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   Chapter 5 This Couldn’t be Any Worse

The Slayer By Lady Lilium Characters: 23853

Updated: 2018-07-13 12:02


'This couldn't be any worse!'

Waltz threw his head back, groaning and baring his teeth as he gripped his hair.

'Oh come on' Rude said beside him. 'It's not that bad.'

'What?!' Waltz squeaked. 'Look at this place!'

Leroy strode past him in brooding silence, gazing about him at the carnage. The simple village they had come to, the houses made of wooden walls and thatched roofs, with wooden fences that stood in the gardens to hold the animals, was almost completely destroyed in parts. It looked like a great beast had crashed into several of the buildings, tearing them apart as if they were made from only paper. Several animals wandered about in confusion, sheep that had once been penned now roamed free, bleating and milling around. Amongst the broken houses, were injured people being care for by other, bearing various different wounds, and here and there, bodies were covered with white cloths.

'What happened here?' Leroy asked of an old man, sitting on the steps before one of the broken homes, his own home by the look of it.

'Are you the heroes who have come to save us?' the old man asked.

'We have taken the job' Leroy replied to the man flatly. 'We are here to slay the beast.'

'Oh' the old man sighed. 'Thank god. You have to kill it. It is an evil creature.'

'Where is the village leader?' Leroy asked him.

'She's over there' the old man replied, pointing in one direction.

Leroy nodded to him once, before marching away. The other members of the guild trailing after him.

They found the village leader to be a young woman in her late teens, pretty with scruffy blond hair and dishevelled clothes. She was speaking to several people, dishing out orders and pointing from here to there. Behind her, just outside the village was a small fire, on which a small number of bodies were being burned. Holy figures dressed in modest clothes surrounded the pyre, heads bowed as they chanted their prayers.

'Thank god we've only lost as few as we have' the village leader was saying to another man. 'The size of that beast could have made this so much worse.'

'Excuse me' Leroy spoke loudly to her.

She turned to him.

'Are you the village leader?'

She pursed her lips. 'My father and grandfather have died. I am young, but this is my job now.' She paused, considering the group. 'Are you the ones who have taken the job we advertised?'

'Yes' Leroy grumbled back.

Behind him, Waltz leant out from the group to get a better look at her.

'It has been a sad day for all of us. The beast kept coming back. The people are afraid to leave their homes now. Your very presence here brings comfort to the folk.'

As she spoke, young children began to gather around the members of the guild, gazing up at them in wide-eyed wonder. Waltz gazed back, grinning widely. He remembered, what felt like a lifetime ago, being young and full of dreams, just like these children. He had dreamed of being a powerful mage, to be awed and respected and just a little feared.

He was still pursuing that dream…

'I'm just grateful' the young village leader was saying. 'If it was a fire-breathing creature…well…out little wooden village would have been completely destroyed.'

'Yes' Leroy replied grimly in a bored tone. 'We must be grateful for what we have. Now where is the beast?'

'We do not know. Many of the folk are too scared to work the fields now, we have stayed here in this village together where we feel safer. You have to help us. We cannot live our lives in fear.'

Leroy sighed then, placing his hands on his hips.

'We will have to search for it ourselves then' he said. 'Don't worry' he reassured her. 'We will find it and kill it. Then it will trouble you no more.'

A moment later, all eleven of them were huddled together behind a bush, all facing the same way, all staring outwards through the foliage of the leaves and to the open field on the other side.

'You call this searching for it?' Waltz grumbled. 'We're just sitting here.'

'It will come' Leroy reassured him.

'Oh yeah?' Waltz cast a sideways glance at him, glowering. 'How do you know?'

'Because' Leroy said patiently through gritted teeth, 'that sheep carcass will lure it in.'

'How do you know it's still hungry?' Waltz asked him as he knelt, staring through the bush at the dead sheep, an expression of agonizing boredom written across his face. 'We could be waiting for ages.'

'Because' Leroy said again, the vein in his forehead pulsing harder as his patience with Waltz grew thinner with every word that fell out of his mouth. 'If the food isn't enough to lure it, I've laced it with musk.'

'Musk?'

'The scent of a female in season' Leroy replied.

