Howahkan (Part 4)

“Let’s get out of here!” he yells at Atlat, who scrambles to his feet. But he does not run to Kaga, instead staring at the choking monster. He raises his sword, and a second later brings it slicing down toward the brown-feathered shoulder. Just as it is about to cut Ántimán, his left arm flies up and catches the blade, cutting into the palm. Atlat tries to wrench it away from him, but the hand clamps down harder in spite of the dark red blood now dripping from between its four fingers. Ántimán continues to cough and choke, retching up some blood which smokes upon the ground, and clutching its burning stomach and chest. He raises his face to look at Ántimán, eyes narrowed, red irises peering out from between the slits. Its mouth opens wide and a screeching scream erupts from it. Altat releases the hilt and turns and runs, and Ántimán trudges after him, releasing a smaller and smaller scream with each step until finally falling forward, the stone sword cast aside. The body twitches and then the tongues of flame cover it, the feathers curling up as they catch fire. This time both Atlat and Kaga stop to watch.

“… do you think it’s dead?” Atlat asks. Kaga stares at the burning body and shakes his head.

“Not only do I not think it’s dead, I still don’t think it’s safe to get near that thing. I’ve not come across one who can stand up to it. We need to find Coyote. He’s the only one I can think of that could perhaps stand up to Ántimán. Come, let us leave this place.” He starts to run down the path, but Atlat does not follow. “Atlat! Come on. The sword’s not worth it. We don’t have time to tarry. Atlat!” Atlat dashes forward, arm extended to grab the sword. Just as he picks it up, a burning arm strikes at his calf, shredding both trouser and skin. Atlat yells and cuts with the sword, cutting a gash in the arm and yanking his leg from its grasp, and it rakes three bloody trails as he pulls away. He runs to Kaga, limping, tears running down his face, wincing with each second step. As they run side by side through stone hall, Kaga glances at Atlat.

“Well, was it worth it?” Atlat looks at him and hefts his sword.

“It… ah!… is worth it.” Kaga shakes his head and down the cliffside they go.

A few hours later they are walking back through the wind-ravaged plains in the direction of the village. Atlat has a strip of leather torn from his shredded pants wrapped tight around his leg and is still limping. Kaga glances at his legs and laughs.

“One short, one long! Such a strange appearance you make.”

“It’s actually kind of comfortable, aside from the holes in my leg.” He looks over his shoulder behind them. “Do you think Ántimán is following us?”

“I think that beast will be out of commission for a while at least. We need to get as far away as possible.

“And what was that thing you threw at him?”

“Oh, that? That was an eyeball.” Atlat raises an eyebrow. “Let me tell you a story. There was once a skeleton man. Naturally, his name was Tumseneho. Much like the giants we met before, he was very large – now that I think about it, perhaps he was once a giant. No matter the case, one day he died, and one day he came back. Around and round he went, eating whatever his two fiery eye lighted upon…” The sound of horse hooves thumping along the grass comes from up ahead of them, and they turn to look forward.

“You don’t know how pleased I am to see you two alive and well! What have you learned of the invisible monster?”

“Not only did we find it, we have destroyed it! It was an ogre sitting on top of a mountain that spewed razor wind from its mouth down upon the plains. We turned its own weapon upon it thanks to this.” He shows Mato the sword.

“With a rock? Though it does look quite fearsome. And I see you didn’t get away unharmed,” Mato says, pointing at Atlat’s leg. “How did you avoid having your leg sliced off by the ogre?”

“Well, another monster showed up after we dispatched of the first. Kaga here has apparently encountered this one before, a bird-man called Ántimán that we were barely able to escape. Kaga thinks it is still alive.” Mato looks at Kaga, who nods.

“So that is your name, Kaga? No doubt you are glad that Atlat is alive, as you would be held accountable otherwise.” Kaga bows.

“More than that, the boy is something special. I would die myself before I’d let anything happen to him.” Atlat’s eyes widen a bit, but other than this his stoic expression does not change.

“That is good to hear, Kaga. Consider yourself a friend to the Sioux. You are welcome to come back with us to our village. Perhaps together we can dispatch of this Ántimán creature.”

“I appreciate your offer, and I always am happy to make friends with others, but I must be moving on. I’m searching for Coyote, as his medicine is strong and the Ántimán problem cannot I think be solved by normal means or mortal tools. You would not perhaps have heard any word of his whereabouts?” Mato folds his arms, spear resting in the crook of his arm.

“We have not. I think last he passed through these lands was years ago. I think we ended up chasing him off ourselves, he was causing so much trouble.”

“That’s not surprising. There’s no guarantee I’ll find him, and if I do there’s no guarantee he’ll help, but I cannot think of one better equipped for the situation at hand, though…” and he wrinkles his brow and folds his arms. “I would say Raven, but he has not been seen for quite some time now. And I never have been able to find him. Coyote at least wants the attention. No matter – off I go, and may Wakan Tanka watch over your village!” He tilts his head back, sniffs twice, and then walks off in a seemingly arbitrary direction.

“The same to you, friend Kaga!” Mato shouts after him. Atlat watches him as he goes. “Come, Atlat. We brought an extra horse for you. We can return and celebrate your victory over that foul beast! The medicine man can look at your leg, make sure there’s no evil medicine at work.” Atlat does not turn to face him as he talks.

“I think I need to go with him.” Mato stares at him for a moment more, then turns to look at the fast-moving Kaga retreating through the trees.

“I thought you might say that. I’ll be sad to see you go, but I understand. Do what you feel to be right.” He looks at Atlat. “Follow your medicine.” Atlat nods and leaves, zig-zagging between the trees to catch up to Kaga.

Miles and miles away, the charred body of Ántimán lays in the wreckage of the battle with the ogre, the sun blocked by the mountain, the clearing cloaked in shade. Patches of skin show through, black and cracked, feathers reduced to wispy patches. He lays with wings spread to either side, one arm reaching out to where Atlat retrieved his sword and the other hidden beneath a wing. His head is tilted up and chin resting on the rocks, eyes blank and lips parted in their permanent grin, and the feathered horns singed and smaller than before. Then, the body twitches, crumbling pieces of flesh scattering across the ground, some dust and feathers floating in the air. A rattling sigh, along with a fair amount of steam comes from Ántimán’s mouth as he pushes himself up from the ground.

( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )

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