The sun was sinking and I decided this was where I would leave the mammoth. He seemed a bit perplexed when I untied the knot on his collar and slid down his side. He took a few steps back as if testing the bond and realizing it was gone he relaxed. I think he got the idea since he was heading back to Selpia, or it could have been his fondness of the Selpian climate. Either way I continued, knowing I had more reason to worry about what was up ahead than what I’d left behind. The sun had disappeared by the time he was gone and I lay in the tall grasses. It was a long cold trip and it was nice to lay in something warm for a change. I can’t say I missed the Selpian snow after laying in its numbing frozen surface for what seemed like months now. I’d lost track of time since I last left Selpia but I knew at the very least a month had passed.
When the dark sky was finally tinted by the bright yellow of the sun, my eyelids felt heavy from a sleepless night and my body hesitated with the thought of movement. I stood and hugged my coat, the air had not yet warmed. Although no birds sang and not a leaf rustled the ambiance felt a little less hostile. I listened closely wanting to hear something other than my breathing.
Did my ears deceive me? I heard a distant sound that was something in between a snort and a laugh. The worst came to mind. They were Leoplorians. Upon instinct I hid behind the tree I slept beneath but panic struck me as I heard heavy footsteps running towards me. I sank lower into the field of grass. The footsteps became closer and hit the ground even harder and even faster. My heart pumped hard and my body shivered. They had seen me, I was sure of it. My hand was already on the hilt of my sword. Air rushed past me as they ran. The two of them were apparently running in the same direction. Each ran past me on either side of my sanctuary tree. It was morning so I guessed they weren’t too interested in hunting. I peered out of the tall grasses and it was obvious they had not seen me. Their gape was like that of madmen; clumsy and seemingly purposeless. They yelled, hooted and waved their spears up in the air. Black and red paint was smeared all over their naked bodies, save a small area that was covered with a cloth. It really is impossible to name a more grotesque sight than that of their countenances.
The Leoplorians were the most ugliest creatures you could ever see. Repulsive in sight and smell. Their misshapen faces would be enough to scare any creature. They had jagged teeth that were randomly placed in their mouths and were of completely different sizes and shapes. Their eyes were wild and stuck out of giant tumors from their massive heads. Tufts of hair grew on only a few areas of their heads. Two v-shaped slits were cut in the middle of their heads. The only “normal” thing about Leoplorians that categorized them as humanoid were their massive bodies that had no apparent scarring or mutations.
Slinging the sack I carried over my shoulder, I stalked the quick bastards, hiding behind trees as I went. After only a few minutes I realized they were heading towards a forested area in the grassland. A trail of smoke left the forested area. Fire? Then it hit me where they were headed to. I kept on trailing them until I arrived at the Leoplorians’ camp. I instantly smelled burnt wood and a strong, stale waste-like stench all around me. The horrific smell was nauseating and suffocated me in its density. I breathed through a scarf around my neck, and all the while wondered how the Leoplorians could stand such a stench. I swallowed the lump in my throat and looked on.
I had always heard of these savage ceremonies, but there was always one small detail that intrigued me: who or what was this beast God they served. Stories that I had heard always varied in the description of the beast. Some have said it to be just as repugnant as the Leoplorians. Some describe the beast as a blood-thirsty demon that created the Leoplorians to serve and satisfy his ravenous obsession with flesh and blood. The truth is that nobody has ever really seen it.
Silence pervaded through the crowd of Leoplorians and their heads turned towards the mouth of the dark cave. A cloud of smoke began to fade from the cave into the thick air. From the back of the crowd came a rustling that split the crowd. A Leoplorian was carrying a long branch and too my mortification a Selpian peasant bound to it! Trepidation grasped my heart and indented my stomach as I realized what was happening. The head of the poor Selpian hung limp on her bosom as if it were a limb. Her skin was pallid and her blonde hair, partially torn out of her skull, grew from a lump of dried blood on a flap of her scalp.
Another step and the rock ground suddenly crumbled. I quickly held onto a stalagmite and felt scrapes burning all around my body. I heard the rocks continue to tumble below and it was quite a while before they made the familiar splash. It was a long way down and I didn’t want to risk falling into a foot deep puddle. The stalagmite began to crack. My feet searched for anything that could serve as a foothold but the rock was worn to a smooth and wet luster. I kicked the wall, hoping the metallic toe cap on my boots was enough to crack the wall. After a few painful kicks the rock cracked. I loosened the grip on the stalagmite and worked on making more footholds. Eventually I reached a ledge in the rock.
Only now did I notice the overpowering smell of smoke. I could see nothing and decided it was about time I lit up something. I reached into my rucksack and scavenged for some spark-dust and a torch stick from my sack. My heart leapt to my throat as a grumble echoed from within the darkness. I let a handful of spark-dust fall to the branch and waved the now lit torch around. As far as I could see I was on a trail cut out of the rock formation. A pang of guilt, fear and helplessness rang in my stomach. I looked up and wondered just how long it would take to see my brother again. What was this cowardice I showed? I could not abandon my journey now. I was so close to seeing the beast-god. Gulping down fear, I continued on the sloping path.
Distracted by the thoughts of home it took a while for me to notice that the grumbles and splashes had ceased. When I did take note of it two things happened: the ledge ended abruptly and below I saw water. I jumped the few feet into its shallow depths and held the torch high. My heart pumped with all it’s might and the childhood myths of the beast-god raced my mind. Only a few feet from where I stood, lay the greatest creature I’d seen to this day. It’s size scared the reason out of me but it’s beauty was what kept me standing for so long. The beast’s head alone was the size of at least five mammoths piled up. It was covered entirely in white damp fur save for the large curved horns that protruded from it’s massive head. I was at once deceived by it’s innocent sleep but only until I made note of the various corpses and bones that were scattered in the mucky water.
It was as if there was an aura around the beast that truly made it a deity. Or was there truly a light behind it? I slowly walked through the dead bodies (some of which I recognized as Selpians but most of them didn’t seem human at all) and around the beautiful beast. The light was in fact coming from behind the creature. I could faintly see another opening out of the cave.
I was beginning to think I wouldn’t make it, for the beast was just now stirring from its serene state. I began to smell the smoke from behind my scarf again. Menacingly the water formed waves as the hill of fur rose up. Up higher and higher went the beast. It’s fur dripped a waterfall of mucky water over me and extinguished my torch. Out of fear I broke into a sprint. It was a panicked reaction I must admit but victory was as simple as reaching the opening. The opening was small enough to save me from the jaws of the beast and that was reason enough to run. Adrenaline pumped through my blood. I breathed deeper the stench of smoke. Coughing and wheezing I ran for dear life counting only on the camouflage of the dark cave and the speed of my legs when pumped heavily with fear. The beast-god finally took notice of me and searched the choppy waters for the escapee. The darn thing must’ve had eyes built for the dark because once my torch went out the cave was as dark as before, even with the small light coming from the opening.