The sun glared down, a baleful eye with a relentless gaze. The heat was stifling, waves of shimmer rising from the dry dirt that puffed up with each footstep and stuck to everything. There was no breeze today at all beneath that glowering orb.
Even if there had been a gust of wind, Kerala was sure it wouldn't reach her. She stood in a shallow depression surrounded on all sides by the press of stinking horseflesh. Flank to flank, they ringed the shallow bowl. Many carried spears that were held at the ready, but many more were present solely for the sport of the event. She stood quietly, listening to the flies buzz around. This was a familiar spot to her, one that she stood in at least once weekly. The depression was actually part of the pond where the Magram made their home, but this section was always the first to dry out. For most of the year, it was her fighting arena. She wondered what sort of beast she would fight today, or if maybe she'd get a chance to kill a horseman.
Kerala waited patiently, and soon enough the ring of centaur surrounding her parted. A troupe of horse-men were driving TWO scorpids before them. The animals were heavily armored in plates of hardened shell, with two large pincher claws each and of course, the deadly poisoned tails. They were enraged, trying many times to attack the centaur driving them. One horseman wielded his spear one-handed, the other arm hanging limp with a large puncture wound in his bicep. He was either very stupid, or the scorpids had a bigger reach than it appeared.
Kerala palmed the spear she was allowed, grateful to have a reach weapon for this.
The scorpids were driven into the circle, one attempting to escape immediately. It was repelled by the centaur of that section, who tried to turn it toward Kerala. The larger scorpid, it's eyes beady and mouthparts twitching, came right in her direction.
Kerala leveled the spear at it, keeping the point between her and it's face.
It had two large mandibles, like upside-down fangs, jutting from a mouth that looked like it had actual teeth. Kerala counted three nostrils, one large one centered above the mouth, and two others next to each round eye. Or maybe those were spots? It was difficult to tell, but the way the thing was utterly focused on her, she rather thought it must have a keen sense of smell.
Kerala stepped sideways, away from the small scorpid who was thankfully still rushing the edges of the ring, noting how the larger one turned in place to keep her directly in front of it. The armor it had was in very large plates that angled down and forward. The beast would be almost invincible from the front. Still, it had many legs, and they required a bit of shuffling to turn...
Kerala thrust her spear at the beast, testing.
The scorpid swiped an oversized claw faster than she expected and almost had the spear. The tail was poised also, suddenly stiff and held more forward ready to strike. Kerala noted a tiny ridge of small hairs along the top of each claw arm, the sides of the tail, and along the undersides of all six legs.
Seeing that the other scorpion was getting increasingly frustrated in its attempts to escape the ring, Kerala knew she'd have to act fast or the battle would be two against one. The scorpid's patience must have expired then.
The creature exploded into motion, rushing forward on rippling legs. It advanced claws-first, the crushing pincers held open and ready to snap closed. Kerala dove to the side, rolling. She snatched a handful of dirt and threw it in the scorpid's face.
The scorpid hissed, an incredibly loud sound that made all of Kerala's fur stand on end. It swiped blindly with it's claws, snapping wide at empty air as she scrambled to her feet again.
The deadly tail whipped through air twice, stabbing. It had been aimed center while those claws snapped wide, making for a very large area that Kerala was still dancing to avoid as the creature continued advancing unerringly.
So much for that plan. She'd been hoping that the foul dirt, tainted with centaur, would confuse the thing's sense of smell. Obviously its other senses were more than up to task of compensating.
Kerala retreated around the scorpid. She stayed near the right claw, leading the beast in a circle. She stabbed at the legs with the spear, not trying to hit them, but rather to foul their motion.
The scorpid hissed again at her. An answering hiss came from behind Kerala. The smaller scorpid was now in the fight.
Kerala stopped circling and ran at the biggest scorpid, her spear still under it from a jab. The middle leg, trying to step backward to continue turning the beast, finally hit the spear and fouled. The front leg quickly following crossed over the fouled leg pinned against the spear. The scorpid swung its right claw, but Kerala was beyond its reach, too far on the side of it. At the legs now, she bent and lifted.