Waltz turned to him then, wearing a strange expression. 'Why do you even have that on you?'

'Shush' Kyle said to Waltz. 'Leave Leroy be. He's our leader. He knows what he's doing.'

'I'm just wondering' Waltz continued, speaking to Kyle now. 'Shouldn't we be surrounding it? Why are we all here? All of us together….oohhhh….'

Leroy's eye twitched in annoyance then as Waltz rounded on him.

'You just want to be surrounded by men! I knew you were an upstairs gardener!'

'Keep your voice down!' Tom hissed at him, grabbing him and clapping a hand over Waltz's mouth as Waltz began to struggle frantically.

'Keep him quiet' Leroy hissed as Waltz fought against Tom.

It took several men to subdue him, which seemed to make Waltz panic even more.

'Why are we all hiding here?' one of the other guild members named Earnest asked Leroy. 'Maybe Waltz is right. Wouldn't it be better if we surrounded it?'

'No' Leroy replied, turning away from the huddle of bodies behind him as the others fought to keep Waltz silent. 'We can't fight it here. It would only get away from us. A flying beast like that would only try to escape. After all, why risk your life unless you're desperate, and there's far easier prey than us around here anyway.'

'So what are you going to do?'

Leroy glanced down at his side, where rested in the grass a bow, alongside a single arrow with feathers at the end that glowed bright red with magic.

'We'll track it' Leroy said. 'As soon as it is stuck with this arrow, we can follow it anywhere, even if the arrow gets dislodged after a time, the magic will remain in the creature's body and it will leave a trail wherever it goes.'

'That's amazing' Earnest said, gazing at the arrow with large eyes. 'It must have been very expensive to buy.'

'It was' Leroy said resentfully, reaching his fingers down to touch it, stroking it tenderly like a mother would a child. 'I've…….been saving it.'

'And you know what beast this is?' Earnest asked him.

'From the description the villagers gave me' Leroy replied withdrawing his hand, '…it's a griffin.'

In the end Waltz had to be chloroformed to be kept quiet. No doubt he would complain bitterly about it later, and accuse Leroy of all sorts of mischief. But for the minute Leroy didn't care. He had other thoughts on his mind. And so, he waited.

It must have been about half an hour later, when something interesting happened.

First they heard a screech. It sounded like a great eagle, but on a far larger scale.

The members of the guild cast their eyes towards the heavens, gazing all around for the mouth from which the cry had come from.

Beside them Waltz woke suddenly with a gasp, eyes wide as he sat bolt-upright.

The griffin was a modest creature, smallish in size though with wings large in proportion to its body. The colour of its wings and fur were black and brown mottled, with patches of white. Its eyes were angry, and its black beak was sharp and cruel.

The griffin drew closer to the dead sheep, beating its colossal wings and landing heavily by the carcass.

The instant it had touched the ground, Leroy rose from behind the bush, standing tall and drawing the string of the bow back, the magical arrow ready to fire.

The griffin rounded towards him, screeching furiously, looming over the dead sheep with his claw upon its flank.

Leroy fired. The arrow whipped through the air, striking the beast in the shoulder, it was embedded deep into the monster's flesh. The griffin screeched again, crouching low with wings raised high, leaping up and climbing into the air as it began to fly away.

'Quickly!' Leroy snapped to the others as he turned on his heel and marched towards the horses that were tied up and hidden nearby. 'We must hurry!'

The others rose swiftly, one of them grabbing Waltz as they went. The eleven members of the guild mounted their horses, except for Waltz, who crawled gingerly onto his.

Leroy was already setting off, kicking his horse into a canter as he followed the trail through the sky, hunting the beast, and going where it led. Chasing after him were the other ten members of the guild, with Waltz dragging after them, barely hanging onto his horse as the creature plodded along after the others.

They chased the beast into the mountains.

'Curse this thing' Leroy growled when they reached the foot of the rocky slopes. 'It's too high.' He wheeled his horse around to face the others. 'We're going to have to climb.'

Waltz reached the group, hearing the last words Leroy had spoken.

'Climb?'

Waltz tilted his head back to the steep and rocky slope.

'….oh no….'

The group dismounted the horses. There was nowhere to tie them in the rocky place, and so they simply left them to wander.

