My heart pounded in my chest, there would be no second chances. The slightest movement out of place could spell disaster. If I missed, I would have to get out of the way in a split second and scramble up the nearest tree to avoid the talons.
A faint whistle sounded, signalling our quarry had been spotted. I wouldn’t have to wait long—at this very moment the others were steering the bird exactly where we wanted it to go. A sound here, a whisper there, plotted the animal’s course without the creature realising it was strolling toward its death.
I stopped dead in my tracks as a loud, unnatural scream sliced through the air. Within seconds, more screams, this time human. Instead of a stealthy silence, the hunter’s frenzied shouts echoed through the forest, scattering birds into the sky before fading into the distance. Then the familiar sound of our prey—the thud, thud, thud as its powerful legs careened toward me, causing the earth to vibrate.
The hunter within took control, and I positioned myself for the kill shot. At any moment the bird would burst through the undergrowth into the path of my arrow. This was not how it was supposed to happen. I had hoped the hunt would be controlled, as was planned—but as any hunter knows, plans change.
I focused my thoughts, forcing the noises threatening to distract me into the background. Around me everything fell silent, my own rhythmic breathing the only audible sound. I couldn’t shake the sense that something wasn’t quite right—the bird took too long to reach me.
When it finally exploded through the foliage it reminded me of Mount Kashu’s eruption, frantic and wild. The animal’s fear filled eyes darted left and right, a panic stricken hiss escaping its throat in short sharp gasps. I took aim, imagining a small circle on the area the arrowhead needed to penetrate.
When I released, its shaft cut through the air before finding the mark. The creature tripped over its own feet, skidding a fair distance before it came to a dead stop. I stared at the lifeless body and, for a moment, sadness gripped my heart. It was beautiful, beautiful and fearsome. Shades of blue feathers glimmered as the sun’s rays caressed them and I found myself wishing I hadn’t killed it. My eyes trailed over the wide claw-shaped beak that contrasted the elongated neck before resting on the bird’s long muscled legs and dagger sharp talons. I found it difficult to fathom how the Kasku, who occupied the area, could despise the magnificent flightless bird. They aptly named it Telike—in the ancient tongue it means ‘Menace’.
Before long I stood surrounded by the other hunters. They didn’t seem interested in our hard earned meal, instead their eyes searched the trees and bushes. Denakai grabbed my hand and led me back to the horses while the others hastily picked up our dinner, carrying it like a wounded warrior.
When we reached the edge of the forest I ripped my hand from his grip.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
Wild eyed he scanned the trees, aiming his bow as if expecting something to rush out at any moment. His fear was infectious and I found myself following his gaze.
“Denakai, what happened?”
“No time to talk Raki, we need to get out of here.”
He shoved me toward my horse while the others rolled our dinner in a blanket, tying it tight behind a saddle. Shortly after we rode back to camp like we had a pack of wild dogs after us.
PERIL, The legend of Sedrak – on Amazon