Sentinel Flame Book One
By Adam Freestone
Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity
When Hyroc opened the cabin’s door, enormous raindrops and an ugly dark gray sunless sky greeted his eyes. It looked like his day was going to be one of cold, wet misery. Reluctant to feel the soggy embrace of the deluge, he waited for about an hour for a break in the storm. After the time had passed, the weather seemed no better. Loathing purposely going out in this, he pulled his jerkin tight, donned his cloak, put the hood up, and collected his gear before heading out into the downpour.
When he reached his nearest trap, it was empty. On his way to the next trap at the ravine, he was pleased to see the rain starting to let up. Then it slowed to a sprinkle, and the sun managed to poke through a tiny opening in the clouds. The reprieve caused some of the birds hiding in their shelters amongst the trees to start twittering at one another.
Sometime before noon, he had checked all his other traps; he just needed to do the one near Huntress’s lair. The sky began to darken once more when he reached the incline running up to her lair and the raindrops grew more frequent. Soon it seemed he would be returned to the discomfort of getting soaked. His trap was also empty. He sighed irritably; if he wanted to get something to eat today, it looked like he had to either fish or hunt in the rain. The fishing would be better in the rain, and he might be able to find a tree to sit beneath to dry off, so he would fish.
As he turned to leave, he noticed rabbit bones littering the ground. It seemed strange as he had yet to catch anything in the vicinity. Then he spotted the paw prints of a large cat. That was why his trap had always come up empty here, he had actually been catching things, but Huntress had been stealing from it. He shrugged dejectedly, feeling stupid for thinking this wouldn’t happen so close to her lair. It would be hard for her not to notice helpless prey over here. Admitting defeat, he began disassembling his trap to find a better spot for it.
He had just started when he heard the soft cooing of a wood grouse. Looking in the direction of the sound, he saw the fowl sheltering beneath a spruce tree. Quietly, he put the trap down and nocked an arrow. He took a step forward to get a better shot, but the grouse fluttered out of view behind the concealment of a tree farther up the incline. He studied the top of the incline a long moment, then cautiously made his way up it. The bird was still way away from Huntress’ cave. He spooked the grouse yet again and it disappeared over the top of the incline. Fighting his growing trepidation, he warily peeked over the rim. He saw the grouse amongst a patch of bushes growing along the stony prominence of the cliff face. Those bushes were dangerously close to the stone ramp leading up to the cave. The bird was so close! Getting it would save him a lot of work and he needed every bit of meat he could find. It seemed risky to pass up this opportunity. Because if he didn’t catch anything today, he might be going hungry tonight.
If he was quick about it, he might be able to get the grouse before Huntress even knew he was there. He swept his eyes through the area. She wasn’t anywhere he could see. He nodded determinedly to himself. It would only be for a second. He lined up his shot, letting his arrow fly. The arrow struck the fowl dead center. Taking a deep breath to stoke his courage, he hurried over to recover the bird. As he reached down to pick it up, he became aware that the forest had gone eerily quiet, like there was a much worse storm coming. He gave the sky a quick glance, but it seemed the same as it was a moment ago.
He froze, immediately forgetting about the grouse, as he heard the terrifying sound of a mountain cat’s growl emanating from the cave. The growling intensified, growing in both volume and threat. That was all the encouragement to leave he needed. As he hurriedly turned to leave, he heard something rustling through the bushes near the cave. Stealing a terrified glance in the direction of the rustling, he glimpsed a black shape dashing into the cave. The shape moved in an unnerving fashion, making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. It seemed as if it were walking on more than four legs. Suddenly, Huntress roared, making his back itch with sweat. A cacophony of ferocious noises erupted from inside the cave. Hyroc tried not to imagine what was going on inside its confines. Then everything went deathly quiet, except for an unnerving scraping noise from inside the cave.