'Now don't go too far away' Waltz told his horse that had no name. 'I want to be able to find you when I get back. Ok?'

The horse just stared at him.

'Great!' Waltz grinned, grabbing the air before him excitedly. 'Now you be good!'

He turned and ran away, after the other members of the guild that were already climbing the steep slope.

'Right' Waltz said, gritting his teeth in determination. 'Let's do this!'

The slow and arduous ascent to the top was slow and arduous. It was gruelling and exhausting and arduous and slow, and Waltz's enthusiasm quickly drained away.

'How high is this thing?' he hissed through clenched teeth as his muscles burned and his fingers bled from climbing the jagged rock. 'It feels like we've been climbing for years!'

'Are you alright down there?!'

It was Tristan, one of the other guild members.

'Yeah! I'm fine!' Waltz called back. 'It's not like gravity ever killed anyone' he added in a mumbled under his breath as he continued on.

'It's not far now' Tristan hollered down to him. 'Just keep going!'

Waltz dared a glanced at the drop behind him, his stomach tightening as he did so.

Oh come on. Since when were you scared of heights? He thought then. I wonder how far I can bounce…

'Come on' another of the guild members called to him from above. 'We're almost there!'

A few minutes later, and Waltz reached the top of the cliff, hauling himself over the edge and onto safe and relatively flat ground.

Before him, the rest of the guild was waiting for him to catch up. Waltz crawled forwards, getting his feet beneath him and standing.

He turned to the land behind him, towards the lush world beyond the cold and rocky cliffs. There lay a vast and green countryside, the bright fields and forests a vivid contrast with the blaring ocean blue.

The world they lived in was a bright place, a thriving place, and as the eleven guild members watched, they saw within the ocean a great whale break the surface of the water, lifting its body high before throwing itself back with an almighty splash. It descended into the depths again, as deep a place where the sun's light could not reach. The guild members were happy to witness such a sight; even Leroy could not hold back the smile from his face.

'I love this world' Waltz declared, casting his arms out wide. 'This bright and beautiful place! I hope I never have to le

ave!'

Suddenly a terrible screech cut through the air, an ear piercing call, a sharp reminder of why they were all there.

The guild members had tensed then, all staring towards the maze of rocks were the sound had come from.

Waltz swallowed the lump in his throat, standing on the edge of the cliff with his back to the drop. He watched as the griffin made itself known, clawing at the rock before them as it advanced menacingly, like a hunter, seeking its prey.

'It's alright' Leroy spoke calmly, holding his arm out to the others behind him. He was the closest to the approaching beast. 'It's a small one. It's not much of a threat to us if we stick together.'

The griffin roared then, contorting its body.

It lunged suddenly, claws outstretched as it tore forwards, wings beating hard as it bolted straight for Waltz.

The griffin took flight as it almost reached the cliff edge where Waltz stood; sailing over the top of his head so close that Waltz felt its wings brush him as it went.

The swift movement of the beast and the strong downdraft of its wings caused Waltz to stumble back, teetering on his heels on the very edge of the cliff, arms flailing as he threatened to topple over.

'Waaahh…Waaaahhhh….WAAAAAAHHHHHHH!'

Someone reached out to him then, grabbing him by the orange scarf around his neck.

Tom smirked at him, holding the end of the scarf as Waltz leant back over the drop.

'Lucky scarf?' Tom smirked.

Waltz grinned back at him as Tom pulled him back. Waltz stumbled forwards, once more onto flat ground again.

'Phew!' he sighed. 'That was a close one.'

'It's coming back!' Leroy called out to them as the griffin circled in the air.

The eleven members of the guild all drew their weapons. Waltz twirled his sword with a grin, standing with his side to the griffin as it drew closer, dropping in the air fast and heading straight towards them.

Waltz turned as it shot past him with all speed, stumbling in the sudden gale the beast created, his white blond hair and clothed whipped around him.

Leroy at the back of the group leapt upwards into the air as it drew closer to him, reaching an impossible height. The other members of the guild (Waltz included) watched in awe as, almost in slow motion, Leroy came before the griffin in the air.

The griffin opened its maw wide open, as Leroy spun in the air, faster and faster, twirling his twin blades as he did, cutting the beast deep, who could not have gotten out of the way.

