Day 45

Alastair went through the limited defense related options in his repertoire. He used to study karate. He got up to a green belt before his family moved from Indiana to Colorado. Alastair had never used karate on an opponent before, and his instructor always told him that karate was for protection, not fights. He never had to protect himself before. Not once. Once more, it had been a year since he tried brushing up on his karate skills. Karate was out.

What about those Fire Gems? He accidentally ate his, but the other for children hadn’t. It didn’t matter if they had an affinity to fir or not. If all of the kids used their Fire Gems at once, then they could overpower the Batal.

“Guys,” Alastair whispered from the corner of his mouth. He could feel his hands grow sweaty. Some actually dripped down from his forehead and burned his eyes as it slipped down his face. “Get your Fire Gems.”

That was as far as Alastair could get. The Batal swung its disgusting head and glared at Alastair. Did the thing know what he was talking about? With a jolt, Alastair remembered that because he was a human, he could speak the languages of anybody in Soielle. Anybody really meant anybody. The Batal had heard his plan. The monster reared, aiming for the boy.

“No you don’t!” Digitalis shouted. The Batal froze and was too late in realizing that the Lived Being had ducked over to its legs. Digitalis smashed her wooden spoon against one of the joints of the monster’s front leg. The children heard a sickening crunch of cartilage and bone. The Batal stumbled. It growled, the growl sounding like three wild dogs fighting over a piece of rancid meat. “Leave those squirts alone. Don’t you want some delicious Lived Being dinner instead? I hear eating one of me with grant you eternal life. Sound nice, huh?”

“GRARARAAA!” Boomed the Batal.

“Now, Glue Pot!” Digitalis yelped as she avoided the Batal’s teeth when it attacked.

Alastair attempted to locate the huge centaur. Where could have the timid man gone? There were only trees and blue fog and dirt. Blinking, Alastair could make out only a tiny fraction of movement near where Tipper and Perceval lay knocked out. It was a bow and arrow. A floating bow and arrow! No, wait. Alastair squinted. Glue Pot had blended into the forestry so well that Alastair had missed him.

The centaur let his arrow fly. The sharp metal point of the arrow shaft hit its mark, sinking deep into the Batal’s forehead with a deafening ‘thunk.’ Glue Pot relaxed his arms, believing that the battle was over and won. What creature could survive an arrow buried deep within its brain cavity?

The Batal could.

Alastair felt his stomach drop when the Batal merely blinked and that seethed at the audacity of such a lowly beast to wound a top carnivore as itself. The Batal’s head jerked forward just as it had done with Tipper, but this time the monster’s neck extended longer and longer until the Batal resembled a snake more than a bat or camel. Glue Pot yelped with the monster wrapped its neck around his throat and squeezed.

“Only put you to sleep,” the Batal grunted and it applied more pressure. “Meat best when alive. Meat taste good fresh. Dead meat is ab-ab-abhorrent.”

“Can you hear it, too?” Lila gasped.

“Yeah,” Gabbie answered.

“Put to sleep, naughty centaur. Then take care of mean Lived Being. Will eat tiny people whole. Yes. Whole. One piece. Yum.” The thing’s voice was like the creaking of an old, wooden rocking chair. Somehow, the kids could pick out meaning from the creature’s spine chilling grunts and hisses.

“Quickly, grab your Fire Gems,” Alastair said as quietly as he could. “That thing won’t kill the adults yet, so when he turns on Digitalis, that’s your chance to strike.”

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