I woke up, I was starving, my body felt weak. I needed to eat. I stood at the entrance of the cave, shielding my eyes from the sun as it beat directly onto my face. My clothes reeked of old blood from the huge gash on my arm, still bleeding from my encounter with the manticore yesterday. I tore off my shirt sleeve and twisted it into a makeshift bandage, securing it tightly around my arm. The wound didn't seem infected, which was great news seeing as how with my lack of medical supplies, the smallest infection could prove fatal.
My eyes adjusted to the sunlight as I emerged from the entrance to the cave, nearly falling ten feet. I slid down to the ground and began my hunt for food. The manticore meat had rotted quickly without proper refrigeration, I was hoping that I could find some wild berries or maybe even a live animal that wouldn't try to kill me; anything that I could eat.
The sky was nearly clear, save for a small cluster of odd looking clouds hanging near the sun. I left my Kevlar vest, manticore head, and ammo pouches in the cave, I was planning on returning there after the excursion, it was a sort of base camp. On my back was slung the M4 Carbine, and my Smith was holstered over my shirt.
I stuck to the shadows as I walked, the sun was hot, and the cloud cover that moved in earlier had mysteriously dissipated in a matter of seconds. Even though the scope for the Carbine sported a compass, I always made sure that the rock face stayed in my line of sight. After about three hours of walking, I was famished, I had found nothing but trees and bushes. The only piece of the cliff side left in my field of view, was a small part of a rock sticking out above the treetops. I had gone as far as I could, but still no food; I had to move farther. I triple checked my compass, and made sure I had the proper bearings so that I wouldn't lose the HQ.
My hunger began to grow, the hours of strolling in the hot sun had taken a toll on my appetite. The sea of endless foliage appeared to have no end. Tree after tree, vine after vine. Nothing changed.
As I rounded larger tree, I saw something off in the distance; it was moving.
"Finally!" I thought, "hopefully it isn't another manticore."
Climbing to the top of a large tree, I was able to get a clear view of the moving animal. It was a zebra, but not a normal zebra.. I hastily unslung my rifle and placed the scope up to my eye in order to get a better view of the animal. There was something… strange about it. First of all, on it's flank, there appeared to be a symbol of a star. Was it owned by a tribe, and was this their marking? It also had what seemed to be looped earrings, neck rings, and a pouch hanging over it. In this pouch lay a multitude of flower petals. These weren't the only oddities, however. Something was off with this zebra; it didn't seem natural. The proportions did not resemble those of any zebra I have ever seen, it was smaller, and more compact.
"What do zebra even taste like?" I questioned
A zebra. I did not know much about wildlife and nature, but I knew that zebras were native to Africa. But, I was attacked by a manticore. Those beasts are only present in mythology. Unless, there are still massive forest regions that remain unexplored, and just happen to find myself in one of them. I finally felt a glimmer of hope. I was confident that I had pin-pointed my approximate location.
I steadied the gun and anchored it properly in my shoulder, preparing for the shot.
When I was a kid my father and I used to hunt dears, he always taught me to aim for the heart. Because if you are aiming for a head shot, and the creature turns its neck, or cranes downwards to graze, you could miss your shot and alert the animal.
I centred my scope on the heart of the zebra. I took a deep breath, and squeezed the trigger...
The trigger didn't move.
"Fuck!" I mumbled under my breathe.
I had forgotten to remove the safety. I raced to pull the pin.
Now we're ready.
I raised the scope once more to my eye. The zebra began to stroll away, it seemed to be searching for more flower petals.
It's now or never
I hastily re-aligned the shot and squeezed the trigger for a second time.
The shot seemed to ring out through the entire forest.
The ground behind the zebra was painted red, and it fell to the floor, mouth agape. I slung my rifle back over my shoulder and jumped down from the tree. I began walking towards my fresh kill, I was already excited to finally get a bite of some fresh meat.
As I approached the animal, I noticed it was writhing, gasping for air. I had missed. It was hard to look at the struggling creature as I approached the writhing mass. I knelt down beside it and reached for the knife, holstered in my boot. Pulling it out, I raised it above the zebra's eye.
"I just missed your heart," I said aloud as I prepared to plunge the knife into it's skull using both of my hands.
As the knife was about to enter the eye socket of the suffering animal, it spoke...
I stopped, and lowered the knife.Was I insane? Did I actually just hear a zebra speak? This didn't seem possible, I struck it off as my mind playing tricks on me. Being alone for more than a day without human contact would obviously cause the mind to play tricks. Right? Yet, I was sure that I heard something.
Hesitating for a second, I raised my knife once more above the zebra. This time, I heard it. It had spoken aloud in some sort of language. The sound that the creature had uttered was not a desperate squeal, or a grunt of pain. It was a real word, an organised line of speech. Yet, I could not understand the language.
I looked up from the zebra, and came face to face with a row of glistening white teeth. Falling on my ass with fear, I clambered backwards across the ground until I was back to back with a tree. I stood up and got a better view at the beast. It was another manticore.
It appears that I wasn't the only one tracking the zebra.
This manticore was at least triple the size of the one I had faced earlier. It's mane was long to the point of nearly dragging across the floor, it's body was laden with scars and battle marks, and the barb on the end of the scorpion tail was the size of my torso. I froze, standing still in a mixture of fear and awe. The manticore put one paw over the still struggling zebra, but it's eyes never left mine. It put itself into a stance, not unlike that of a small cat protecting a toy and let out a massive roar the echoed in my brain and forced me to kneel to the floor, holding my head in pain. I watched helplessly as the manticore bit down with it's massive jaws, onto the tracheae of the zebra, holding that position until it stopped squirming. He then picked up his kill, still holding it in his jaws, and walked away through a bush.
