The Prey

Dalibor bent over to catch his breath. His throat felt ragged, as though the air was scratching it. His heart was pounding in his chest, his head was spinning, and his calves were burning. He let his bag drop off of his shoulder and sat down next to it on the ground, which was all a coarse black rock. It came out of the mouth of the cave and extended down the slope. There were no trees, no brush, no grass near the cave. Only the black rock and a dry red soil. The rest of the mountain below was all dirt, rock, ash, and withered trees. Far down the slope, at the foot of the mountain, there was a dense forest. It could not be seen from where Dalibor was, however, as there was a thick fog over the mountain.

As Dalibor’s breath evened out and his mind cleared, he began to scan his surroundings. The mouth of the cave at which he sat was a little shy of ten meters in height. It was so dark inside that he only saw a bit of the entrance. The surrounding stone was charred. Higher up the mountain, the stone was smooth and almost aglow. The peak stood out amongst the rest of the mountain range as the other mountains were all snow-capped. It was unusual, but not surprising to Dalibor. He felt the heat coming from within the mountain as he sat on the ground. As he moved his hand along the rock, he felt tremors, as though a mighty beast stirred within the mountain.

Though the rock was warm, Dalibor felt a chill come over him. His eye twitched, his knees felt weak, his neck stiffened, and his breath got caught in his throat. His heart was gripped with a terror he had never felt before. It was clear now that his quarry was far mightier than he expected. In all his years of hunting, he had never had a thought such as the one he did now: “Perhaps I might become the prey today.”

He stood up shakily and gripped his bow. With the other hand, he grabbed an arrow from the quiver at his hip and nocked it. As he did so, a rumble started to rise from within the cave, as though a growl. It was clear: the beast was aware of Dalibor’s presence. He figured that if he tried to run, it would pursue and kill him. He had only one choice – to fight the terror and slay it.

A foul smell met him as he entered the cave. He moved quickly, as though trying to escape his fear with speed. He realized that he had forgotten his bag, but it was too late now. He pressed on. Dalibor had to meet the beast where it didn’t expect it and take his shot before it made its move.

It was pitch black in the cave, but Dalibor had hit his mark in such conditions before. As he shuffled through the labyrinth, he listened closely for any sounds the beast could make. It was hot and moist in the tunnels. The trickle of water could be heard almost as clearly as the gnashing of teeth and scraping of claws. As the sounds became louder, Dalibor took his stance and drew a deep breath. The beast approached him from behind a row of stalagmites. He exhaled, took a half breath, turned towards the sound of slithering and snarling, and took his shot.

Dalibor could not see what happened, but he heard it. First, the twang of his bowstring releasing. Next, the sound of metal striking metal. Then a knock, as of wood hitting a rock. Finally, a rustling and a feint rumble. After all of this, he saw a bright orange light coming from behind a row of big black teeth. For one moment, Dalibor saw his foe. Then he was covered in flame.

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