By Baby Kat Snophlake
Anything within the Quoi Woods could be monsters, especially now that Karol left the trail. Every twig that snapped, every leaf that rustled, any sound at all prickled his neck. He should be okay, though. He reeked of Nia fruit, the spoiled, bitter tang that drove monsters and most humans away, but which drew the monster Karol wanted most. He readjusted the red bandana over his nose and turned his head. As much as he wanted to find an eggbear, he didn't want to find one… alive.
"N-no, I can't think like that. I have to be brave. I can do this!" Karol inhaled deeply, and gathered as much courage as he could fill into his lungs. Maybe he could find a few eggbear claws, discarded or broken that he could pluck from the trees marred from sharpening? Then, he would show his guild he wasn't a worthless coward. He deserved to fight with the Hunting Blades, the guild built to avenge members' families killed by monsters. He'd take the claws back to Halure, show the Boss his prize, get praised for bringing back missing ingredients for the panacea bottle that would heal Halure's barrier tree. As a bonus, he could show Nan the beautiful flowers that would bloom!
Dead leaves crunched beneath his boots. He paused; listening, sensing. What if something watched him? Behind the rustling fern? Was that wind shifting leaves? What if it was a monstrous bug? Or worse, the eggbear? Even the most elusive eggbears should come once it smelled him.
He took a nervous step.
"AH!" Karol froze, nearly dropping his buster sword. His body numbed from a cold shiver until he realized the twig had snapped from his own boot. Even knowing that, his knees shook. The very reason he wore such baggy brown pants… no one could see his fear.
The eggbears weren't coming yet. What a relief!
Karol wandered into a clearing of wildflowers. Colors of all kinds leaned for the sun. For a moment, Karol forgot his focus. Such a beautiful spot… would Nan enjoy a picnic here? He wouldn't have to search for eggbear claws to show her this. These flowers bloomed even if the ones at Halure couldn't.
No, not the coward's way out. Karol needed to prove his worth. He needed the eggbear claws. He steeled himself and puffed up his chest.
Then he deflated as a mild gust swirled the Nia scent deep into the surrounding trees.
Within moments, distant crashing threw birds into the air. Limbs snapped from every direction with cracking far louder than the meager twig that startled him in the first place. Karol shrank into himself, cowering behind the buster sword. He thought he could handle one eggbear, not thousands! He tore his scarf from his face and desperately rubbed the rotten stench from his clothes, but no matter how he tried, the scent clung to him. He panicked.
Karol dropped his buster sword and turned for the path he came from. Eggbears burst from everywhere, leaves and branches rattled. He glanced around, backing away as eggbears closed in. More staggered closer from behind. Their breath stank of death and spoiled fruits. Their claws raised. Snarling became white noise that drowned his own voice screaming his last coherent word: "HELP!"
Instinct took over. Eggbears closed in from every direction until all he could see were purple blurs. He ran into sharp fur plastered over a sheet of bony abs and fell backward. He glanced up into drooling fangs and eggbear claws reaching for him. He scuttled into a pair of legs.
Wind rushed past. He thought he saw strands of hair flying. He felt himself pulled in all directions; he shoved at the purple fur. Air felt scarce. Space diminished. Death seemed close.
And a screech brought silence.
Karol hadn't heard anything like that before. Whatever caused it, though, had distracted the eggbears and Karol weaved among them for freedom. Then, the eggbears parted. Karol glanced up.
A giant insect with colorful butterfly wings stomped closer, ten times the size of one eggbear. Nothing else existed but Karol's imagining the creature hooking a clawed foreleg into his naval and flinging him across the clearing. As if it had read his mind, the giant insect sauntered closer, a hairy foreleg extended. Its wings flexed and closed. Karol cowered, too scared to run.
He cowered where he was, burying his head beneath his hands. He felt a shadow fall over him.
He waited for the strike.
No pain. The Chimera Butterfly screeched, eggbears roared, and Karol shook. Still, no pain. Something wasn't right… He lifted his head.
Wildflower colors shaded him. He saw eggbear shadows through the thin veil of butterfly wings. The shadows grew as the eggbears drew closer. The Chimera Butterfly sidestepped, covering Karol completely beneath its soft underbelly. Giant legs scraped at eggbears out front, wings sheltered the sides, and a long tail thrashed from behind. With a wide sweep of a foreleg, a whole row of eggbears became a shadowy pile.
Then Karol realized it. The Chimera Butterfly protected him! It lowered its head to snap pincers at another eggbear. Karol felt his fears subside, but confusion stepped in. He feared monsters for a reason, especially insects. They were brutal, vicious, ugly creatures, too wild to control. They killed his family. Yet this one protected him. Why? Could monsters be maternal…?
But monsters weren't human. How could they feel and think? Why would this monster defend him like this? Was Karol actually its next meal?
A new wave of fear crept back into him, shivering up his spine. Of course. The Chimera Butterfly wanted to eat. Karol fought for control over his panic. Panic would send him among the eggbears and right into death. So long as the Chimera Butterfly fought them off, he stayed safe. But when the eggbears ceased, what would he do? Not freak out and run off, he hoped.
The warm sun shone on him again. The screeching had stopped. The snarling, the noise, all of it subsided…. The eggbears abandoned their attack. Some had apparently fled, breaking paths through the trees and ferns, but most lay dead. He glanced up, terrified, into the face of the monster. He stared down the pincers, waiting for them to grab him, to snap his torso in half. It showed no sign of aggression at all. It didn't even move, it merely watched and waited.
Seizing his chance, Karol raced for his buster sword, now broken in half, each piece Karol's own height, and he ran for the largest opening in the foliage. He spotted several eggbear claws and picked them up as he went, until he reached the clearing edge. He looked back at the chimera butterfly; it hadn't moved.
Something in the creature's expression seized him. How familiar… The butterfly did seem to have a protective semblance about her, the same his mother wore when she held him close. The Chimera Butterfly had protected him.
What would he tell Nan? She wouldn't believe the truth, not that he would betray the Chimera Butterfly by speaking of her, but Nan certainly wouldn't believe he had killed the eggbears himself. Eggbear claws weren't things one would just walk a forest trail and find.
A/N: This story was written for The 500, a challenge to write 500 words a day, every day, for a year. It was inspired by a horse my mother's family owned when she was a kid. Her younger brother, about five years old at the time, had wandered into the corral when they chased the wild horses in. Skippy, who usually kicks and runs with the wild horses, bent his head down over my uncle to protect him. I've always had this story in the back of my mind so when The 500 daily slip demanded I write about "two enemies and make them friends", I thought about Karol and monsters and recalled Skippy. :) Thank you for reading!