The bulbous stinger on the scorpid's tail actually scraped along the hump of Kerala's neck as it retracted. Only the fact that she was hunched down lifting and tilting the creature had saved her from being stung. She was certain a second strike would be true and she put all her effort into moving the shaft of her spear upward.
The scorpid was frantically trying to sidestep off the rising spear, but its three left legs were now mostly baring it's weight. Incredibly fast at moving forward and backward, the legs were too slow to move inward and outward. The limbs could not move fast enough, and the scorpid fell sideways.
Kerala gave a mighty shove, and the beast toppled onto it's back, flailing. The deadly tail thrashed, trying to right the beast as Kerala fell atop it, using her weight to keep the thing pinned. She took several fierce jabs and many shallow cuts from the legs as they sought to find enough purchase against her to throw her off.
Kerala brought her spear up and stabbed hard at the scorpid's relatively soft belly. The spear struck the scaly underside of the scorpid, the stone point sliding until it hit a crease, then suddenly popping through the exoskeleton with a squelching sound. She twisted the spear, savagely stirred once. The legs convulsed around her, one of the hard tips stabbing into her back. Kerala released the shaft certain that she could not remove the weapon without leaving the wide spearhead behind inside the beast. Maybe it would keep the thing from being able to right itself. Hopefully she'd done enough damage to it to kill it.
Kerala's vision suddenly dimmed at the same time that she felt a blazing pain spreading. She was on fire! Kerala could not help the scream that escaped her as she scrambled off the scorpid, her thoughts literally of flames and of rolling in the sand to put it out. A brief tug, though, felt through the pain, was just odd enough to catch her attention. She turned to look as she fell onto her back.
The scorpid was definitely dying, it's motions now only twitches. The movement that caught her eye, though, was the spasmadic clutching of the tail, curled sideways and lying atop the creature's belly. The tip was bloody, and venom still leaked from it in random pulses. She viewed it a dim grayscale, with bright spots of light exploding and dying all around. In brief glimpses through eyes that wanted only to clench tight against the burning inside.
The sound of centaur around her finally registered as well. The were cheering. Laughing. Hissing in imitation of the scorpid. She saw that a few were even making pinch-claw motions with their hands.
Finally, Kerala felt within her a certain spark. It was hotter than the venom that burned her now, and it flared to life drowning the pain. Kerala yelled again, with fury more than pain, enraged further still when this only caused the assembled crowd to cheer in earnest. THIS was what they had come to see.
Kerala wished she knew how to invoke this.
The second scorpid had clambered around the body of it's dead companion to attack. It didn't have any trouble approaching the enemy, nor even of seizing it in its claws. Thinking it was a superior predator, the scorpid had clamped down with each pincer, a tactic which usually broke its victims as the hard claws squashed something vital. Sometimes an adjustment in position was required. This prey seemed weak. Though, and did not struggle. It had died?
The arrival of several more of it's kind was a good surpise.
The scorpid was confused when suddenly it smelled something different. The prey in it's claws was moving. Not struggling or thrashing. Changing. Growing? Pops and squelching sounds, grinding, happened too fast to really register, and then the scorpid was holding a prey that was many times larger than itself.
The scorpid struck with its tail instinctively. The venom-weapon was one that was used when prey was stronger than the scorpid, or when the scorpid was threatened. It knew now that both were true. The tail struck several times, but had no effect. The thick fur could barely be penetrated. The scorpid suddenly realized that it was the prey. It released Kerala and tried to flee.
The transformation into an animal was still shocking: the sensation of a body shifting, physically changing, the new body so foreign, yet not, and the flood of senses not one's own, dulled or heightened from normal. The instincts, however, were a perfect match with what Kerala wanted. Right. Now.
She was angry, and she wanted to fight. She wanted to kill.
Five more scorpids had been herded in.. The original small one was still the smallest, and it was without a doubt trying to run away. The others were angry and ready to fight. Two of the beasts were larger than the one she'd killed in her natural shape.
Kerala-bear roared challenge to the universe. She rocked back onto her hind paws to stand at her full height, mouth opened wide to bare teeth as she roared again.
