A Continuing Haibun cycle
The Dolgur was upon him in a moment, coming up the rise like a stampede of buffalo. Close, it checked its speed, turning its head to catch a good glance at him. This close, it couldn’t see directly ahead. The boy didn’t move. He’d seen the Dolgur run. It only looked ungainly. For all its size, it could run a quick man down on open ground. Even if there had been a chance, it had passed by now. He would have to stand, regardless of what came next. Up close, the Dolgur smelled like blood, dirt, and some exotic spice he didn’t have a name for. Perhaps that was Dolgur-scent.
Down by the road, a shriek broke the momentary quiet. Almost close enough to touch, the Dolgur swung its head around, knocking the woodpile to the earth in a hail of dislodged bark and splinters. The wood it had taken the boy two days work to stack was leveled in a single gesture. The strength of the creature, its awful warcraft of such a gesture—if he was to die, it would be no mean death, no coward’s death.
Beside the muddy track, a young woman had her hands raised to her face, looking down at one of the dead. She let loose with another piercing cry. The Dolgur recoiled from the noise, squinting its eyes. A rumbling growl emanated from it, a hundred times the intensity of a spotted lion’s. The boy’s whole body shook.
The screaming girl looked up, her wet eyes locking with the beast’s. Her mouth worked, now muted to silence. She turned and began to run. The Dolgur grunted, peeling back its thick lower lip. It tilted its head for a moment, then twitched its chin upward. A spike of some sort shot outward, hitting the fleeing woman with unerring accuracy. She flopped to the ground, twitched once, then was still.
The Dolgur swung its titanic head back in the boy’s direction. He stood still, his hands grasping against his tattered trousers. He met the creature’s eye with his own pale orbs, his little jaw set.
Pushing forward, the Dolgur sent him sprawling to the ground with the smallest fraction of its strength. The air pushed out of him as he landed, nearly ten feet back from where he’d been. The Dolgur took two thundering steps and was over him, its massive jaw lowered against his abdomen, holding him still against the muddy ground of the hillside. Its nostrils dilated, pulling in his scent. One breath, two, three.
The sky began to darken in the boy’s eyes. He couldn’t draw a breath while the beast pinned him so cruelly to the earth. His pulse raced, to little avail. He would die, smothered like a babe.
At least I did not run. The creature did not enjoy the pleasure of my tears. At least…
The weight lifted from him. Gasping, he rolled onto his side, holding hard against his bruised belly. Color filtered back into the day. The noise of the Dolgur moving off in pursuit of the stragglers came to him.
“It was not your day to meet the dark hereafter, boy,” a voice said. A woman’s voice, though cold.
The boy looked up, seeing the high black boots, the dark, skin-tight trousers, the shining weapons of steel. Her face was beautiful. Beautiful like a statue in an ancient temple. Beautiful like the plume and crest of a hunting falcon.
She stepped closer. “You are alone here, yes? No one left to care for you?”
The boy shook his head. “These,” he swept his hand across the valley, now a slaughter. “These were not my people.”
She offered her hand. “Would you come with me, then? I’ll warn you that kindness is not my way.”
He turned his pale eyes up to hers. “I have no use for kindness, either. I will go with you.” The boy took her hand, rough as any working man’s and just as strong.
She put that rough hand on the back of his neck, leading him up the hill and toward the ridgeline. “What shall I call you, Boy?”
“I am Haike, after my father.”
“You’re of the sea people, yes, the Leonen?”
“Well, that is behind you now. You are now of my folk. You are of the Ghost Society.”
A slight smile touched her lips when he neither flinched nor asked a single question.
Stand me on falling
Ground, where blood runs deep and moist
Where death swoops like birds
If I am to fall
Let me fall undiminished
Beyond fear’s shadow
Not dead, yet a ghost
Once a slave, now a student