Without hesitation, Robin shot three arrows at once. Well, not literally at once, of course, he still released them one by one. Each of them was aimed at vital areas—the beast’s eyes and heart.
Snorting, the deer stomped. Three fireballs coalesced from the flame circling around its horns. They evaporated the old man’s arrows as they flew forward.
“Move!” He shouted and pushed Hadjar away.
The fireballs crashed into a tree, burning several holes through it. With a loud bang, the leafy giant teetered and then collapsed. Right on Robin’s leg.
He roared like a wounded bison.
“Run!” He shouted, the pain clear in his voice.
But none of the hunters moved to do so. Instead, each of them loosed two arrows. The forty arrows flying at the deer at once hid it from Hadjar’s view.
The Prince hoped that this was enough to bring down the Alpha. But it had other plans.
The deer reared up, and then sent the entire column of fire outward. It burned through all the arrows and kept going. Some of the hunters didn’t take cover fast enough and now their scorched remnants lay on the ground.
Someone let loose a cry full of pain and despair. Dart in hand, a young man jumped forward, lunging toward the beast frantically.Hadjar recognized him. It was one of Iry’s three brothers.
Turning around, the deer struck the man’s chest with its back legs.
The force of the impact doubled the man over and sent him flying. He hit a stone that was five yards away with a horrific crunch. A fountain of blood erupted from his throat.
The dead body twitched a little and then stilled.
A heavy silence descended on the clearing.
The deer snorted as it looked at the terrified people surrounding it. Rearing up again, it shook the earth with a powerful stomp and the horned beasts began to move inexorably toward the center.
Watching as the hunters shot arrows and burned in fire, Hadjar couldn’t understand it.
He couldn’t understand why he was standing still!
With a loud hoot, he threw one of his darts. It flew like a stone launched from a sling, but that wasn’t enough to break through the barrier of fire.
“Damn it!” Hadjar swore, watching as one more hunter fell to the ground.
The cries of the man, powerless against the Alpha’s flame, echoed in Hadjar’s head.
“Run!” He barely heard Robin’s voice through the noise.
The old man looked at the Prince with a sad, regretful look. At that moment, Hadjar realized which fire had killed Robin’s son and why he’d been so glad that they’d come across the herd of deer.
The old man wanted revenge...
Gripping his last dart tightly, Hadjar paused to steady himself before throwing it. He knew that he wasn’t accurate. In training, he’d been able to hit a coin with a sword, while standing three steps away. Of course, he’d been using a sword then, not a dart.
Suddenly, Hadjar remembered an image he’d all but forgotten.
The Master, standing before his ‘disciples’. He was armed with only a stick, but, nevertheless, could’ve used it at a level far beyond Hadjar’s capabilities.
The Prince looked at the dart in his hand once again.
It wasn’t a sword. However, that didn’t matter. He was about to face his death. The important thing was that he do so with his head held high. Bravely. No chickening out. No hiding or screaming.
His name was Hadjar Duran.
He had spent ten years dreaming about finding a cure.
He had found it.
Many people had sacrificed their lives to help him.
He wouldn’t allow this beast with fiery horns to end his life! He didn’t care about what his weapon was—a sword or a dart, it was all the same. As long as he could hear the call of the wind, he would keep fighting.
Hadjar pulled an iron arrowhead out of a nearby nest. Then he used it to whittle at the dart, shaping it.
Holding the stem of the dart, he calmly stepped out in front of the deer. He heard Robin’s desperate shouts in the background.
The closer Hadjar got to the enemy, the more he felt the heat of the flame. With each step forward, the beast seemed to become larger and more menacing.
The Alpha snorted, and the other deer stopped approaching. It’s important to note that, at the Alpha stage, the beast had sufficient intelligence, even if it wasn’t as smart as a human, to realize what was happening.
Perhaps, after another thousand years, the deer would’ve progressed further along the path of cultivation and been able to speak, but luck hadn’t been on its side.
It had been unfortunate enough to come across a strange, two-legged monster.
Hadjar’s eyes, as blue as the cloudless sky, didn’t show an inkling of fear, only his resolve and an all-consuming fury. And so, the Alpha, upon noticing the look of a worthy opponent, took a step back, startled.
Realizing that it had just shown it was afraid, the deer reared up and sent four fireballs at Hadjar.
“Duke Velen, Earl Vaslia, Primus, the Governor, Viscount…” Hadjar whispered the only prayer he knew.
The prayer that he’d come up with. It was his battle cry.
He wouldn’t let some deer get between him and justice.
He hadn’t gotten to bury his parents yet. He hadn’t found his sister.
It was too early for Hadjar to die.
The fireballs left a heat haze in their wake as they flew toward Hadjar. The hunters were shouting about something, but Hadjar paid them no mind. His homemade sword didn’t waver.
Making it look effortless, he dived under the first and then avoided the second fireball. He turned on his heel, skipping over the third one and, barely swinging the dart, struck with the sword. It was weak, not even ghostly—a barely perceptible gust of wind. But it was enough to cut the fireball in half.
Hadjar let the two halves of the fireball pass by him, on either side.
His heart was racing.
His blood boiled. He could fight again. He could breathe again. After so long, he was alive again.
His blue eyes lit up and the deer howled with rage and fear.
The beast lowered its head and launched a burst of fire as wide as the torso of an adult man from its horns. It was the most powerful attack it was capable of.
Hadjar crouched slightly and then suddenly rushed forward. He vanished into thin air, leaving only a black mark behind, leaping over the flames with perhaps an inch of clearance, and feeling his chainmail heating up. He held on to his sword tightly, and when he landed in front of the deer, he swung upward with his ‘blade’ while straightening his body.
The hunters, who couldn’t believe that a man was capable of moving so smoothly and quickly at the same time, thought that they’d heard a roar accompanying the sword strike.
The hunters and silent deer both felt the blood freeze in their veins upon hearing that roar.
It was the roar of a dragon.
The wounded Alpha ran back toward the forest, leaving the meadow covered in its blood. It had been foolish to hope that a practitioner whose cultivation was at the Bodily Nodes stage would be able to defeat an Alpha. But he’d been able to hurt it; hurt it and scare it off.
The nearby people had only heard the roar of a Lord of the Heavens, but the beast had seen the Lord itself. It had seen the flame of power behind those deep, blue eyes and had felt the fang lurking in the sword strike. A fang that could cleave mountains in two.
The other deer ran away, following after their leader.
Exhausted, Hadjar slowly lay down on the grass. He spread his arms out to the side and stared at the boundless sky. The ‘sword’ in his hand crumbled into dust, unable to withstand the force that had been channeled through it.
“Duke Velen, Earl Vaslia, Primus, the Governor, Viscount…” he repeated, almost inaudibly, and closed his eyes.
He didn’t even have enough strength left to breathe. But he could still hear the mighty serpent growling somewhere in the depths of his chest, near his heart.