Phantom Host

Axina: Our Final Stand

Axina froze. She stood gaping at the unfolding claws of a winged cat hurdling towards her. She gasped, cringed, shut her eyes, and waited for its fanged face to steal away a mouthful of her meat. Uncle Brodin had warned her of this… this shape-shifting monstrosity that lies in wait for its prey in plain sight. She cursed herself for not taking caution.

But the bite never came. Instead, she heard a loud thud, followed by the scream of a dying animal. Axina hesitantly opened her eyes. A long metal pole extended from the start of the line and pinned the bitefly to a tree. The pole went piercing through its heart. The bitefly moaned feebly clutching onto the pole, scratching it, then sagged when life left its body.

”Axina! ” Damiyen shouted, looking alarmed. ”Are you alright? ”

”Im fine! ” Axina blurted. ”Im alright! ”

Axina saw the pole glowing and shrinking in the blink of an eye, returning to its former length. It was the spear of uncle Brodin. Unpinned from the tree, the bitefly fell to the ground leaving a smear of blood along the tree, and stared at Axina with its dead dark eyes, still baring its teeth.

Axina felt herself shaking. Strength was evaporating from her knees. She feared they might buckle. Father ran over and quickly took her into his arms and checked to see if there were any harm on Axinas body. Grandpa and the uncles had also run over to see her.

It took Axina a lot of effort to calm them down and convince them that she was indeed in perfect health and was eager to resume the journey. They reluctantly agreed. But uncle Brodin had something in mind before they set off again.

”Nathn, why don you check to see if there is more danger hiding nearby? Or if anything is out of order? ” Brodin said.

”Understood, Ill check our surroundings, ” Nathn nodded.

Nathn closed his eyes. When he reopened them, his eyeballs were missing and the sockets of his skull were filled with what seemed to be liquid light that swirled like a minuscule ocean eddy. He began looking around.

Axina came up beside uncle Brodin and said in a timid voice, ”Thank you, uncle Brodin. You saved my life. ”

”Theres no need for thanks, little one, ” Brodin said. ”Family looks after each other. ”

Axina couldn find more words to show her appreciation, or even to speak. Brodin towered over her with his tall and muscular frame. He was always so reserved and stoic. His intense eyes were set on a square face. And he was revolving the spear in his grasp unconsciously. It looked like an extension of his limb. He was fierce with it, swifter than a bitefly, one of the swiftest creatures in the jungle.

Axina looked over her shoulder. Father was busy again talking about something with grandpa. Uncle Johnath guarded uncle Nathn while he scanned for heat signatures in their surroundings which left him mostly defenseless.

”Do you know where we stand, niece? ” Brodin asked suddenly.

Axina looked up, gasping. ”Pardon? ”

”This clearing, ” Brodin gestured around with his spear, ”what can you tell me about this place? ”

”Um, ” Axina looked over the ground and said uncertainly, ”its a den of biteflies? ”

”There aren any biteflies around here. ”

Axina frowned. ”But uncle Nathn- ”

”He won find any biteflies. ”

”Then why did you tell him to look for them? ”

Brodin inhaled and spun the spear in his hand before stabbing the ground with it.

”Look closely, niece, ” Brodin said. ”Youll find this information crucial to survive the wild. ”

Axina looked down at the ground where her uncle had buried his spear. His spear had gone through one of those odd-shaped mounds on the ground. Brodin began to burn his bright and the spear began to glow blue the way a blue gemstone shines when held up against the sun. The snow covering the mound began to melt away by the generated heat of the spear revealing the carcass of a wild beast, a small portion of it anyway.

”Whats this? ” Axina asked curiously.

”Wild verren, ” Brodin said. ”Herbivores. Strong animal. But slow. Lots of meat. ”

Axina stared at the carcass of the large hog-like creature. Then her eyes slowly swept over to the rest of the clearing. Her jaws slacked. At least ten of those mounds had to be spread across the clearing. So many dead animals in a small place like this. What could need so much food?