Leroy fell back to the ground, landing on a knee with his head bowed, swords held out either side of him as the griffin crashed in the rocks behind him.

'Aww that was so cool!' Waltz cried, fangirling suddenly, fists balled and body shaking with excitement. 'Leroy you're such a badass!'

'Enough!' Leroy barked at him rising to his feet. 'Quickly! Kill it's while it's down!'

The guild members obeying instantly tore forwards, attacking the unfortunate beast from all angles and cutting it deep.

The poor beast, suddenly afraid screeched in pain, using a gust of wind to throw them back and trying to flee into the sky.

'Oh no you don't' Kyle smirked, throwing his weapon up to catch the griffin as it tried to make its escape.

Kyle cast his hand out, throwing his weapon up towards the griffin. His backwards curved knife on a chain caught the beast, hooking around the joint of its wing. Kyle pulled sharply downwards, and the griffin was torn from the air and sent hurtling downwards again.

The griffin tumbled, crashing into the mountains and breaking rocks as it fell.

The members of the guild advanced slowly towards the beast, weapons raised, eyes fixed on the vague shape within the settling dust as it righted itself.

The griffin rounded on them, screeching in anger, but there was panic there also.

Waltz smirked, stepping forwards.

'Now it's my turn.'

The other guild members parted as Waltz advanced, shoulders hunched. He swung his sword, twirling in the air the bright ribbon tied to the hilt which he used to distract his enemies from the blade. Waltz held the weapon before him in both hands now, grinning wildly with eyes wide and gleaming.

'Now I'm ready.'

The guild members either side of him created a sort of corridor between him and the beast, and Waltz stood alone, separated from the others, now the centre of the griffin's attention. It clambered over the rocks, running on all fours now as it charged straight for him. Now desperate, it lost all caution and attacked with everything it had.

Waltz tilted his head up, the instant before the griffin was upon him. He stepped to the side at the last moment, whipping his sword just as the beast ran past him, cutting deep into its shoulder. The griffin screeched, turning back to him and lunging again. Waltz twirled the sword several times, the red cloth tied to the hilt he used to distract the beast, stepping back and turning and ducking, dodging the griffin's attacks as it swiped at him again and again, growing ever more frustrated with each miss.

Waltz took a step back, moving carefully away now as the griffin stomped towards him, matching his pace. It followed Waltz, ignoring the guild members either side. Its large talons tore at the earth as it went, wings flexing and muscles tense. It screeched then, maw open wide and hackles raised.

Leroy suddenly struck, lunging forwards with one of his swords and stabbing the beast right the way through the neck.

Everyone froze.

Leroy narrowed his eyes, tightening his grip on the sword, before jerking it sharply back.

The griffin stumbled forward, coughing up a great pool of blood and falling forwards. It heaved itself up one last time, reaching towards Waltz, before collapsing and becoming still.

Leroy straightened as the other guild members around him relaxed, sheathing their weapons and smiling.

'Well done everyone!' Leroy called out to them, wiping clean his twin blades before sheathing them. 'You've all done well today.'

The others began to congratulate one another, milling around and patting each other on the back. Waltz wiped his forehead with his arm, still holding his sword in his hand.

'Good job Waltz' one of them said to him.

'Thanks Earnest' Waltz gleamed back.

Only Leroy was the one who did not share in their celebration. He approached the dead griffin, staring down at it intently. It was a modest size.

He put his foot against its flank, using all of his strength to push it. The griffin slumped, body limp as it rolled to lie on its side.

Leroy's attention drifted down the griffin's body. He saw that the creature was male.

His eyes travelled back up its body and to its head and chest. He saw the griffin's chestnut plume was tipped with a red hue. The skin around its beak and claws were flushed, burning red.

Leroy grimaced, realising what this meant. He stepped back, jerking his head up to the guild members around him, barking a command out to all of them.

'Be silent!'

They obeyed him instantly. Like flipping a light switch, each man instantly held his tongue.

'Listen to me' Leroy said to them urgently. 'This isn't over.'

'What do you mean?' Waltz asked him. 'It's dead isn't it?'

