followed by the short remnant spear to give myself time to draw my long knife. I reinforce my grip with my other hand and get ready to fight again.

My long knife has a triangular blade with a long, thin cutting edge. That blade is as long as my forearm and a bit narrower than my palm at the hilt. The back of the blade is reinforced by a thick ridge that tapers to a fine point at the end. There is a disk-shaped guard as wide as my fist to protect my hand and to push against when stabbing, and a flattened disk-shaped pommel to balance the blade and allow my other hand to reinforce the strength of the arm I gripped with when pushing through a tough target. It is an effective weapon for cutting, but also designed for stabbing the fine point into mail, or pressing into the gaps between plate armor. The hide of the darkling felt tough when I stabbed it with my spear. I might well need the strength of both hands to pierce it, so I grasp the handle with my left in an underhand grip, wrapping my cloak in the grip to keep it partly covering my body. I brace the pommel with my right hand that I usually stab with, preparing to drive the knife into the creature as it attacks.

Too late, I realize that the underhand grip with my left hand forces me to hold the knife low, so my cloak provides less protection. There is no time to switch again, as the creature strides forward aggressively. Cursing my stupidity, I bend my legs and tense my muscles in preparation, then I empty my mind using my meditations to call power into my body - fury to attack, and healing calm to protect, merging into finely balanced intensity. The will to win, the strength to survive.

Moments stretch as it sizes me up. Then it moves with lightning speed. Seemingly unwilling to give up stable footing by leaping on this narrow precipice, it sprints forward at me. At the last minute, I spring to the side, around the curve. My momentum as I land coils my legs to leap back toward it. At the same time, I instinctively call my will to cause harm and my spirit’s resistance to pain and trauma to their peak.

Though my hearing is muffled by its aura, I can still hear the dull thud as it crashes into the stone spur in front of me, just before I thrust my long knife with both hands into the space I hope the mountain lion’s heart will be. Though my vision is nearly black, I feel the tip strike a rib and slide past, jamming in the space between the ribs. Ribs are good - I was in the right area. I push with all my might and feel the knife tear past the resistance of the thing's ribs and slide in to the hilt. But I feel its shoulder against my hand and know I'm a bit too high. Still, I hear an unnatural quavering scream of pain. I smile. I pull the knife out quickly as the creature writhes, trying to turn its head to snap at me, and drive my long knife back in a bit lower, feeling my malice flowing into the creature, fighting its body’s magical essence that tries to protect it from my attack. I hear it scream again. I can’t be sure of hitting its heart, and need to wound it as severely as possible. I pull the knife out again, then try to push it back in once more, but it is pulling back around the corner, and I withdraw as well to await its next attack.

I reverse my grip on the dagger, holding it in a hammer-grip with my left hand, my right hand on top of the pommel. I clutch it at the ready in front of my chest, the point jutting forward, and my cloak still wrapped in my fist as well, but this time held high across my body. The thickest part of the parasite seemed to be where the eye was when I saw it from afar. That seemed to be just behind the mountain lion’s head. I hope that stabbing down into that area will be the most effective way to attack it. Unfortunately, this requires more precision than just pushing forward toward it, and that is difficult when I can barely see. Also raising my hands will expose my belly, with only my armored cloak between its jaws and the light armor I wear.

The thing hesitates. Is it regenerating? What if it recovers before I can finish it off? I rush forward. It is far enough away for my vision to clear so I can see the thick part of the parasite’s body around the slimy red eye and black ichor oozing next to it where my spear wounded it. I try to keep that target in my mind. I rush it, stabbing viciously. Most of the stabs miss entirely, or just glance off the cat’s skull. But some hit the thick, unnatural flesh. The jaws snap at me, tangling in the cloak. It pulls free and tries to bite at my body again. It gets past my cloak and bites at my torso, teeth sinking deep into the armor, but not reaching my flesh. It pushes forward then. Slams me against the rock column, nearly knocking my wind out. I pull back around the corner.

No sooner have I withdrawn than the creature rushes after me, furiously ripping at me with its claws but keeping its head and body back. My cloak catches one swipe, but it rips its claws free. Another swipe reaches over my arm, and I barely pull my head back in time to keep my face from getting ripped off. It rakes with another high swipe that I’m not quite quick enough to avoid and its razor-sharp claws rake my cheek. Blood streams down my face, but worse than the pain of the gashes is the thing's supernatural power. It is so much stronger than anything my initiatory training has prepared me for that the power is nearly crippling in its intensity. I've never felt anything like it.

The creature swipes at my face again, but this time I raise my hands to protect myself and its claws lance deep into the fabric of my cloak, catching on the mithril-bronze rings sewn between the layers. Because its body is bent around the corner, it can’t fight from its hind legs and has to support itself with its other front paw. With the claws entangled in my cloak, it begins to bite at me again. I feel more than see its head snap against the barrier of the cloak. Repeatedly stabbing, I attack its head. Most of the stabbing attacks miss in the darkness and confusion of the fight. My attacks glance off the big cat’s skull - just superficial cuts. But I can feel that some find their mark, slicing into the tough hide of the parasite. No way to tell how effectively though. Certainly they don’t seem to dissuade the monster. It rips the cloak aside with its entangled claws and bites at my belly. The armored jack stops the worst of the attack, but the teeth catch in the gaps between the tiny plates and drive part-way through. It shakes its head. Leather straps rip free. My armor opens. My belly exposed. I can’t stop it. I stab down desperately into the thing’s head with ever greater urgency, screaming in frustration as it lunges for my unprotected waist and its teeth tear into my guts.

The agony wipes all thought from my mind. My skin is rent as teeth slice into the sheets of muscle and tendon beneath. It shakes its head, ripping at my body. The energy of its dark essence lances into my flesh, burning like acid. I force myself to focus, calling all of the power I can reach to try to overcome the burning pain of the wound but can barely move. It is all I can do not to fall to my knees. I cry out in unbearable anguish as tears pour down my cheeks, desperately trying to summon my will to fight back before it is too late.

As the pain becomes overwhelming though, the resonance with the power of this place intensifies. It rises within me, thrumming through my bones until I am sure my teeth will rattle. The primordial power of this place pulses through my muscles and mind. I can feel it burning behind my eyes and my vision grows clear. I can see the beast, I can see the red liquid eye in the black-brown bulging mass. I can see the black ichor oozing from its wounds, but I know they are not fatal. My muscles and nerves burn with the power and I stab and stab and stab with fear-born fury empowered by some ancient will. I’ve hurt it. It releases me and pulls back around the bend. I almost fall to my knees, overwhelmed by pain, exhaustion, and blood loss. But I know I will never get back up if I fall now. It will come back and finish me off. I swore I’d never die on my knees.

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