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Salamander Heart

Crouching, the hunter ran a clawed hand lightly over the broken grass stem. Moisture at the break showed it was only minutes old. Too clumsy for the Red Spear. Must be strangers. The scent was unfamiliar.
Raising his upper torso above the grass, the White Mane male reared back on his hind legs a bit for height.

Nothing obvious. But, there. To the south. a ripple in the wave patterns
that did not flow from the slight, scent-heavy breeze. It was small; one, maybe two adults.

Shifting his spear to his left hand, he made several swift signals with his right, held low in the grass. The four others of his Paw split into pairs, spreading wide to come together about a mile ahead of the strangers.

Koleanth stayed high a moment more, pleased he could not spot his Paw as
easily as the strangers. This close to Red Spear country caution was

Dropping to all fours, the painted stripes on his scaled leonine body and human torso made him fade into the weaving pattern of head-high grass. He followed behind the strangers, acting as driver.

A faint cry came from ahead, something like a bird. His ears twitched,
trying to identify it. His pace quickened, though he lost stealth. Something strange was happening. Again a cry, but this time clear and deep, a warcry from ahead and left.

He sprang forward, stealth abandoned. Only battle would have broken his Paw from hiding, and split as they were, that could be bad. His great hind legs bunching and driving, he leapt ten paces each bound, passing completely clear of the grass, and scanning ahead. There was movement, some commotion much farther ahead than he had thought. More warcries from ahead right. That would be his other two, but what did they fight? He heard nothing beyond that first faint cry.

There! That flash, bright even in the noon sun. And what... Something had flattened a circle in the grass, and things lay in it. At the center, a great two-legger stood, taller far than drakken. Two of his Paw circled warily, spears ready. The other two... they were what lay with the stillness of the dead. The tall thing, it had two spears piercing it, yet it turned to follow the motion of his mates.

With a last leap, the hunter landed behind the creature, as his wife and
husband drew it away. Now the stench hit him. The stench of a carcass three days in the sun. Thinking hard, an ability rare in drakken when the battlelust was on them, the hunter did not throw his spear. He held it tight, and leaped again, aiming carefully. With the prodigious force of the great hind legs behind it, the head of the spear entered at the base of the skull, shooting up and bursting through in a gray splattering of obscene rot. The mass of the huge drakken slammed into the back of the creature, knocking it completely off it's feet and full length in the grass. Even before he hit, his mates were leaping to join him, spears driving with consummate skill. Yet the thing twisted, head hollowed as it was, and grappled the hunter.

Stabbing, the other two tried to find something vital, but seemed to have no affect as its hands closed on the hunters torso like a human trying to strangle a cat. It's strength was awesome, and amid the snarling and gnashing of aroused drakken came the sound of snapping ribs. The hunter's upper arms, twice as strong as a humans, were baby weak against this monster. Still, he thought where another would have acted in rage or fear, and grabbed his knife, a hand-span of obsidian sharp enough to split hairs.

He began sawing at the tree-thick wrists crushing him. His wife, faster than his husband, left her spear pinning one thigh of the creature to the ground. When she drew her knife, the other understood, and wasted little time pinning the other leg and drawing his. All three warriors attacked one wrist, slicing and sawing the rotten, mummified flesh.

Another rib cracked, but it was the last one the monster would break. Even though the creature continued trying to crush the hunter, it's one hand was too weak, and it could not bring crushing strength to bear. With grim patience now, the hunters hacked the unnatural thing to pieces.

Finally, cutting into the chest of the man-shaped monster, there came a
shrill scream, and the hunter drew out a vividly green lizard impaled on his knife. All the myriad pieces of the obscenity suddenly stopped twitching and crawling, even as the lizard died. The stench was incredible.

The hunter wiped the carcass off on the gaping edge of the open chest and turned to see what he could of the area. As he twisted his torso, the sudden shock of enormous pain did what the monster could not.

The hunter fell senseless.

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