Howahkan (Part 3)

The two men sit at the base of the ogre’s perch, chests heaving. From up above, the sound of roaring resounds, and rock cracking on the other side of the peak as the ogre breathes down, searching for the two that disturbed it. Atlat looks over at Kaga.

“Thank you for that. It was like stabbing the air, and all it did was wake it up. I don’t think we’ll be able to attempt another attack tonight with the way it’s carrying on up there.”

“It’s nothing. I’m just glad my jokes don’t make people vomit like that. More importantly, did you see what it did?”

“Aside from an incredibly angry ogre, I did not notice anything out of the ordinary.”

“Well, from my vantage point, before it attacked us, it looked as though it was asking for help.” Atlat looks at him, eyebrows raised.

“I wish I had seen that… though it did seem to be in pain, if only for a few seconds, and definitely not because of my sword. Do you think it is being manipulated?”

“Again, I like your way of thinking. The thing to keep in mind is that while ogres are dangerous, it is not really out of any malice. They just don’t understand that not everyone is as sturdy as they are. If they were as smart as they were tough, there’d be no problem. And this one even attacked its own kind! Not to mention the unnatural lung capacity. Of all the monsters I’ve seen, it’s the first to show any instance of not wanting to harm others. I wonder if the others were like that as well, but were just not strong enough to resist.”

“But who or what would be manipulating them?”

“The Evil Spirit comes to mind, though it tends to concern itself with disasters of a much larger scope,” He lowers his face and folds his arms, “… there is also a bird-man calling itself Ántimán, but he just seems like another monster, though he is a decidedly powerful one. I can’t imagine him as the leader. I don’t know what could be doing this, but it’s high on my list of things to look into, now. Let us rest while it rages and think of a solution to these problems tomorrow.”

They fall asleep in spite of the roaring wind and crumbling rocks. Later in the night Atlat wakes to silence, and almost immediately dozes off once again.


 

Atlat is shaken awake by Kaga at sunrise. He blinks his eyes and yawns, stretching his arms over his head. The ogre has started up again, and Atlat glares up the mountain in its direction. Kaga pokes him on the arm.

“Hey, you gave me an idea.”

“While I was asleep?”

“You sleep with your mouth open, and it’s moderately noisy. I though about pushing your mouth closed, but then I fell asleep.” Atlat sits up, the traces of slumber fading.

“We should close its mouth.” Kaga grins at him.

“You are a man after my own mind. And I doubt it will be hard to sneak up on it, what with it’s incessant howling.” Scrambling to his feet and picking up their packs and tying on their weapons, they head back up the wall. The ascent goes by quicker this time as they use the same route they found the other day, propelling themselves upward using the hand, footholds, and folds in the rock. When they reach the top, the path is scarred and tattered, chunks of rock scatter around and the smooth surface now jagged. They watch their feet as they traverse the rubble. As they reach the ogre’s lair, the first thing they see is its back, the wiry, bushy white hair hanging down behind it. It does not notice them, and they creep up on either side of it, just outside of its peripheral vision. A quick look and a hand signal later, they rush around the sides of the ogre, ducking to avoid the wind.

With both hands they push up on either side of the severed lower jaw, the strain of it standing out on their arm muscles. The ogre waves its arms and attempts to pull its mouth open, but its own breath blows its hands away. Kaga and Atlat bare their teeth as they continue to push, the ogre flailing and pushing against them. For ten minutes they struggle, and finally close the ravaging mouth. The ogre’s eyes bulge, and then so does its stomach, but Kaga and Atlat’s grip begins to slip, and they look at each other, panting and grunting with the effort. Atlat closes his eyes, and fast as he can, reaches one arm behind his back, tearing the sword free from its strap and driving it up through the ogre’s chin and into the roof of its mouth, pinning the mouth shut. He lets go of the sword and with a final concerted push, they once again close the mouth all the way. They dash away, heading for the tunnel again, the ogre running around behind them as it swells with the trapped air. Finally it falls on its stomach, rocking back and forth, and then bursts, rising two feet into the air. Kaga and Atlat dive to the ground at the sound of the explosion. Guts fly outward from its stomach cavity, some flying over the edge and others spraying out over the ground, and it falls back with a squish on the tattered skin.