”Something has been feasting here, ” it was as if Brodin could read her mind. ”And left recently. ”

”What? ” Axina said. ”Wait! How do you know it left recently? ”

Brodin yanked out his spear from the mound and spun it again to rid it of filth.

”By the smell of this corpse, ” he replied. ”It has yet to begin rotting. Yet it is old enough for a scout bitefly to come here looking for a source of food and sanctuary for its pack for the winter. The other kills are just piles of bones now, they have no meat on them to rot. ”

”So many dead animals! ” Axina said. ”What kind of a monster was it? ”

”Not certain. But I have a feeling well see it soon. ”

A brief smile brushed Brodins lips for the first time, and it reminded Axina of the grin of the bitefly that had ambushed her that her uncle just slayed. Uncles smile was more ferocious. But it wasn odd to her. For even she was aware that her eldest uncle was known as one of the fiercest warriors in all of the southern region. Fighting was the only thing uncle enjoyed as far as people knew. He had devoted his whole life to it and abstained from taking a wife and making a home.

”Niece, look around you and memorize well, ” Brodin said. ”Its the home of a jungle malformation. We sometimes call them abominations. All kinds of predatory animals prefer to occupy spaces left by these malformations. So, these spots are dangerous even after the monster has left. All in all, the rule is to avoid these sorts of spots at all costs. If its ever the case when you
e unlucky enough to encounter one of those malformations, run for your life. Because those monsters are too strong and lethal for even those with bright or gloom. ”

”Then what are we still doing here, uncle? ” Axina urged. ”Lets leave at once! What if it comes back here? ”

Before Brodin could reply, Nathn cried, ”Holy Autaxium! ”

Brodin rushed to Nathn, and Axina followed.

”What is it? What have you found? ” Brodin asked, stopping beside Nathn whose eyes were still filled with swirling light and were transfixed at the woods.

”You won believe it! Ive found a Krave! Its huge and its glowing! ” Nathn said excitedly.

”Truly? ” Axina gasped, completely forgetting the earlier conversation as the excitement of the hunt rushed her once more. ”Where? Where is it? ”

”Its over there, ” Nathn said raising his hand towards the trees. ”Two hundred meters northeast. ”

”Talk about luck! Good job little brother, ” Johnath said as he smacked Nathn on the shoulders.

Nathn blinked rapidly and shut down the Bright Generalis spell of Magnify Eyes with an annoyed expression on his face.

”How many times have I told you not to shake me when Im looking far away, ” he complained. ”The further away Im looking, the more still I need to remain, or I lose the subject! ”

Johnath bit his tongue before grinning. ”Doesn matter now! We know where it is, brother! Lets go hunt ourselves a glorious Krave! ”

”Hurray! ” Axina yelled. ”Im going to hunt a magical Krave! Yippee! ”

Her uncles burst out with pleasant laughter seeing their little nieces enthusiasm.

”Alright, I guess I can let you have the first shot, ” Nathn said. ”I know you
e going to miss it anyway! ”

”Impossible! ” Axina yelled again happily.

”Don go doing anything reckless, you hear? ” Johnath said.

”Whats going on over here? ” father asked, walking over after failing to ignore the loud talk.

”Have you kids found anything interesting for us? ” grandpa asked.

”Good question, ” uncle Brodin suddenly said, and everyone went silent, looking at him.

He had been quiet with a thoughtful expression on his face while the others joyfully chatted.

”What else have you seen, dear brother? ” Brodin said to Nathn. ”I assume you were doing a proper scan as I asked you to, not just looking for a game. ”

”I did, elder brother, ” Nathn nodded. ”No sign of any biteflies aside from the slayed one. I didn see any other predators around us either. ”

”No heat signatures that might have seemed odd? ” Brodin asked.

Nathn frowned and considered it for a moment before shaking his head.

”No, I don think so. Everything looked normal. ”

Brodin stared at uncle Nathn. There was a perplexed look on his face.

