Day 44

Batals are and forever will be horrifying, cantankerous beasts. They have the body of a camel with dark, coarse fur that easily catches any whiff of wind. Their four long and sturdy legs had one extra joint each, allowing the creatures to jerk and swing around at odd angles as if they were played back from an old movie with the film cut and spliced together. At the end of their long, fury necks was a fearsome head shaped to mimic that of a vampire bat’s. Large, webbed flaps frame the thing’s face. The face itself was filled was a gaping bat mouth lined with sharp, carnivorous fangs. There were only two perturbing slits for the Batal’s nose. Last of all were the Batal’s eyes. If someone had the misfortune of looking directly into those gaping sockets beset with eyeballs carrying two irises and slit pupils each, then that person would be curled up in the Batal digestive juices.

True, the species preferred not to hunt prey whose party was more than three. Batals knew that eating more than three people would upset their stomachs and usually chose self restraint. However, this Batal was very, very hungry. There had been less people wandering around the Forest of Death lately. It didn’t know the source of its troubles, and it really didn’t care to know. All it knew and all that it desired was to have a full belly. Nine people. Nine delicious, plump, bite sized people would be just enough to stave off the hunger for a while longer. The Batal opened the second set of tiny eyes resting above the larger two. Now it could see the colors of these people. The colors meant something specific to avoid or use in its favor.

The Kitsunes were easy. They were various shades of the color red. That meant fire. Fire was bad. The Lived Being did not have a color. The centaur had a brown, living earth glow. He could control other, weaker animals. Not the Batal. Good. The little people, however…The Batal quirked its ugly head, twisting its head around its neck like it was trying to tie a knot. One of the older females had a black aura. The other look-alike had silver. The younger male—green. The tiny female, pearl white. The oldest male was a bright yellow. The Batal was unfamiliar with these colors. No matter. The children had not tapped into these innate magics. His eyes told him as much.

“I don’t like the way this thing is looking at us,” Alastair groaned. He had somehow gathered the Parishes and his sister behind him, acting as the shield.

“Like a five star dinner,” Zane added.

“Stand back, kids.” Tipper faced the Batal. “Batals hate fire. Luckily, I can make a good deal of—OOOF!”

As quick as a viper strike, the Batal’s head shot out from its body. It’s neck stretched and stretched until the Batal’s head connected with Tipper’s stomach. The wind was knocked right out of the Kitsune. He was violently flung back. His head connected with one of the sideways trees with a sickening crunch. The Kitsune crumpled on the forest floor, unmoving.

“Tipper!” Screeched Perceval. That was as far as he could get. The Batal’s head shot out again, and the monster caught the tip of Perceval’s tail between its fangs. It cast the fox creature up into the foggy blue air, reared its ugly legs, and hit the fox creature fully with its front hooves. Perceval skidded on along the dirt until he, too, crashed into the trunk of a tree.

The children stared in disbelief at the two people who had sworn to protect them. Tipper and Perceval were out cold, taking their fire magic—the magic that worked the best against Batals—with them.

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