'This is not the beast we are supposed to be hunting' Leroy told him. 'It's far too small to have caused the damage we saw back in the village. There is another.'

'What?'

'Look' Leroy pointed. 'Look at its body. The males are always smaller. This beast is in heat. Its mate must be nearby.'

'Oh pants…' Waltz gulped nervously. 'I think you're right.'

'Yup' Kennedy confirmed, approaching the dead griffin and leaning on its body, looking down at it as he inspected it closely. 'It's a boy.'

'We mustn't let our guard down' Leroy told them. 'The female is here, she must be. Griffins nesting never travel too far from their eggs, and never leave them for too long. It's here…somewhere. Come on' he said turning and marching away. 'We have to find it.'

They wandered through the mountains, heading deeper and deeper within the rocks. As they went, Waltz glanced fearfully about them, eyes wide as he trembled.

'It could come from anywhere' he uttered, gazing all about him. 'Every crack, every crevasse….it could be watching us…even now…'

'It's alright' Rude comforted him, placing his hand firmly on his shoulder. 'We'll get it. It's all of us against it remember?'

'Have you ever seen a mature female before?' Waltz asked him as they walked. 'They are monstrous. They are scary. We are all going to die!'

'Snap out of it' Rude hissed, shaking him then. 'We can kill it; just have a little faith in yourself. Do you doubt your own abilities?'

Waltz stopped then, thinking about this.

'I…' he began. 'I…'

And then he turned.

Waltz drew a deep breath, crying out in fear and pointing.

'There!' he called. 'It's hunting us!'

'Relax' Rude told him, sparing the rocks beside them only a brief glance. 'There's nothing there.'

'No' Leroy hissed, freezing and glancing back. He raised his hand to the others, signalling them to stop. 'No one move. Waltz is right……there is something there……'

The eleven guild members stared in silence at the rocks beside them.

For the longest time, nothing moved.

'It's stalking' Leroy whispered. 'There…'

Three great claws black like obsidian appeared then at the top of the rock.

And then the rest of the beast followed after.

It was really big, massive in fact, like…five times the size of the other one. And it was really scary.

It had a head like a great eagle, giant chicken-feet at the front, with really big and sharp feet at the back like a terrifying predator, and its dark wings were large enough to blot out the sun.

Waltz took one look at it.

'Oh pants…'

It arched its scary back, ready to lunge and kill every single body.

'RUUUUN!' Waltz cried turning the other way.

Leroy grabbed him by the collar before he had a chance to escape.

'Not so fast' he said pulling him back and shoving him forwards to face the beast. 'You'll make wonderful bait.'

Waltz almost stumbled as he was pushed forward, right into the path of the griffin and its terrifying beak.

'Oh….' Waltz uttered staring back at it. 'Cr*p.'

The griffin contorted its body, casting its wings out wide over their heads, before folding them close to its body and leaping, right towards Waltz.

The griffin landed on the ground right beside him, close enough so that its feathers brushed his cheek.

Everything moved in slow motion for Waltz. He turned very slowly towards the griffin, eyes wide with fear, his breath catching in his throat, his eye inches away from the beasts.

It raised its wings again, to Waltz, doing so very slowly, as it made to take off.

Waltz was vaguely aware of Leroy shouting from nearby.

'ATTACK! DON'T LET IT GET AWAY!'

As the griffin brought its wings down (slowly) somehow Waltz's scarf got caught on the griffin, and as it took off soaring over the hills and mountains, it took Waltz with it, his curses lost on the wind.

All the others heard of him, were his faint protests at the ridiculousness of the situation.

'NAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!'

On the ground, Leroy stared lazily up towards the sky as Waltz sailed further and further away from them.

'Hm' he said.

'Where do you think it's going?' Tristan asked him, straightening and sheathing his sword.

'The nest must be close' Leroy said, turning to face the others as the griffin made its escape with Waltz dangling in the air after it, caught on his tangled scarf.

'Do you think Waltz will be ok?' Trevor asked, frowning at the shrinking dot that was the griffin.

'Yeah' Leroy said confidently turning back to the swiftly fading dot. 'He'll fine.'

Tom smirked up at the sky, watching Waltz slowly disappear.

'Lucky scarf' he said.

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