The scorpids, all entering from the same place, were conveniently still grouped together. Kerala-bear didn't wait for them to come to her. She dropped to her paws and charged. When she reached the scorpids she swiped with a great paw as she barreled into the closest one. Her long claws were wickedly sharp, but it was the force of the blow that mattered. She was incredibly strong, and though she hit the armored plates and tough pincers of the scorpids, she still did damage.
She hit three of them.
The first was completely unprepared and her strike passed over claws that were too low to protect it. Kerala-bear's claws ripped its face. One eye popped, two nostrils were torn to become one large ugly hole, and four bloddy slashes carved deep. One of it's mandibles tore cleanly off. The scorpid tried to strike with its tail too late, hitting empty air.
The second scorpid fared slightly better. It managed to have its claws ready. Closer than the first scorpid, this one received the full weight behind Kerala-bear's attack.
Her paw smashed into the waiting claw and slapped it against the other. The force caused both appendages to whip violently sideways, flipping the scorpid off it's many legs to spin a quarter of a turn. Both claws cracked where they had collided.
The third scorpid was her primary goal It, too, was somewhat prepared, but it had vastly misjudged the creature coming at it. The largest of the scorpids, Kerala-bear was larger still. The swing of her great arm completed its travel right as she collided with this, her target. She barreled straight into its waiting claws, and as it tried to close the crunching weapons, Kerala-bear's weight transferred. The claws were carried backwards into the scorpid's face as her bulk careened into it. The venomed tail struck her shoulder, the stinger biting into flesh. Kerala-bear brought her arms together in a great hug around the scorpid's body as it was pushed backwards.
She fell on the creature, it's tail suddenly ripped free of her as they landed. She squeezed, aware vaguely that the scorpid was doing the same thing with its pincers. For a moment, nothing seemed to happen, and then there a creaking sound. Kerala-bear increased the pressure, bearing down against the ground.
The scorpid's exoskeleton shattered. It's crumpled suddenly in her embrace, the gooey insides squirting out in all directions. She immediately released the crushed shell, her arms and chest now covered in brown-gray, pink and red gore. It stunk.
The two wounded scorpids were on her left. Beside them was a fourth scorpid that her swipe hadn't reached, and to her right was another undamaged beast a shade darker than the rest, the splotches of it's patterned shell more numerous. An older animal? It stood in a defensive posture, claws wide and tail poised.
Kerala-bear regained her feet and approached the sideways scorpid. It had found it's feet again as well, but it used them to back away. It' s head was down and tail arched up over it's back menacingly, but the claws were ruined. One arm was completely limp. The pincer on that side was only cracked, but there was vital goo leaking from the joints of appendage that held it. The other arm was up, weapon held between the scorpid and Kerala-bear, but the gesture was futile. That pincer was slack, the bottom half limp and fallen open.
Kerala-bear advanced, almost lumbering leisurely. The healthy scorpid nearby approached, but she side-stepped. The wounded scorpid hissed at her, backing away. She kept after it slowly, continuing to circle until the healthy beast was directly opposite. Then she reared up on her hind paws and slowly advanced, causing the scorpid between them to retreat. It backed to its companion, who hissed at it, and she did not hesitate.
She closed the distance in a few strides and was on them. She ran right over the distracted and disabled creature, her jaws around the tail before it even reacted. She was reaching for the other scorpid with her front paws, leaping at it. She pushed off the scorpid beneath her, her jaws tearing the segmented tail free at the weakest joint. Her leap was unsuccessful, but her reach was good. She gouged deep ruts in the remaining scorpid's armor before it clamped her arm in a pincer claw. Her hind paw was cut where it had slipped on the angled plates of the scorpid she stood on, the reason her jump had gone awry.
