Gary Baker, March 2012
(character working for a larger project)
Libra danced to the side, avoiding the rushing torrent of arrows in their hailstorm drop that decimated his unsuspecting squad. A large up-held mass of moss-choked branches and mulch crested from low-hanging branches just above his scaled snout, with the musty smell of decay making him want to cringe. The continued chicks, clicks, and clacks tattered the makeshift roof as the stone-nosed arrows hit home in the surrounding forest floor, seeming to go on longer than should have been right.
Libra stepped forward in the dark, moist grotto, with as little noise as he could manage in the mud and moss, slowly creeping toward an opening over-looking the battle ahead. He reached a silhouetted arm forward to draw back the thick-foliage of a hanging fern, letting the filtered white light reveal to him the deep navy scales of his thin-yet-muscular clawed right hand. Beyond the shadows, the battle came to an end amidst the towering jungle landscape with tribal beasts, their scales of pasty yellows and faint moss-greens, hefting spears and bows like torches to usher on their comrades.
He could see the gleaming green eyes of the yellows, and the red eyes of the greens, with crimson markings painted across their lighter-toned skeletal chests as if from the blood of their fallen enemies. It was sickening just looking at it, how the apparent leaders of the horde pressed their throats as forward as possible and bellowed like beastly bi-peddled frogs to emanate a deafening, reverberating tenor cry to signal their victory.
One yellow beast, its arms thin like Libra's own, lifted its free arm to motion toward his small cavern dwelling while the other arm held its thick bow and two ready-to-fire arrows at its side. Its forearms donned white fur bracers, tied tightly around its wrists and biceps with black fur wrappings snaking around its fingers and neck. "Cuvotla V'Kduos!" Came its carnal order, commanding the squads under its control to 'find him'. "Cuvotla zamtuk b'Kolusiu!"
A sudden awe struck Libra as if one of the arrows had actually breached his cover. "Cuvotla zamtuk b'Kolusiu!" The beast's underlings repeated as even more squads came out to to cover the yellow basilisk in command. And even while the squads made their way toward him, a lone enemy warrior far out-numbered and sure to die soon, Libra drew back into the darkness with more thoughtfulness than fear. Find the body, they were passing along to each other. They thought he was dead. That had to be an advantage, even if everything else deemed him dead within the next few moments.
Deep in his mind, Libra rummaged for a way to survive -- any way would be a good way, but he needed something that wouldn't declare him a coward; a traitor to his clan, by simply fleeing for his life.
Then it hit him, he had the way to see this through if he could just do it right. He knelt down to the mud and dipped his right hand into a small pool of murky brown moisture collected at the base, covering his hand with the thick mud beneath. While lifting it free, he flipped his arm-thick bow so that it hung around his left shoulder, and began mixing the mud over both hands before smearing it over his elongated, squarish snout.
The echoes of snapping branches in the mulch echoed over to his sensitive earlobes, exposed to the elements by an opening on the sides of his upper neck where thick leathery skins stretched over as the only covering. The clan leaders had called him a 'bayhtba' in reference to the fabled ocean-tribes that had, according to legend, been the origin of their kind. He had seen intricate depictions of his own lobes in the rubble of a long-abandoned clan dwelling to the far north and had simply assumed it to be coincidence, but these same depictions had told of the ability to breath when submerged in pools of the falling rains.
A quick glance told him there lay a flat stream bed just down the slope from him, and he closed his eyes while breathing deeply. He moved his attention internally to the slits along the backs of his jawbone where small spikes protruded to block these from the view of others. With his scalene lips clamped tightly together, he pushed air into his mouth and kept his focus on these slits. Pain seared through his skull as the pressure in his muzzle wavered on explosive horror. Sooner or later something was going to give; be that the slits, or the whole frontal cavity of his nasal passageways.
Then a terrible flash of white-hot agony seemed to rip his throat in two, and he fell to his hands and knees with the absolute need to scream. The bundle of white fur on his shoulders began to soak with the brown ooze of sludge that it now reached into, and he fought the urge to go running blindly into the death down below to simply end the devastation in his trachea.
"Okol'vuymuk!" Came the cry of alarm from down slope.
With his head still foggy from trauma, Libra lifted from the mud and raised a hand to his neck. Mixed with mud was the thick crimson indication of blood; and yet he felt no rupture-point along the entirety of his neck aside from where he knew his fabled gills to be.
