There could be no mistake. The heavy breathing, the low, guttural growl, the sound of tremendous paws pounding on flowers of heather, closer and closer, louder and louder. I could not see it, but I knew it was there. I shot up a burst of bright sparks into the pitch blackness of the night sky. I heard voices in the distance. Sir Gilroy should be right beyond the knoll to the east, Cillian and Isolde somewhere to the north. Gods know where Sir Alistair went. If only Nevermore came quicker, then I’d most likely deal with the beast in seconds. For now, I could only rely on myself.
I had never come face-to-face with a manticore myself. The Tome described it as a beast of imposing stature, baring fangs the size or a large dog’s leg. Its face resembled that of a human male, yet covered in protruding whiskers. Besides the imposing fangs, its mouth was said to be housing rows upon rows of teeth. It was said to possess a gaze most piercing, capable of paralyzing even the boldest of the bold with fear. And yet, by far the most dangerous weapon it wielded was its tail. A long, barbed abomination, swollen with the thick, vilely purple liquid pulsating within. The large, human head-sized, thorn-ridden tip was enough to bludgeon a person to death if a sufficiently strong swing was made. And even if that failed to land a kill, the venom injected was bound to finish the job. By then the fangs and teeth would proceed to eviscerate the remains, which at this point barely resembled their original shape anyway. A manticore was by all means a perfect predator. Small wonder Sir Gilroy’s party had been reduced to a meager two.
Usually, manticores would inhabit deserts and canyons, making their dwelling in tunnels dug up under the dunes or formed naturally within the rocks. The moors would not offer them such protection, as the ground was too hard for them to dig into with their paws. There were no natural caves to give them shelter. A manticore would stand out like a sore thumb among the sea of violet, making a stray like that an easy target for local hunters, who would seek them out as the amount of gold offered for manticore parts would last them a lifetime (not to mention the magical properties). Pity this one was invisible.
The Tome warns of the beast’s swiftness and advises the use of paralysing potions. As we could not be sure which one of us would be facing the creature and there was time to only brew one vial, I gave it to Nevermore who would proceed to drop it on the creature when he noticed any of us engage in battle. He was running dreadfully late.
The pounding on the ground became heavier, faster. Closer. The beast had already caught my scent and was running in my directions, there was no mistaking it. With no place to hide, I cast a barrier spell, hoping that would at least prevent the beast from bludgeoning me to death. The air surrounding me became warm and appeared to be shimmering. I could hear the manticore break into a gallop and let out a deep, guttural howl. Quite imposing, yet I had heard more threatening sounds before. Cillian had sounded scarier as a strix. I could see the trail the manticore was leaving. A long advancing dent in the flowers, a dark line curving and swinging as it made its way toward me. Almost there. I still had five, four, three…
I sprang sideways, rolling in the heather, barely avoiding the beast’s assault. I could hear it stop and breathe heavily, confused and angry. No time to waste. I muttered words most dark and unknown to all those who live. A wall of fire arose around the creature. Despite its invisibility, a shadowy outline could be seen squirming beyond the flames. None may escape those flames. I only hoped I could maintain them long enough, until Nevermore came back. I could not.
In my carelessness, I let the barrier fall apart, certain none but the beast could threaten me in this endless moor. How foolish of me. I had had my doubts, and yet I set them aside for this goal. The blow to the side sent me flying to the ground, making me nearly lose my grip on the wall of fire, which did get noticeably smaller. Another hastily erected barrier and a makeshift sword made of fire was all I could muster while maintaining the beast’s cage. This was enough to stop the oppressor’s blade from reaching me. I clutched the Eye with my left hand as I gazed into the grey eyes filled with hate, staring back into mine from beneath sandy hair.