The forest ground shook as the metals hit the floor. Pounding of horse hooves could be heard in a distance, followed by something else—something big and monstrous. This made the forest ground shake and the animals flee to safety. The breathing of the horse grew in shallow breaths, their flanks glittered with sweat, and their eyes heady with trepidation. Stop and die; and these animals knew it.
“We can’t outrun this thing. It is gaining up on us and even the density of the forest can’t seem to hold it off!” a rider bellowed in fear. They have been chased by this monster for days on. They could never shake it off, neither could they fight it. Not that they were much of warriors, but the basic sword art they knew should be enough to end this and they had the leverage of numbers.
“Keep riding till we get to the border of Ruma. That should hold it off,” another rider shouted in response. She looked across her shoulder and what was in the shadows hunting them petrified her.
“Mel is right. The force field of Ruma surrounding the border should do the trick.” The rider in the lead affirmed the importance of getting to Ruma. He knew the danger they were in if they don’t make it to their destination.
Each rider was a starting adventurer with power level just above ten. They had made a stand at the Valley of Sundra to stop the chaser. Open field with a ravine facing it, tall grasses and shrubs to serve as camouflage. The traps laid out and defense strategy drawn out. But the beast had barreled through without a hitch. Their defense line was broken and weapons useless against it. Mel had used all her manna to teleport them to where the horses were kept. They rode hard, taking short breaks before they continued. The horses were at their last legs due to constant running.
“Raun, create a thick fog to block our path, but keep our front open,” Casto ordered. He was the leader of the guild. “Mel, I know you are short on manna but can you create an illusion? Make it bloody.”
“Why? Do you have a plan?” Mel asked.
“Maybe … but just enough to slow it down. I can see the border of Ruma in a distance. Half a mile north beyond that creek.” He pointed towards the creek, glimmering just beyond the opening of the forest.
“Can we make it?” Raun shouted.
“We have to. Our lives depend on it,” Casto replied. He drew out his sword, imbibing it with magic “Get down!” he shouted.
Mel and Raun did as ordered. The wind lash from Casto’s sword sailed over their head, burning a tuft of Mel’s lock. The lash struck a couple of trees behind them. “Raun. Now!”
Raun began to whisper silently, almost like a whisper. Thick fogs grew around them, obstructing the path they just took. The surrounding grew darker and the scene was like an eclipse. The forest already blocked the ray of the sun, with the fog covering the path, nothing could be seen.
“Mel. Create an illusion of the three of us. Make it seems like we met a misfortune from the trees,” Casto said.
“I don’t think I can,” she cried.
“Use it. Use the method I called forbidden,” Casto replied. He looked and her and willed her to trust his judgment. He knew the risk involved in using that technique, especially from a not-so-powerful adventurer. But they had to take it.
“Okay.” Mel took out her knife and slit her palm. Her blood was rich in magic since she was a child. Her village had been attacked by demons. She and the other young girls had taken captive, tortured and killed just for the fun of hearing them scream. Mel had managed to escape; bruised and battered she stumbled across her manna lake. Her body spilled blood from cuts and torn vein, she was dying. But the lake healed her and enriched her blood, but at a cost. Her blood vessels reduced by half for a human, her death was imminent if she ever got an open wound.
“Raun, lend her some of your manna. This will be her boost till we get over the creek.”
The horses were slowing down and losing steam. They could all hear the thundering of limbs hitting the earth more vividly. Mel cast the illusion and looked to Casto for instructions.
“Send them towards the west. Raun, keep the fog at our tail …”Casto bent his head, narrowly missing an overhead log. “…and make their image visible and not covered by the fog,” he said between pants. The narrow escape rattled him.
Doing as instructed, the guild headed north of the path, sending the illusion in the other one. They urged the horses to go faster. The earlier thundering has already diminished and the aura of fear lessened, but they were not safe.
The guild broke out from the forest line and raced towards the creek. The sunlight highlighted their pitiful state; faces caked with dirt and grime, torn shirt and pants, blood leaking from several cuts. The worst was over … or was it? Get to the creek, rest and tend to their wounds, then continue their journey to Ruma.
A distant howl broke their brief jubilation. There Casto knew what was after them and it never hunted alone. Quickly grabbing their weapons and belongings, they raced to their horses. The animals neighed in protest and wouldn’t budge. They were done running and needed rest. Kicking and trashing around, they broke free and headed towards the mountains.
“What do we do? We are stuck,” Raun whispered silently, his legs shook with so much fear. He had so many plans and everything was going to end in his death. “Mel isn’t in the state to perform magic.”
“I know. Her colour is fading and heartbeat weakening. Your manna is thinning out.” Casto felt her pulse and sighed. He was lost on what to do.
The beast broke from the forest line and was not happy. Saliva dripped from the corner of its jaws, its muscles taunt and ready to chase, its eyes were bloodshot, albeit beady. The beast held a long lance with a hammer on top; its structure was what was terrifying. It stood on all fours, yet held its weapon with two human hands. Its body was covered by face and it face was that of a dog—a bulldog. It had muscle bulging from every spore and stood at least 7 feet; it was massive.
“Shelka, the bulldog gladiator,” Raun muttered in awe tinged with fear.
“Yes. I had my guesses,” Casto replied, digging around to find his weapon.
“We are so dead.” Raun fell to his knees. He had given up immediately he saw the beast.
“Cowardly humans,” a voice said from behind them. The two males jumped in fright, even Mel stirred and blinked drowsily from the baritone voice.
Standing posed like a knight was the guardian and terror of Ruma’s border. Elkain, the Doberman Knight. He was said to be a human knight but cursed by a powerful witch to forever roam as a Doberman. His blade reflected in the sun: sharp and thin. He wore the amour of a knight and moved with grace of one regardless the bestiality he shared with Shelka.
“Get behind me and heal that maiden. There is something peculiar about her,” he ordered. Both males hurried to do his order. Casto knelt beside Mel and gave her the medicine to replenish lost blood. Raun gathered up their weapons and helped move Mel to a safer spot for the place was soon to be a play spot for beast.
“Shall we continue our last battle, Shelka?” Elkain bellowed.
“My friend, how is a cursed life treating you?” Shelka said with malice.
“You are soon to find out.” With that, both beasts charged at each other, weapons raised, moving at breakneck speed. Their collusion created a crack in the earth.