“And ingenuity wins again!” Kaga laughs as he lies on the rocks, a piece of purple intestine hanging over his shoulder. “That was some quick thinking. Don’t think that spear would’ve been enough.” Atlat still has his face lowered to the ground, resting on his hands, but at this he laughs, shoulders shaking. He attempts to push himself up with his arms, and they shake as well, but stands and walks over to the corpse, pinching his nose shut.

“Yeeh! Kaga, help me roll this thing over so I can get my sword back. Its first victory and I leave it stuck in this stinking corpse.” Kaga gets up as well and walks over to him, stumbling back and forth. They lean against the side of the corpse, pushing against it with their shoulders the opposite arm. With a grunt they push the ogre onto its back, the burst stomach open to the air, pulped and sour-smelling. They both gag and switch to breathing through their mouths, and Kaga turns and runs back into the tunnel. Atlat grabs the hilt protruding from the chin and pulls, putting one foot on the chin. It slides out an little at a time, only a minimum of blood trailing along the stone blade. He pulls harder, leaning back more, and all of a sudden it flies out, Atlat stumbling backwards. He maintains his balance only barely. Kaga watches him, leaning against the wall. Atlat swipes the blade through the air a few times and turns to look at him.

“Well, Kaga, where do we go from here?” A shadow falls over the clearing, and Kaga points behind Atlat–

“Look– ” Atlat does not wait for him to finish, his expression goes stony and he whips around, swinging the blade as he turns. His long arm extended to its fullest, the tip of the sword nicks the backward flapping wing of the dive-bombing Ántimán, and a few brown feathers are displaced by the slash. “– out!” Atlat jumps backwards, sword raised in front of him, and Ántimán flaps to the ground, wings extended to either side, the tips resting on the rocks. The feathers are just touching the ground as everyone halts. Ántimán stares at them, lips parted and mouth frozen in its permanent grin.

“One little monster and you all come running…” Ántimán laughs it’s grinding laugh. “And old fool, you finally did something other than talk and watch as the real heroes die! I’m proud. I wonder if it would finally be appropriate to kill you?” He tilts his head to the left.

“And you’ve learned how to talk without sounding like your brain is mush! I’m proud as well, you overgrown buzzard.” Kaga says back, his voice low and spear raised in front of him.

“I’m assuming this is the Ántimán who you spoke of before,” Atlat says, keeping his eyes on the bird man.

“I was watching and waiting to see if you would be successful. So mean, pinning that poor ogre’s mouth shut! How would you like it if I did that to you?” It grips the rocks below, scratching its talons along the stone with a screech. Atlat and Kaga do not react to the shrill noise. Atlat places his right hand below his left on the sword.

“This sword is telling me it has not shed enough evil blood today. Now, before we put your evil mind to rest – where are you all coming from? Speak quick, we do not have time for taunts and hollow words.” Ántimán stares straight at him, and Atlat’s brow furrows further and his arms tense.

“Mmm, so demanding.” He stands up straight as he speaks, stretching up and up, soft cracking noises coming from the joints in his legs and wings, the smooth brown and orange feathers spread out and upward, towering over Atlat. “Have you ever been alone in the night? Have you heard the wind break all about you as you are surrounded by the darkness? Know that the black buffalo is watching, hungry for you flesh.” He steps forward, voice loud, a buzzing noise pervading its speech. “Do you see it now, the stripped skull and fearful fangs? Know that I am merciful. My stomach is empty. The black buffalo’s stomach is full of more like me, and your death will not be so quick at their bloodstained hands.”

( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )

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