To Outrun A Tainted Arrow - Pt. 2: The Scaled One



The woodland went slightly more silent, as if it settled and laid in wait, trying to pick a small hint of the nature of those new arrivals now treading the beach and making their way into the green wall of the forested hills.


The ship was large enough to carry at least three times eleven crewmen… triple the ill-boding sign. Bad enough an omen, as it were, but he needed to make sure just how bad it was because those were large numbers for mere merchants. Then, there was the fact that what few traps they seemed to be laying around, it did not make them trappers, either.

Ballsy clutch of frostpeople, the surrounding leaves rustled only a little more than they did when the breeze coming from the sea cradled them, but to the furtive figure creeping like the shadow of shadow at the end of the day, they sounded like the crack of the thunderclouds instante before the gale.

The flesh under Kan’tzotz’s chin took on a slightly reddish hue, a clear sign he was losing his temper. When he set out to range across the wooded hills of the Yauntan coastal region, Kan’tzotz had made a point of patrolling as silent as a lone yu’una ant or the lanntaka spider that waits in her web for the flies and moths to wander in. He wanted to stalk and hunt with no sound, and those leaves he brushed against and his damnable aging frame were not helping him to reach his goal.


Shambling pile of old meat, the Bendavee ranger shook his head in mocked anger, to show his disapproval to the surrounding green. He let out some air and cackled. It sounded like dry branches crushed by an aloof pu’am while it put its snout to the ground to sniff for edible roots and mushrooms under the layer of humus and soft soil covering the forest floor. Getting old and thinking about how I sound, has made me hungry. Yep, I’ll see what these foreigners want and then I’m catching myself a piglet.


The Bendavee moved forward and down the side of the hill where he could still watch the long boat and its numerous crew, but had the sun still high above the tree line and to his back to further mask his movements. Not that he needed it, though, as all the recent arrivals had their sights towards the beach extending east. After observing them for a moment, the saurian ranger realized they were signaling to a point near the twin hill to the left of their boat, and it dawned on him: the Tikamlil key was behind the other hill to the east and it cut further into Mígtal territory.


Did they get lost? A low snarl came out of Kan’tzotz’s half-opened mouth. He looked at the next hill, back at the Ysvaliid. It would take them longer to walk down the beach and go around the foothill, than it would take him to dart through the forest and crown the neighboring hill and find a vantage point that allowed him to keep and eye on the lurching arrivals and still be able to discover what it was they wanted to reach. Without giving it a second thought, Kan’tzotz firmly secured his spear to his back with the leather strips tied to his body for this exact purpose; then, the Bendavee bent his powerful frame down until he was half crouched below the bushline. As soon as he shifted his weight so he could move in all fours, the saurian scout shot across the foliage simulating the erratic, frolicking pace of a foraging pu’am.


I only hope they don’t feel like eating pork, too, Kan’tzotz thought as he scurried trying to make his best impression of an elusive creature. Because if they get lucky, they’d find this one rather old and quite unsavory.


***

Maab’zten felt like fainting. and he could swear his legs were about to burst at the thighs with every new step. The initial fear at the possibility of being discovered had turned to panic when he realized he could not shake the obdurate Ysvaliid warparty composed of bearded males and longer-haired females alike. The buunkun was sure they had spotted him making a run for it after the killing began, and were now dead set on finding the elusive would-be escapee.

He found out it was harder and harder for him to keep fighting the urge to just fly away in a desperate gambit to outrun and outsmart his pursuers; still, both a shred of logic and the words of his Xibac teachers kept him focused on channeling his fear into action, so he put all his focus on the direction he running and, using what little he could remember of the tenets of Ilwáin, the West Path, he conjured inner strength from the fire in his lungs and the needles in his thighs, trying to channel them into a burst of speed and silent movement to finally shake off the Ysvaliid and make it somewhere, anywhere but the coastline.


“It… doesn’t… work that way!” Maab’tzen panted and held his tongue back. He caught himself about to scream out his frustration, born out of his fear and the practically negligible knowledge of magic he had. “I was… sent here… to become… a scribe. I’m a record… keeper, not… a necromancer, damn me!”

The desperate buunkun kept going up the forested hill, choosing those areas most shaded, so the Ysvalians could not notice his movements. This meant a change of pace so he remained unseen and was able to finally break away from the taxing pursuit. While the much slower advance did not help in calming him down, it allowed for the buunkun to catch his breath and this cleared his head a bit.


