Island of the Kahts~ Part Thirteen

Fiction By Kay J Fields // 5/2/2013

The Kaht advanced on us with wary steps. It walked as if weightless, floating above the damp earth and green fronds. An apparition more of spirit than of substance. Its tail was waving, a banner and a flag to signal its power and the assurance of victory.

I told myself that all I had to worry about was it getting its claws into me. After all, attacks from wildcats are rarely fatal when one is armed, and we were armed to the teeth. The drug in the claws should have been my one concern. On the other hand, I didn’t know of any wildcat aside from lions—and I’ve yet to meet those in person—which travel in herds… packs… prides? It felt like a question from my old tutor: What is the name of a collection of Kahts? Lions were prideful, crows were murderous, fish were scholarly…what did that make these creatures?

A low growl from off to my left interrupted my mind’s frantic ramblings.

The second Kaht had arrived.

It occurred to me then, just as it apparently struck my companions, that it would be easier if we attacked the creatures now before they had the chance to group up and have any hope of overwhelming us.

We moved as if our thoughts were in synch. Not daring to split apart, half of the hunting party faced the new threat and moved against it while the other half attacked the fashionable Kaht. I was part of the former half and saw the new creature advancing with greater speed and less care than its companion.

Bright gold was the color of this feline’s coat, and it was longer than the first. Something in my brain instantly reasoned that this one was female and the first was male. Not that it mattered much when it came to being torn to pieces.

Around us more screams broke out from the animals and I witnessed Bart’s first bolt as he fired it into the shoulder of the golden Kaht. Its shriek of pain stilled the other sounds as it fell back, reeling, and frantically clawed at the dart in its side. The tuxedoed Kaht waited, watching its companion in utter stillness, watching without movement until the golden animal lay still in the underbrush.

Then all the furies of that deep jungle were loosed upon us.

Five more Kahts flashed into view as, for one heart-stopping moment, the moon vanished behind scuttling clouds and the world was plunged into black. When the moon returned, two men were down, another Kaht was wounded, our tight grouping had broken apart, and Bart was shouting for torches.

I glimpsed Gern and Fern with their backs pressed together, brother and sister fighting together like no other human beings can. Fern’s mace crushed the paw of a gray Kaht just as a striped one broke out on my left.

“Tory!” Craigin’s roar caused me to instinctively duck, roll to one side, and then leap back up. A second striped beast had come upon me while my mind was focused on its brother. It doubled back once the ploy failed and I had no opening for attack.

I turned to shout thanks to Craigin and make my move to rejoin the company when I saw Craigin go down, a coiled white Kaht on his chest. Its claws were out and it screamed victory into the night while its family joined in.

My shout was unintelligible as I raced for the creature and buried my axe into its side. The beast’s triumphant bugling was cut off and it died where it landed.

“Craigin!” I shouted, standing over him. Two more Kahts were down, at least another seven encircled us, and only two thirds of our party remained standing. I was fairly certain one of the soldiers was dead. Craigin didn’t answer me, but his chest moved with his breathing.

A soldier I didn’t know the name of was suddenly at my side, his sword raised to defend us both while I gratefully took the time to drag Craigin’s limp form into the rejoined circle of the company. I took comfort in the fact that at least one of the soldiers didn’t wish us any ill will.

Light flared up like candle flames and the startled beasts jumped back into the cover of the jungle. Bart’s men had finally gotten a torch lit. With the added light, we could make out just how bad the damage was.

I heard growls and pants from the Kahts as they circled around us, but they were affected by the firelight enough to stay well out of range and we took fresh stock of our position. Nine of our party had fallen, and one of that number was dead. Bart ordered a pair of his men to guard the body of their comrade, which they grumbled at, but Bart was unwilling to leave his countryman to the beasts. Another man had been injured but remained conscious, one leg broken from where he had fallen in the melee.

I and the Kurrm’anairis soldier who had helped me in the battle looked to Craigin’s injuries as Savadra and the twins crowded in. At first I was bewildered, as I could find no obvious signs of injury. And then I saw the scratches. A brush of the paw to our sea captain’s face had left faint red streaks, but there was also a deeper clawed gash in his arm.

