Neira to My Heart – Part 4
By Vicky Morgan-Keith
Mrrowl snarled in surprise. His ears flicked back as he watched the alien creature emerge from the far holding pen opposite him. He’d heard whisperings of Edo, but like most slaves on Neira, the Shrinaar gladiator had never seen one before. Gauging from the excited shouts and cheers of the spectators present today, most of them had not seen one either. The eerie creature’s skin glistened with an oily sheen, shifting color as it slithered across the sand from the shadows of its pen into the light of the arena. Mrrowl found it difficult to keep his vision focused on his strange opponent.
The Edo’s height was a fair match to the big Shrinaar’s depending on how high it chose to lift up its bulbous head on its many tentacles. Two of its suckered limbs coiled restlessly about the hilt of an ornate axe while its four eyes stared dispassionately about the arena, its gaze taking in its surroundings and the crowd. Then the Edo glanced Mrrowl’s way, shifted its grip on its weapon, and started toward him with grim determination. Its odd undulating gait closed the distance between them with startling rapidity. The crowd roared in anticipation of forthcoming violence.
The cheering fell away from Mrrowl’s awareness, becoming white noise. His clawed hind paws dug into the warm sand as he shifted his footing to assume a defensive stance. Normally Mrrowl preferred to charge his opponents. The move often intimidated combatants, causing them to fall back, but the Edo gave him pause. It did not appear concerned in the least about any danger to itself from either him or the crowd. It seemed intent only on closing with him to slay him. A queasy knot of uncertainty slid through Mrrowl’s belly for the first time since his earliest combats. Snarling at himself in disgust, he gathered his shaken courage, flexing his paws within his metal battle claws. He forced himself to break his defensive stance and advanced warily to meet the oncoming Edo.
Moving forward, he critically eyed his opponent, seeking clues to any weakness it might possess. The Edo wore no armor, but the shifting colors of its skin caused Mrrowl’s eyes to water with the effort of keeping it in focus. Its scent was light, spicy, and faintly sweet. The Edo made no sound, at least none the Shrinaar could detect, nor did it attempt to circle him. It came straight at him, axe held poised to strike. Mrrowl decided to meet its attack and prepared to dodge low beneath the creature’s swing, but before the Edo got within range, pain suddenly exploded within the Shrinaar’s head.
Mrrowl roared in agony, stumbling to his knees in the sand. Searing waves of unseen fire ripped through his mind. Struggling to breathe through gritted teeth, he fought the overwhelming urge to retch. Through blurred vision, he caught the barest glint of the Edo’s axe as it swung toward him. His ears tracked its whistle as it sliced through the air. Mrrowl desperately hurled himself to one side in an awkward roll out of the blade’s path. He staggered to his feet and leapt away. The pain in his skull subsided, but left the Shrinaar with one hell of a headache. He shook his head, panting and snuffling, tasting coppery blood in his mouth. He could feel it bubbling in his nostrils, and with a start, he realized his nose was bleeding. He snarled at the Edo defiantly, wondering how to combat its strange mental power.
Undeterred, the Edo moved toward him once more. The Shrinaar retreated rapidly before it, trying to come up with a plan. Boos and jeers replaced the earlier cheers of the crowd. Mrrowl flattened his ears and snarled. Like to see some of you come down here and fight this thing, he thought bitterly. But he knew no one would. He alone was pitted against this creature. He must find a way to defeat it. But how?