“Even if I was… it wasn’t like it... ” Maab’tzen whispered, remembering how swiftly the invaders had disposed of the hu aábainn before she could gather her wits about her and cast anything remotely useful before one of the attackers ran her through with their wicked long spears. “Helped old Kuuntibá all that much, either!”


Still, the sole act of concentrating on something other than the pursuers, allowed the buunkun lorekeeper apprentice to breath less frantically and clear his head enough to hear the rustle of leaves somewhere higher up on the hill.


Maab’tzen strained his eyes, trying to pick up the intimidating silhouettes of one of the large bearded warriors or one of their females wearing the triple tressed hairdo of the raiders.

The bushes moved with the wind; the treetops gently swayed in the seabreeze, but there were no indications of any of the invaders plodding around on the hilltop. It was then that it dawned on the buunkun: he could see the top of the hill. He was that near.


If I make one last effort, I can reach it, go over the other side, and I’ll be clear of the ransackers’ sights. Maab’tzen took a couple of deep breaths as he relaxed his shoulders. Then, once I’m on the other side and with the hill as my shield, I’m flying out of here!

The buunkun lunged forward, unable to believe how hard it seemed for him to take every new step, as if the back of his feet scraped against the soil instead of rising above it and his thighs were like logs being constricted with taut rope throughout. Each step forward now burned his muscles as much as each breath had made his lungs feel like they were on fire. Still, the hope of clearing the hilltop and spreading his wings so he could jump and soar several hundred yards aways before beating them to gain speed and make good his escape, the sheer promise of survival, kept him going.


Oblivious to the ruckus he was making.

Maab’tzen was so intent on reaching the top of the hill, he heard the rustles of leaves near him only before he felt a powerful grip bring him down and closing in a tight ring around his torso and beak. It all happened so fast he did not have time to be startled.


***

Kaacht’teh an, buunkun bak tzal!” Came the raspy warning.

No, that wasn’t a warning, Maab’tzen thoughts raced as fast as his panicked heart while he was desperately trying to gather his wits and understand what had just happened. A snake doesn’t talk, and Ysvaliid don’t speak our language.

The flowing words, sinuous as a rolling sand dune near the beach or the flight of one of the quechmoktal warriors as they zigzagged across the jungle during their lightning-fast combat drills. Or the undulating neck games and arching of spines displayed by the young lovers during mating season.


Home, you sound like home, Maab’tzen immediately stopped struggling. Not that his futile attempts at freeing himself made a dent on the vise-like grip, of course. If anything, he was a realist. Whoever had grabbed ahold of him would have killed him without breaking a sweat if they felt like it. Maab’tzen nodded ever so slightly to acknowledge he understood and would comply with the stranger’s request.


In that very moment, his eyes catched how something let go of his beak and how it changed color and turned into scaly hand that blended with the rest of the brush surrounding him and he was able to take a deep breath once the other powerful arm let go off his torso.

“I’m Five Maab’tzen, Bendavee bak tzal,” he whispered, trying his best to seem and sound collected, even if he was still out of breath and on the brink of panic

“Kan’tzotz, feathered brother,” the Bendavee scout dragged the buunkun lower to the floor, with the same as as if he was lowering a thin branch. “You’re too loud, they won’t see us, but if you keep like this, they will definitely hear you.”


“They killed my cabal, they stumbled upon us during a cleansing ritual and slayed any who they saw.” Maab’tzen shuddered at the memory. “It all happened too fast, luckily for me, I was sent for panyo leaves to put in the brasier. That’s why I could escape the carnage, Still, not silent enough, as you so correctly pointed out. I’ve been trying to evade and lose them in the brush for along while now and—”

“You were going over the hill, little brother of bright plumage, and into another group of them. A far more numerous one.”


Maab’tzen feel as if the floor sank beneath him, dragged by his plummeting heart.

“More… numerous?” His throat was dry and ached as each word left his mouth to drift into the soft breeze near the top of the hill. “More?”

. The corpulent Bendavee nodded and pointed to a place over the buunkun’s shoulder. Slowly, the feathered apprentice turned around to look at what the lizard man’s finger was pointing at. His heart began racing again.


In another bay, further west and hidden by the thick forest, five more longships already were beached and lowering their sails, their crews busy with the unloading of several crates and rolls, and six strange-looking, energetic mounts, all covered with canvas.

Maab’tzeb turned to look at the camouflaged scout, fear in his eyes.


“Yes,” the Bendavee’s hoarse voice almost mixed with the mounting breeze. “It’s a raiding fleet and a storm’s coming, colorful brother. We need to get out of here, now.”


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