The scorpid began crushing her arm, and Kerala-bear reacted. She dropped the tail in her mouth and yanked her limb back, dragging the scorpid with it. It struck at her, stinging the arm that it held now in both claws. The first strike was true, and its stinger pierced her arm, spreading its liquid fire. Kerala-bear was angry, and yet this enraged her yet more. She brought her captured arm in close, her jaw closing on that painful stinger. She bit down as she reared back and then lunged against the ground, using weight and gravity to aid her. She smashed the scorpid against the ground. Her captured arm was jarred painfully, but the scorpid wasn't faring well either.
With it's claws occupied and tail disabled, Kerala-bear essentially had the opportunity to do anything she wanted to it. Her jaws could not crush the stinger, but in a moment it did not matter. She repeatedly lifted and threw the creature against the ground, putting her great weight behind the throw each time. A scorpid was not made to be hurled vertically and smashed. Eventually, the exoskeleton failed in several places. The scorpid compressed like a series of nested baskets, the larger plates along its back and belly sliding back over the plates behind and beneath them. The scorpid literally folded on itself as it was crushed. The pincers on Kerala-bear's arm loosened as the creature died.
Two of the six scorpids remained unharmed, the runt and the elder splotchy beast.
The scorpid she'd defaced was still stunned. Kerala-bear came at it from behind, limping. She captured the tail easily in her jaws and clambered on the scorpid's back over the long appendage. It was a strong scorpid, powerful enough to suddenly scurry in a panic even beneath her bulk, taking her for an erratic ride. The tail twitched violently beneath her, trying to throw her off and probably stab her. She held on for a moment, adjusting to the motion, riding the thing. Did it know that its death was up there, riding on it's back?
She released the tail from her mouth. She sat back on her haunches, putting both front paws against the tail jutting beneath her. She pushed once, hard. The stinger pierced the scorpid in the softer shell joint behind the plate-armor of the head. She felt the stinger sink in and pulse under her paws as it injected the poison. The scorpid continued it's panicked flight for a moment longer, and then suddenly it collapsed. The thing fell headlong into the dirt, wedging in a sudden stop that threw Kerala-bear tumbling off into a roll. She came up quickly, looking for the other two scorpids.
They were gone.
Kerala-bear stared around her for a moment, then turned a full circle. The Magram were done with this event. She huffed in frustration, glaring around. The spectators surrounding her were quiet, waiting. Waiting to see if she'd turn on them in anger, as had happened many times in the past.
Waiting to see what sort of condition she was in.
She glanced around at the centaur again. The urge to attack them had come and gone like a breeze under the sun today, born and smothered in the same instant. Combat was over. She'd won again.
Kerala-bear blinked at the annoying specs floating in front of her face. She snorted in irritation when the spots did not clear, but grew brighter. She growled at a growing discomfort she felt. She hurt. The swirling fog blocking her sight irritated her. Kerala-bear jerked her muzzle, mouth open and teeth bared, trying to bite it. She felt fire everywhere. Agony that radiated from her left shoulder and front leg and back, pulsing with each heartbeat. Beneath the fire was a solid pain in that front right leg. She blew air through her snout, licked the wound. It tasted bad.
And then darkness swallowed Kerala-bear.
Standing with her head lowered to her leg, the bear suddenly tilted. The wounded limb had collapsed, and she stood for a moment with her face pressed into the dirt awkwardly. Then the rest of her, ever so slowly, followed. The bear flopped into the dirt with a soft thud. She lay panting, breathing in quick shallow gasps. Her eyes were half-closed, rolled back in her head.
Magram centaur slowly closed in around the bear.(Superstition, fear and jealousy)
Dead I am the one, exterminating sun
Slipping through the trees, strangling the breeze
Dead I am the sky, watching angels cry
While they slowly turn, conquering the worm
Dig through the ditches
And burn through the witches
I slam in the back of my
Dead I am the pool, spreading from the fool
Weak and what you need, nowhere as you bleed
Dead I am the rat, feast upon the cat
Tender is the fur, dying as you purr
Do it baby, do it baby
Do it baby, do it baby
Burn like an animal
Dead I am the life, dig into the skin
Knuckle crack the bone, twenty one to win
Dead I am the dog, hound of hell you cry
Devil on your back, I can never die
Do it baby, do it baby
Do it baby, do it baby
Burn like an animal