- Author: Keith Ahrens
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ALSO IN SERIES
Glossary of Terms, Phrases, and Miscellaneous Datum
ALSO IN SERIES
Groups where you can find Keith
ALSO IN SERIES
DRAWING THE LINE
Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.
Prelude(Underhill) Several Months in the Past
A single figure struggles to his feet, coughing up a mouthful of blood and dirt. He moves slowly, sweat and blood dripping from his face. Dull rays of sunlight filter through the suffocating dust, glinting off the keen-edged steel in his hand. Looming over him, barely visible in the nebulous atmosphere, stands a creature born to inspire dread. The broken ends of two spears jut from its flank as sluggish, deep crimson blood flows from its wounds. A heavy snort comes from its bovine snout, causing the gold ring pierced through its septum to rattle. The pale afternoon sun silhouettes the beast’s eight-foot humanoid frame and casts a shadow many times its size over the miniature form at its feet.
“You've fought well, for a human, but it is time for me to end this and move on to the next fight.” With a grunt, it hefts its giant hammer up onto its right shoulder, attempting to hide the effort it takes as it tries to make the move look casual. The chipped iron of the hammerhead is dulled by crimson stains and small shards of bone stuck to it. The skillful action is ruined by the hollow thud of the hammer glancing off one of its horns, coupled with the grunt of effort escaping its mouth. Blood drips slowly off the maul onto the beast’s shoulder.
Unsteady on his feet, the human staggers a step or two, still trying to catch his breath. His right hand wraps around his left ribs, and he grimaces while panting. A short, sharp cough has him doubled over again. The beast watches, impassive, as the human struggles to draw a full breath. Only his hoof pawing at the ground belies his impatience.
A slight groan accompanies a much smaller cough, followed by a wad of spit and blood hitting the dirt. The man glances up at the much taller figure, almost as an afterthought, and raises his left hand to extend his index finger in the universal gesture of 'wait a minute.'
The beast snorts again, this time in mild amusement. Its horns dip in a small nod. “Catch your breath, little human. Savor it, for it will be your last in this lifetime.”
A few moments pass, and his breathing gets a little less ragged. Then, continuing to make no effort to speak, the human simply turns his hand around and switches fingers, this time in a much different universal sign. With a smirk, he lets himself fall backward onto the hard-packed dirt, sending up more dust into the air. The minotaur expels a large puff of air, his eyes flashing as he grabs the worn wooden grip of his weapon in both hands and starts forward.
Before he can even raise the hefty maul off his shoulder, two other humans rise from the blinding dust, just behind the massive beast. With exhausted shouts of effort, the two men leap high into the air, arms outstretched above them. Each one grabs a thick horn with both hands and then lets their momentum swing them forward. The combined weight of the two humans, along with their heavy armor, swiftly drags the creature forward and down.
As the bull-man drops his hammer and tries to put his hands out to break his fall, its eyes widen in surprise.
In a flash, the man on the ground lifts the tip of a broken spear shaft and digs the butt end into the hard ground. The minotaur and the two men scream in unison, yet for very different reasons. The speed and force at which they drag him down doesn't give the beast any chance to catch himself, much less stop what’s coming as the men hang on to his falling body for dear life.
The two humans hit the ground and slide forward, dragging the horned head with them. The jagged end of the broken spear punches through the thick lower jaw and straight up into