“The poison wears off on its own,” the soldier assured us. “He’ll be fine.”

Bart was calling out more orders. “Keep the injured in our center and stand around them. Pair up and stay with your partners! Stay in this ring. Don’t let the beasts get behind you. One of each pair needs to keep their eyes on the trees, in case the beasts decide to drop down on us.” The hunting party glanced with nervous eyes into the canopy. “Watch yourselves, now, they’re coming back.”

The Kahts had gathered their courage and bombarded us from all sides. This time, we were more prepared, having seen them fight and getting into a rhythm of our own with our partners. Savadra had paired up with Bart, Fern and Gern were still together, and the soldier who had helped me stood at my side.

Bart had traded his crossbow for the smaller recurve, which he could fire more rapidly, though it had less power. Three more Kahts fell to the arrows shot by Bart and one of his countrymen before the rest of them reached our line.

“Eyes upward!” I called to my partner as I steeled myself for the attack coming from the bushes.

Our numbers narrowed to an even twenty as two more soldiers fell, both with worse injuries than simple scratches.

Through the chaos I heard the whisper of swords moving and saw someone’s blade take down another beast. I had counted at least sixteen different animals moving through the jungle, their common housecat colors making them easy to identify, though a trio of striped ones—the two which had ganged up on me earlier along with a third—kept confusing my count as they swirled through the leaves like snakes. A flash of color here. A slithering shadow there. Still, I thought we had taken down almost half of their original number and now, in a brief moment of calm, I could only count nine animals.

“He’s the ringleader.” came the voice of the soldier beside me.

I glanced at him. “What?”

He pointed with his sword to the tuxedoed Kaht, still at large and far more cautious than its brethren. “That one is the leader. They don’t move until he does, but he’s been around long enough to get clever and stays mostly out of the way.”

'When they’re old, they’re dangerous.' It was an old hunter’s saying they had back home and its truth was universal. Every hunter on earth longed to bag the biggest, toughest animal he could find and it was the old animals that proved to be the most devilish of them all.

“Are you watching the trees?” I asked.

“Yes. None of them have gone up yet.”

“That you’ve seen.”

He nodded. “Right.”

But I had taken what he said to heart and realized its startling truth. If that creature was the head of the snake, then chopping him off should have disastrous effects on the rest of the pack. Hm. A 'pack' of Kahts? No. It came too close to a rhyme. I would have to come up with something else.

“Tell me the next time you see the lead Kaht.” I said quietly, as if afraid the animal would hear us. “I’d like to take a shot at him.”

The soldier smiled. “I will.”

One of the Kahts leapt into the air from the bush, startling my side of the line and some of us stumbled back. I recovered before the beast landed and I struck out at it. My axe gave a glancing blow. The creature spun aside. I saw the deadly paw coming in time to duck out of the claw’s reach.

Sweat had started trickling into my face at this point and I knew some of the men had to be getting tired. I counted three new Kaht bodies on the ground, and the one I had struck had run off into the jungle.

Five left, unless more were hiding in the darkness and my counting was off. There was also the fact that between the dark and the flickering light of the torches and the huddled forms of our company, I couldn’t make out much of what was happening on the other side of our circle.

“They’re going up!” the cry went out. It came from my partner and ricocheted around the group.

I tilted my head back and saw the tuxedoed feline in the branches a few trees out of my range. Four of his brethren were also in the trees, perhaps as a last resort, or perhaps…an ambush, as Bart had warned.

The tuxedoed Kaht swiped at the air, claws extended and yowled a long, deep note. Around him, the other Kahts moved from branch to branch among the thick jungle trees. Suddenly there were fewer of them and I at once looked back down to see if they were coming at us.

They weren’t.

“They’re retreating!” I shouted.

“Cut them off!” Bart’s bellow came.

My partner and I, along with Bart and his fellow archers rushed after the Kahts. First one, then a second fell from the trees, prompted by arrows sent by Bart. He was an impressive marksman, I thought, as the smoky shadows of the remaining three beasts were lost in the dark. My partner walked up to both the animals with his sword and made certain that they were dead.

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