Wizard! Chapter 520
Tiburcio stood in the middle of a wooded area, at a fork in the road. The only sign of those he had been following were tracks in the road. He hadn’t seen a horse himself in hours.
“They turned west at that fork?” came Jordan’s voice through the phone.
“I’m not an expert in tracking but… there are so many tracks it has to be that way.”
“Hmm…” there were a few moments of the sound of parchment crackling before Jordan continued, “If you head southwest, you might be able to cut them off at the pass…”
Tiburcio started walking, “Where, exactly?”
“It’s maybe a dozen miles if you go straight instead of following the road, but even if you see them there’s really only one place they could be going. One of the groups might be able to catch up to them at the next city…”
“How big is the pass?” Tiburcio asked.
“It doesn’t seem that large. It’s possible you could miss it. Don’t worry about it though, knowing where they went is very helpful.” The crunching of leaves and snapping of twigs continued from Tiburcio’s side. “…Where are you going?”
“I can hold them off there.”
“Tiburcio…” Jordan sighed, “They number almost an entire company, and you’re alone. Even when you were… even the best soldiers can’t deal with more than a few dozen people.” Jordan paused for a few moments, “You’re… not turning around are you.”
Walking was a pain, both figuratively and literally. It hurt, and it wasn’t fast enough. Tiburcio wasn’t confident in his ability to run, however. With one bad leg it was already hard enough to move at a normal pace. The uneven terrain of the forest didn’t help, nor did the uphill slope. Even if they were taking the long way, horses might beat him to the pass… and then what? What would even be the point of him coming here?
Tiburcio quickened his pace, but he wasn’t sure if he could keep it up. He could handle the pain, but walking too quickly made his leg twitchy and then it would stop listening to him. He hated when it did that. He hated that his servants treated him like he was useless just because one arm and one leg didn’t work as well as they used to. They wanted to bring him everything when he could get it himself perfectly well. He didn’t need anyone else…
The great cat hid in the shadows, watching the human approach. Humans rarely came into its territory, but every few years one made that mistake. Humans were small but dangerous in groups. Lone humans, however, were another matter. Even the very strongest humans were no match for the great cat. This human was discolored and sick. It limped along weakly, and it would be easy prey.
Once the human was within a dozen meters, the cat leaped, tackling the human and crushing its head in its jaws. Its head was soft and weak, almost like it was just empty air. Its body was so flimsy that the great cat’s front paws crushed it into the dirt. Strangely, it also tasted like dirt and not flesh and blood and bone.
Then the great cat felt a pressure on its chest as it was flung into the air, pushed over onto its back. It rolled to its feet, but something heavy slammed into its side sending it toppling again. Then it felt pressure on its neck.
The great cat couldn’t tell what exactly was happening. It clawed toward its neck, but it was unable to dodge the strange thing. Was it the human? Wasn’t the human dead? No… it wasn’t a human. It was something else. The great cat didn’t know what, but it was something the same size as a human, that smelled like a human, but wasn’t a human. It wasn’t just a metal coating on a human, either. The great cat had crushed metal coated humans in between its jaws.
Well, it could still crush this one beneath its body. The great cat flipped itself over… and the not-human spun around its neck. Its legs were wrapped around the great cat’s neck, and then it started to pull on its ears.
The great cat thrashed and twisted and rolled, but it could never squash the annoying not-human. The great cat was beginning to get weak, lack of blood flow and oxygen taking their toll. How could something so small be so strong? Was this how it died, to a tiny not-human? What a shame. The great cat collapsed onto its belly.
Tiburcio loosened his legs’ grip around the dire tiger’s throat. It hurt him pretty badly to do that anyway. Fortunately, he hadn’t been hurt badly in the fight. A few bumps and bruises and scraped, but nothing to worry about. He couldn’t afford to be weakened if he was going to stop a company alone, somehow. Hopefully he would have a change to rest when he got there, because fighting a dire tiger wasn’t easy. He still had to walk the rest of the way.
The dire tiger stirred. Tiburcio grimaced. He’d thought it was unconscious. He really didn’t want to have to continue fighting a tiger that was as tall at the shoulder as he was, counting horns. Sure, he hadn’t let it crush him, but it still could. Maybe he wouldn’t die, but broken ribs would really make everything harder.
As the tiger started moving, Tiburcio took a grip on each ear. He could fit about half of each ear in his hands, and the tiger seemed to not like being grabbed there. He gripped gently to remind it, and hoped it would just stay down. If it moved quickly, he was going to make it regret it.
The tiger slowly stood up, and Tiburcio kept his grip steady. There were a few moments of stalemate, where the tiger leaned slightly as if trying to get Tiburcio to get off… but it wasn’t willing to try to buck him off with his grip on its ears. Then it slowly started walking.
Great. Tiburcio sighed. If he let go, he would have to fight it again… but if he didn’t get off he would just keep getting further away from his goal. If only it would turn around. Tiburcio tugged slightly. Maybe that would make the tiger lie down and realize it should leave him alone while he went on its way. Instead, the tiger turned its head.