I thought of following it, maybe shooting at it. But the mere thought of that monstrous creature in anger chilled me to the core.
I waited for at least 30 minutes, hoping that the manticore was as far away as possible. I finally stood, and continued my walk. I was astonished by the fact that my food had been taken right in front of my eyes. The second my eyes had laid sight on the zebra, I was excited to finally eat. The fact that I had lost it, the chance to eat, weighed down on my mood. I walked dully for hours more.
I noticed the sun beginning to set, and the moon taking it's place in the sky. I stopped and watched this transition. The sheer beauty of the stars beginning to blanket the sky, and the moon taking it's place amongst them, left my mouth agape. I was astonished by the sheer beauty of this event. The stars seemed hand crafted, they were placed delicately forming immaculate constellations, filling the night sky with a beautiful purple hue. The moon itself blanketed the ground around me in a bright light. Shadows from the trees were cast upon the ground. Under any other circumstance, these shadows would be considered eerie. But under the gaze of the beautiful satellite, the forest seemed nearly pristine and the visibility was almost better than day time. The moon seemed so close, so much bigger. The sky seemed to beautiful, too perfect to be natural.
As I continued my walk, my hunger became apparent through a series of violent growls and gargles from my stomach. But I continued to walk through the seemingly empty forest. My hopes had been raised earlier by the beauty of the sky. My whole life, I had never seen a night so pristine. I attributed the beautiful sky to lack of light pollution. I had always lived around massive cities, I guessed that the light pollution actually did make a big effect on the night sky.
The moon lumbered on through the aether, trailing across the beautiful night sky. It had been 4 hours since my encounter with the manticore, and even though I was starving, the night sky took my mind off of it. As I continued walking, I checked my compass for the first time since leaving the sight of the cliff face. It may have been a good idea to check it a scheduled intervals, something Johnson taught me. But I had been to caught up in the beauty of the sky.
"Shit! I was sure that this was north." I yelled aloud, tapping the compass furiously, hoping that it would change directions.
My compass was telling me that I was heading west, I never lose my way. My sense of direction has never failed to amaze me. So I was surprised when my compass told me that I was wrong. I continued to tap the compass, in a dumb hope that it will magically point north. To my astonishment, the arrow began to turn, and then stopped on the N.
"Ha! I knew I was right," I said aloud
But then it moved again, and pointed south, then west, then east, then south again, then north.
'Shit I thought to myself this cannot be good'
Even without a compass, I could still use the northern star to guide me. I looked straight up, nearly getting lost once again in the night's sheer beauty. I searched the stars and nebulae, but no northern star. I panicked, searching left and right. Nothing made sense, no matter where you are in the world, you should always be able to see the northern star. After twenty minutes of furious searching, I gave up, and continued walking in the direction I assumed was north. I couldn't explain any of the anomalies I had just experienced, I was too tired to question it anyways.
After twenty more minutes of walking, I spotted something off in the distance. What appeared to be a tiled rooftop. I cannot describe to you the amount of relief I felt when that object appeared over the horizon. I raced to the top of the nearest tree, nearly falling in my excitement. I removed the scope from my Carbine, and used it as a telescope, looking down the sight. I saw the tiled roof, and what appeared to be the chicken coop, of which the roof was attached to.
"My god, it would feel great to eat some chicken," I said aloud as I re-attached the scope onto the Carbine and leapt down from the tree. As I finally left the clearing, my eyes were tracked directly on the chicken coop, I looked around and spotted an old looking house. It looked slightly Victorian, other than the fact that the roof was covered with grass. Oil lanterns hung around the building, none were lit. I considered knocking on the door of the house, and maybe asking for help from the residents. But at the time, the only thing I could think about was getting food.
I crept quietly into the chicken house, using skills I had learnt in the military, I was able to move through the chicken coop without making a single sound. Even though it took five minutes to move across the floor, I was better safe than sorry. I reached for the two fattest chickens, grabbed their necks and choked them before they could squeal. I hurriedly left the coop as the two chickens I was holding were going insane, even as I held them by the neck they were squirming like crazy. I dropped the first one down on the floor, and got down on one knee. I placed the other chicken under my knee, crushing it's windpipe and holding it down. It continued to squirm. I removed my combat knife from my boot, and used the serrated edge to remove the head of the first chicken. I dropped the inanimate body, and moved on to the next chicken. Using the same technique, I easily removed the head. Blood was pouring from the bodies, and the second one was still moving, even without a head. I grabbed both of the bodies by the legs and began to walk into the forest. My plan was to set up camp in the woods, and after a good meal, I would check out the house I had seen earlier.
Just before entering the woods, I was stopped by an angry voice.
I turned to see an angry pegasus charging at me, spurting random words of a language I could not comprehend.
Yup, you read that right. A pegasus. I could not believe my eyes, another mythological creature out for my blood. It was charging furiously, it's pink mane fluttering in the wind. I stared into it's eyes. Oh god, those eyes. They caused my blood to chill with fear. I dropped the chickens and reached for my Smith.
Removing it from the holster, I lifted it to my face, and aimed directly at the charging beast. As the sight centred on the forehead of the charging pegasus, I stared directly into it's eyes. I shut my own as I squeezed the trigger.
Three shots rang out...