He nocked an arrow and took aim at the entrance of the cave while backing away toward the incline. Whatever could kill an animal as powerful as a mountain lion, he had no intentions to meet it. He had taken one step when he heard the shuffling of an unbelievable amount of feet from within the cave. A small light brown streak shot out of the cave. He instantly lost track of the streak as an enormous black spider the size of a large dog shuffled out of the cave. The spider’s body was black with flecks of iridescent reds and purples, covered in many thick bristly hairs and eight branching legs, each ending in a single curved claw. Multiple soulless orb-like eyes adorned the top of its head. Below these were a mouth with two large hooked fangs, dripping a dark yellow-brown substance.
Hyroc yelled out in a mixture of surprise and absolute horror. The spider abandoned its pursuit of the streak, turning toward him. A shiver ran up his spine and his blood ran cold as he met its gaze. Without even thinking, he took aim and loosed his arrow.
His arrow found its mark right in one of the creatures’ eyes. The eye ruptured, releasing a torrent of black oily blood. The spider let out an earsplitting hissing screech, which seemed to suck all warmth out of the world, then it charged. Before it could get close, Hyroc nailed it with a second arrow. It let out another horrendous screech before slumping to the ground dead.
He spotted another spider shape above him, running along the vertical cliff face to his left. This one seemed larger than the one he had just killed. He hastily nocked another arrow and let it fly. Hands unsteadied by fear, he missed. His arrow struck the cliff face, splintering to pieces. Just as he had another arrow in hand, the spider wheeled around and leaped off the cliff face at him. The spider crashed into him, slamming him onto his back. He felt unbearable burning pain in his right shoulder as if a hot knife had been driven into his flesh as one of the spider’s fangs stabbed its way into the muscle.
The spider pulled its head back, causing the single fang in his shoulder to rip loose. His vision flashed red and he screamed out in pain. As the spider slammed its fangs down again, fighting through the pain, Hyroc wedged both his feet underneath its body. He barely managed to hold back the strike; the deadly dripping fangs hovered mere inches from his body. Using two of its back legs as leverage, the spider pushed toward him harder. It took nearly all his strength to continue holding the fangs back. The spider started tearing at his face with its clawed feet. He turned his head out of the way to keep his eyes from being ripped out. He pulled his knife out and drove it into one of the spider’s eyes. The spider opened its mouth, revealing numerous pointed black teeth, and screeched out in pain. The sound was almost deafening this close to its mouth. The creature fell to the ground, scratching at the knife with one of its legs. Hyroc scrambled out from underneath the spider, jumping to his feet.
No sooner had he drawn his sword than the spider recovered from the pain and lunged at him. He gave the creature a hard downward stroke with his sword. The sword strike slammed the spider into the ground, cutting an enormous gash across its head. It howled out in pain. He frantically gave the spider another strike. The creature’s legs twitched a few times before they stopped moving altogether.
He gave the spider’s body a jab with his boot, but it gave no response; it was dead. He took several deep breaths before slipping his hand under his jerkin to examine the wound on his shoulder. It was a big circular puncture, and a steady stream of blood was running down his arm. He cut a chunk of cloth from his undershirt and bound the wound with it.
As he did this, he suddenly felt fatigued and dizzy. The sudden onset caused him to fall forward, and he barely caught himself with his outstretched arms. He shook his head to clear it away, but that had no effect. Then he noticed a dark yellow-brown substance mixed with his blood on the tips of his fingers. An overwhelming bolt of fear shot through him when he realized the substance was probably some sort of venom and he had been poisoned.
He needed to find help! The only people he had any hope of reaching were the family of hunters. They would think he was a monster, but if he didn’t do something, he would die anyway. When he stood, everything began to spin and he lost his balance, falling onto his back. He tried to get to his feet. His limbs felt unbearably heavy and he lacked the strength to move them. His vision began to blur, the edges of his vision darkening. Terror crept into his mind as he despairingly realized he was going to die. After everything he had gone through, this was how he was going to die. I’m sorry June I couldn’t keep my promise. As he slipped into darkness, he thought he saw a large white shape walking on all fours, trudging toward him.