"Scheiss!" Leeja's hair flashed and slashed behind her in agitation. She remembered the last one of these tiger-headed bear-things were brought into the beast cages beneath the main arena at the Academy. Two of her friends had been badly mauled before they could get it properly chained. It never did respond to any of the usual sedatives. Some of the crew were convinced that the beasts were immune to White Powder...but no one ever got to test that theory out.
"Its bleeding..." Bujilli examined the wounded beast. He knew it would not be able to rush him, not with the way it was wobbling, limping.
"Something has nearly ruined its knees...and one elbow..."
"HobYAH. Hobyah-hobyah-hobYah..." A shaggy little thing with a face like a boney cave-fish nodded in solemn agreement. Or perhaps it was mocking him. Bujilli wasn't quite sure.
"Hobyah HOBYAH! hobhobhobhobhob..." giggled the little creature as it danced and pranced and waved its clicking little claws about.
Three. Five. Ten. More than a dozen. Two dozen. Three dozen. More. Many more.
Hobyahs swarmed out of the surrounding bushes and mobbed the Kalidah, biting at it's knees or elbows or any other joint they could reach. Little things. Tiny teeth. Many small wounds.
The Kalidah roared and reared and swatted and swung its formidable claws about, gnashed and snapped its toothy jaws together, but it was to no avail.
The Hobyahs danced in under the Kalidah's claws, bit off a small piece of flesh or fur, then flipped or tumbled back out of the way, and did it all over again and again and again.
Leeja tugged on Bujilli's arm. He shook himself. Looked away from the methodical carnage of the Hobyahs. One look into her gold-green eyes and he nodded.
They withdrew from the small glen, leaving the Hobyahs to their gruesome slaughter.
A slight trail, possibly made by deer or some other creature led them off along a steeply sloping hillside, into the denser brush, into a darker region dominated by thickets. They kept going, not at all inclined to stick around where the Hobyahs might come looking for them.
They both froze in mid-step.
Leeja's eyes went wide in amazement.
She pointed up and to the right. A large tree was toppling in slow-motion.
"What is it?" Bujilli squinted, began to shift his perceptions--
"No!" Leeja hissed; "Do Not Do That!" Her hand grip tightened on his arm. He could feel her claws.
"If you do that, it will see you much better than you will ever see it. As it is, I see it too well already, and it can feel, can sense me--we need to go another way. Quickly."
"Is it a Horla?" Bujilli was curious about those unseen malefactors; his uncle had once tried to purchase a live-caught Horla-pup from an old airship captain who it turned out was just a lying fraud. Horlas had some strange abilities and qualities one could make use of if they knew certain secrets...his uncle seemed to know all about that sort of thing. But then he was something of a fraud, himself. Just one with a lot of spell-casting ability and a few imprisoned demons to back him up in his lies and mind-games.
"No. It's a Damned Thing. More of a grazing beast, but about as forgiving as a monocerous or behemoth."
"I've never seen a Damned thing before..."
"And you won't now, either. Not and live. Let's go that way." Leeja struck off through the brambles and thorns, past bristly nettles and flowering plants that shook and wiggled giddily from the heavy clomping steps of the Damned Thing.
Bujilli wasted no time following his partner. He was intensely curious, but knew of no spell that would keep them safe from the wild territorial aggression of a Damned Thing For all he knew it was rutting season; it would not be prudent to stick around to find out.
They passed three deeply weathered, moss-festooned blue-green menhirs; standing stones. One was leaning and the third one had already fallen.
A lighting-blasted oak.
Water gleamed and glittered from behind a tattered veil of leaves waving in the soft breeze. Leeja wordlessly took his hand and led him directly away from that place.
Dark pines pushed up and out from below and between lichen-crusted rocks and boulders. Stunted, twisted little trees grew more straight and tall and massive as they climbed up and up the increasingly rugged incline. Jumbled piles of rocks rose out of the ground like drowning ships caught in a storm at sea, half buried and overgrown with delicate little flowers and ferns and mosses.
Pine needles formed a rusty, fragrant carpet underfoot.
Gnarled, hard roots rose and fell as they swam through the rocky soil, making the going easier in that they offered some hand-holds, but also making progress painful in soft-soled boots.
A cluster of tiny green eggs erupted into a scintillating cascade of sparkly diamond-flies as they passed.
Ferns curled and unfurled in a patient pantomime of everything they noticed.
It started to rain.
The brush parted, revealing a rutted gravel road.
Thunder boomed and reverberated overhead.
Some sort of lights were approaching from the left.
Creaking. Swearing in some guttural mountain language. Heavy thudding hooves...
Lanterns swung madly at the end of looped brass supports on each corner of the black funeral carriage. The driver wore a heavy, multi-layered coachmen's cloak and a voluminous yellow scarf that was not wool. His hand appeared leprous in the encroaching gloom. The horses foamed and struggled in their harness, their eyes empty as boiled eggs.
"This is not the way..." Leeja tugged at Bujilli's sleeve, less forcefully this time, but no less insistent.
Back through the thorns and thistles they went, just as the carriage passed by the spot they had been standing.
The thunder diminished.
That way faded.
Only the trees remained distinct and clear...
...and the rocks...
...and the tumbled-down ruins of some manor or redoubt.
"Want to go check that out? Or should we head along the path in the other direction, away form that place?"