The Price of Safety
Sharp Claw paused at a bend in the trail, waiting while the women and children he led caught up. From where he stood he could see most of the steep trail they’d climbed over the past hour. He could also see the monstrous creatures that followed his clan. This was his first clear view and they made even his warrior’s soul shudder. Standing at least twice the height of a man the creatures were bulky, covered in chitinous black plates of armoured skin which glistened damply. They moved quickly, at least as fast as the most fleet of the tribe. Their black forms made it hard to determine much else.
Most of the creatures were still far down the mountain, though moving quickly. Two of them were much closer, nearing the spot where ten of the tribe’s best warriors waited in ambush. He longed to be with them but as chief his duty was to get the tribe as a whole to safety.
The ambush had two purposes. The first was to try to kill as many of the monsters as they could. The second was to buy their fleeing families and friends as much time as possible to get away.
While the clan pushed on up the trail Sharp Claw stayed put, focusing on the impending battle. He could easily catch up again and he felt the need to witness what was to come.
The two creatures seemed completely unaware of the ambush until a volley of arrows crashed into them.
Sharp Claw felt a burst of hope as the trap was successfully sprung, but it was quickly replaced by horror as he saw all but one arrow simply bounce off the creatures. One arrow had avoided the thick armour of the creatures and had struck an eye. For any animal he had faced, or heard of, this would be a fatal blow but rather than felling the monster it seemed to have enraged it.
He watched as the ten warriors charged, wielding axes and swords but little clothing. Relying on speed and agility for protection. These were the finest fighters in the clan, each had faced and slain lightning fast snow cats, massive mountain bears and giant mammoths. If they could slay these two creatures the tribe had a reasonable chance of reaching the citadel of the Sky Lords before the other creatures caught up.
One of the creatures leapt at an attacker covering several yards in a heartbeat and driving a clawed hand through the hunter’s chest. It exploded out of his back in a spray of blood. Sharp Claw had never seen anything move with such speed, such power. The two creatures felled three more of the warriors in the next few heartbeats.
A warrior managed to land a ferocious axe blow on one creature’s neck but it bounced off the armoured hide without causing any damage. The creature clamped its hands around the warrior’s head, bursting it like a ripe fruit.
The remaining warriors, realising how badly outmatched they were, turned and ran. Sharp Claw was proud to see that even now they chose to run back down the mountain path, sticking together to draw the enemy away from the tribe’s retreat.
The creatures had other plans. One of them raced after the fleeing warriors cutting down one, two, three effortlessly. It leapt tens of paces to land in front of the remaining two warriors, spinning to block their retreat.