It wasn’t graceful, and it wasn’t clean. She more or less wrapped both arms around the spear, put a foot up against the tree and then let her own weight do the work for her.
I could feel the spear begin to move. I took a real breath of air and the bark began to recede.
First an inch, then another, and in an explosion of wood and metal, the girl fell down and I was free.
I hit the ground and my knees wobbled. It was like I hadn’t used them in years. I didn’t have time to let them regain their strength, though. The chimera was in the air coming for me.
No. Not me. Her. It was coming to finish her off.
I forced energy back into his limbs and shouted to match the chimera’s shriek and leaped to meet it in midair. I grabbed its maw with one hand while grasping at its fur with another. I felt the hairy spines on the thing’s legs dig into my body and scrape at my flesh as we crashed to the ground. It wasn’t pretty, but I started to pummel the thing about the head and body while it bit and tore at me.
I heard the hissed words again. “Half blood.”
“Still kill you!” I growled back.
I slid out of its grasp and scrambled up where I could wrap both arms around its neck and started to pull up. It was heavier than I expected, but that could just be because my full strength hadn’t returned. Before those stretching arms could find purchase on my back or face, I got the chimera in the air and swung it at my former prison/tree like it was a rather large, rather blunt ax. I was basically hugging its head against my chest, so this was more or less a full body activity, but it resulted in a satisfying crack. So satisfying, in fact, that I did it again. And then a third time just for good measure.
I flung the limp beast out into the clearing, a good ten yards away from me. I was breathing hard, which wasn’t right, but it still felt good. The air tasted good. The victory tasted even better.
“Half blood,” the thing moaned. There were more cracking sounds, but this wasn’t the sound of something coming apart. It was of things clicking back into place.
The jewel, I thought.
I reached behind me and felt my two bone knives still in my belt. I suppose it would have been hard to disarm me after making me part of the tree.
These weren’t enchanted blades. Not exactly. But they were mine, and with them I could cut this chimera to pieces.
My fingers clenched and unclenched around the hilts of the knives in anticipation. I was going to enjoy this.
The chimera pulled itself together relatively quickly, though the configuration seemed to be a little different now. It was somehow even bigger, covered in a few more spiny protrusions, and it’s own blood mixed with the oily liquid seeping out from the carapace.
It looked a little angry, too.
Fine. I ground my teeth. I would show it what it meant to be angry.
We both roared and charged.
The chimera spit some of that acid from its mouth, but I sidestepped it as I ran. I slid, legs first, under the creature, one knife slicing at its belling and the other at the joints that, on anything else, would be called a knee. My daggers bit home, drawing more fluid and blood, and I curled up into a ball to let my momentum roll me away from the beast before anything unpleasant landed on me.
I scored a good hit, but the thing still moved. It roared in pain and anger, and when it spun to pounce, I was ready. I met the monster head on, blades flashing so fast the humans around probably wouldn’t be able to appreciate exactly how surgical this process really was.
It took too long, though, and the acidic fluids shot out of every crack in the shell, spraying me before I could get away. It hurt, but it would heal.
I turned around to survey my work and grinned. “Half blood,” I muttered in a mocking tone. Of course, something so effectively dismembered probably didn’t hear me.
But something was still wrong. The old woman ran up beside the girl and stood next to her, looking at the carnage.
“Do you see something glowing?” she asked quietly.
I wrinkled my nose in confusion at first, but then saw what she was so worried about. The body parts strewn about the area were twitching.
I should have known better. The carrier of the jewel does not die. Even the weakest of chimerical beasts would keep coming back so long as it had it.
I watched the girl carefully. She was still barely conscious, but the old lady helped her off the ground and guided her toward the gory mess.
“I don’t know what you want,” she said weakly, tears streaking the blood and dirt on her face. She looked ready to throw up at the sight.
“Just look. Concentrate and look. If you can’t see where the jewel is, it will just come back again. And even Mortimer there won’t be able to keep fighting it when its friends get here.”
I growled to himself. How did she know that name? Who was she?
And where was the real Rachel?
This wasn’t the time to worry about that. The old lady was right. If its friends got here, I wouldn’t be able to take them all. And they would definitely cut the humans to ribbons.
Well, if these were really Rachel’s people, then maybe they deserved it. I had no reason to protect them. I just wanted what was mine.
The old woman spoke even more softly to the girl, encouraging her to look.
“Oh, Lord,” she mumbled. “I do see it.”
“Where?” the old lady said, still gently prodding her into the middle of the bloody mess.
She pointed at one of the lumps of flesh on the ground. It had more fur on it than carapace, and the blood matted it down against its flesh. The same puss oozed out from between the muscles, mixing with the blood to create a disgusting, deep brown that looked more like vomit than blood.
“I don’t want to… don’t make me…” she whispered.
The old woman shook her head. “You don’t have to touch it. It’s here? In this one?”
The girl nodded and then turned her head and vomited as the old woman rummaged around the flesh until she pulled out a small, shiny object.
Suddenly the feeling of imminent violence dissipated, and all the twitching and jittery body parts immediately stopped.
The old woman used her long skirt to wipe the bloody, sticky fluids off her hands and the jewel and went to kneel next to the silently retching girl. When there was nothing left in her stomach she slumped back against the old woman, completely drained. Willpower can only take you so far. The body would simply give up eventually.
They needed to bandage her wounds soon. Even if they did it right now, though, it was hard to believe she’d live much longer.
Of course, none of that was my problem.
The old woman placed the jewel in the young girl’s hands, who stared at it blankly. “This was inside me?”
The old woman was just about to answer her, but I decided that this particular answer wasn’t my problem either.
“Wherever it was, that’s not something that belongs in human hands. The good news is that I’m here to take it out of yours. Won’t that make us all happy?”
Just to make sure that everyone knew what I meant by “happy,” I brandished my blades in front of my face, making sure it caught the light just right. The dull bone seemed to glow with its own energy.
The girl stared up at me in astonishment. This wasn’t how this was supposed to go, was it?
If you’re looking for a hero, girl, you’ve come to the wrong place.