”Huh, ” Brodin said while pressing his forehead. ”Thats bizarre. ”

He turned and left them slipping through the trees where Nathn had pointed to earlier.

”What seems to be the trouble here? ” grandpa asked.

”I don know, ” Johnath said, then grinned. ”But weve found a Bright Krave! ”

”Well, isn that a good sign? ” father said. ”And a pleasant surprise? We found it so early. No point in wasting time then. Its hunting time boys! ”

The group followed the trail through the trees where uncle Brodin had vanished earlier. It took them a good few minutes to reach the location uncle Nathn had last seen the Krave with his Magnify Eyes. However, neither the Krave nor uncle Brodin was there.

”This is promising, ” father said, gazing around at the trees, ”I sense raw bright in the air. So, the beast must have passed through this spot, and stopped here to- ”

Father paused at the undergrowth nearby. ”-eat leaves. The worldly bright has interacted with it and now the beast can channel bright through its body. Of course, being an animal, and lacking conscience, it lets the bright pour out of its body like the light of a lantern. ”

”Then I believe we can track the trail of bright it left behind, ” grandpa said. ”Lets make haste lest we lose it. Lets try and be silent about it. ”

”But where is uncle Brodin? ” Axina said. ”Did he get lost? ”

Uncle Nathn chuckled. ”Or maybe he is already chasing the Karve? ”

”Oh no! Then I won get to have a shot at it, ” Axina cried imagining uncle Brodins battle spear extending and skewering the Krave and instantly killing it on the spot. ”Father! How do you follow a trail of bright? Please lets go! ”

Axinas family roared with laughter but resumed the chasing right away. After walking about eighty meters or so, they finally found their prize. It was a large stag-like creature, glowing a brilliant blue. The beast was of ethereal beauty as it grazed on the bank of a small pond. The five of them were speechless at the sight of it as they hid behind trees.

”Its majestic, ” Axina said breathlessly, and her voice unbound them from the spell.

”Go on Axina, take your shot, ” uncle Johnath whispered.

She hesitated. ”But- but its so beautiful- ”

”Axina, do you understand that you
e in the presence of a rare creature? ” uncle Nathn whispered. ”If you miss this chance, it may never come again. Its once in a lifetime opportunity! ”

Axina still hesitated. The Krave looked so graceful, and innocent as it drank the water from the pond. It looked like a part of a peaceful dream. She didn wish to violate it.

”Yeah, take out your bow and aim carefully at it, ” uncle Johnath said. ”Don miss. ”

Axina was standing between her uncles and their intense look made her bring out her bow. She hooked an arrow and took aim at the Krave. Her hands began shaking.

”I- I don think I can do it, ” Axina cried as she lowered her bow and arrow.

”Axina, listen to me child, ” father said kindly. ”There are only two options for you to choose from here. Choice number one: you kill it. And choice number two: you show mercy and let it go. But know that either way, this beast won live to see more than a few days. When bright or gloom is channeled through an animal, it enriches its being and makes it full of vitality. By consuming it, our bodies become healthier and we live longer. On the other hand, it will attract malformations whose lifespan is short and can be prolonged by consuming a bright or gloom animal.

”Which option would you choose, Axina? ” father asked. ”Its entirely up to you. Would you let its blessed being be nourishment for our bodies, or an abominations? ”

Axina had bitten her lower lip as she listened, and her face grew twisted with the conflict within her. She stared at the ground for a while and was surprised to find herself stopped shaking. Her body had made the choice for her.

Axina lifted up her bow and took aim at the Krave, still grazing with no knowledge of the death approaching it.

”Good, now infuse the bow and arrow with bright, ” uncle Johnath said.

Axina had taken good aim at the Kraves heart which was above its front legs in the center of the body.

”Hold your breath, and release, ” uncle Johnath said.

She obeyed and held her breath. The moment she was going to release the arrow, something popped behind them.

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