Howahkan (Part 2.75)

The peak is an anomaly among the surroundings, rising above the surrounding plateaus. The stone is lighter in color, orange approaching yellow, and its sides are weathered and worn from the wind, crenelated . There is no visible way to scale it from where they stand, though the current lighting does not help this assessment. The wind has died down, and a strange sound greets their ears, alternating between rasping exhalation and a stifled snorting that almost sounds like–

“Is that snoring?” Atlat asks.

“Seems to be.” Kaga whispers back.

As they climb up the rocks, the snoring increases in volume. The going is a little steeper than the earlier slope, but there are more handholds in the scratchy stone. twenty feet up, they come to an oval-shaped opening in the rock formation, by all appearances naturally hollowed out by erosion. They follow the soft curve of this onto a level area, winding through the cave, the ceiling of which is open to the air. It is spacious enough for three or four people to fit through walking next to each other. It opens up on a ledge, from which the plains can be seen in the vast darkness outside the network of canyons. As they walk around the ledge, which wraps around the peak, the snoring reaches its loudest and they glimpse a large green shape around the corner. Both Kaga and Atlat step back, hiding behind a wall of stone that sticks out from the main stalk. They peer around it, Atlat’s eyes hovering over Kaga’s.

The ogre is seated on a pile of stones, its back against the wall and legs sticking out in front of it, arms balanced on its bulbous belly. Its mouth hangs open, the sinew holding its jaw up stretching down to its chest, moving up and down with its breathing, the cheeks stretched and skin surrounding its teeth dry and cracked. Above this pitch-black maw, its eyes are closed. It does not respond to their movements and makes no sign of noticing their presence, but continues to sleep, shoulders twitching occasionally.

Atlat steps out from behind the cover and walks towards the ogre, rolling his feet and watching his steps, avoiding the pebbles that are littered about. He pauses as he gets closer to the monster and wrinkles his nose at the smell of its breath, rancid and rotting. Holding his nose with one hand, he leans closer, looking at the ogre, body tense. In a flash, he plunges the sword into the gaping maw and it meets no resistance, continuing on until only his hands are still outside the ogre’s mouth. The ogre opens its eyes and blinks at him, then thrashes its arms and legs, Atlat gasps, withdraws the sword, and turns to run. Behind him, the ogre clambers to its feet. It shivers and shakes, and as he retreats, it holds a hand out to Atlat, and staggers forward a couple steps. Kaga narrows his eyes at the creature from where he hides behind the outcrop. The shaking stops and its eyes glaze over. A bellowing howl erupts from the void, becoming louder and lower in pitch with each second, a rumbling growl that shakes Atlat’s bones and blows the rocks over the edge of the cliff. Just as it musters for a second burst, Kaga dashes out from behind the outcrop and tosses some leaves into the creature’s mouth. A loud gulp sounds, and the ogre hacks and coughs, large gobs of dark green speckled with red flying out of its mouth.

“Come on!” Kaga yells at Atlat, who follow him in running back down the trail and away from the vomiting beast.

( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )

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