Suddenly the clatter of enemies not used to the thick jungle terrain made its way through his agony, and into absolute reality. Now he was sure they knew of his survival -- and as the only fur-carrier of his troop, he had been deemed the leader in their outlandish ways. In reality he had simply received them as a gift from a clan to the north, when they had seen the slits that he had just opened; but these clansmen from the southern plains would never understand that. Not during times of change such as this, where every tribal race pressed for control over lands previously unknown, in conquest for power and forced racial interweaving.
Libra shook his head to bring himself back to the moment. He needed to test his theory out, but before he could do so he needed to reach the stream; which now rested beyond the first wave of the yellow and green reptilian beasts.
Silently he slipped a thin metal blade from its sheath at his lower knee joint, and drew an arrow from the vertical quiver on his spiked back. With the movement of a hunter, and the stealth of a long-lived jungle predator, he shifted out to the left end of his dwelling while drawing the arrow back on the bow. Unseen in the shadows because of the mud streaks, he aimed the dart head just a tad above the horde leader's head and prepared his coming actions carefully.
If he were to see this through, if he were to reach the depth of the cool jungle stream before being scoured with pelting metals, then the rain gods were clearly as benevolent as the clan elder, Prima, had claimed weeks ago.
"Uunliu clyutuk." He whispered silently, blessing the arrow to fly free.
The bowstring struck the fur wrist-wrap on his left arm with a loud slap, and the bush in front of him shook tremulously. Even as the bolt flew as free as he had blessed it to do, Libra darted to the right to avoid the arrows returning to skewer the creeping vine hedges behind his firing place. Immediately he reached a fallen log, and used it to vault high into the air while letting another arrow fly toward an unsuspecting clansman's shoulder as the jump carried him over the figure. A spear thrust into the air to his right, catching on a thick mossy vine in place of his shin, and he hit the sloped hill at a dead run.
A yellow-green assailant swung a javelin-like bladed spear at him, which he ducked beneath even as he slammed his knife into the wielders abdomen with a sickening crunch that quickly crumpled the beast with a violent spray of vermilion blood and a high-pitched wail.
Still rushing down the slope, Libra looked ahead to see the yellow-scaled leader bent in two with his arrow shaft protruding from a spike on his back; that arrow had flown far truer than he could ever have hoped. Splitting a spinal crest could kill the victim from sheer pain alone, and the fact that this leader was only doubled over to lean on his upper knee joints was a serious indication to how he had gained his power. It would be a major test of Libra’s abilities if he were to kill this reptilian tribesman.
Suddenly a piercing pain hit his leg with a great enough force to knock him over, and his tail whipped to the side as he spun in the air with a long bolt sticking out of his upper thigh.
Then he was airborne; falling faster than expected, through open air at the edge of a sudden drop. He hit the mud hard at the base, and he rolled over to see the ledge he somehow hadn't seen coming.
But the stream was just an arm-span away, and he needed to test his theory out more than ever before. As the plainsmen drew their arrows back Libra scrambled for the water with his weapons forgotten in the mud and his claws digging deep into the ooze to give him minimal traction at best.
And then the first of the arrows hit home, aimed too high, in the moist ledge above, sending shivers of panic through his blue-scaled limbs.
Finally he reached the water and thrust himself under without care for how shallow it might actually be, only to find himself lancing into a deep pool of thick, black water. Arrows plunged all around him like falling stars, trailing bubbles as they went, and he shifted his tail and found it pushing him down even faster. With another flick of the tail, he found himself shoved nose first into the silt at the bottom, and stopped at last to rest.
With a start he realized that the slits on the underside of his jaws no longer throbbed in excruciating pain, but seemed to ebb with renewed vigor. Instinctively he had been holding his breath and, upon remembering the whole reason he had fought so hard to reach the water, held his teeth clamped tightly while exhaling through his freshly-opened gills.
It worked. What was better, he found, was that it also worked in reverse. He realized that by opening his mouth to let water in, he could then press the liquid out through his gills and gain the refreshing feeling of breathing without surfacing. It was ungodly, it was unheard of, and most of all it was really happening.
He felt the tickle of the fur on his shoulders fanning out in the current like grass to the wind, and turned over in his new hiding place to look at the rippling canopy through the waters surface. Suddenly the idea that he could simply wait out the enemies down here crossed his mind before being replaced by self-ridicule at being a coward. No, he had gained the advantage, and now he was going to use it. The leader, Libra declared to himself, is going to die by my hand.