The Dust Digger
Santon and Bree made it halfway there before the ground began to rumble. Bree lost her footing and fell to the ground. Santon stumbled.
Across the field the earth moved. It didn’t open, or split, but sort of raised. As if something were burrowing through the earth, towards the captives.
The gnoll, who had been beating the ground with a big stick, backed up towards the prisoners and pushed one of them forward, towards the shifting earth. The man struggled against the gnoll. As the shifting earth closed with them the gnoll backed up. The prisoner tripped him and tried to run.
A huge starfish-like monster surged up from the ground. It twisted its limbs around it in a circle knocking the gnoll into it’s gaping, toothy maw in the center of its body. The prisoner screamed, then ran towards the others. The monster surged forward, propelling itself with its limbs and clamped onto the prisoner, swallowing all but one of his legs.
The second gnoll backed up quietly while the monster dove back beneath the earth. He neared the prisoners and then fell to the ground at they kicked his feet out from under him. The gnoll growled and yanked onto one of the prisoner’s chains while the other slipped out of his grip. He made a dash for it, across the fields, towards the monastery, leaving his comrade behind.
The gnoll struck the final prisoner in the face and dragged him towards the pesh fields. He struggled against his chains, but was held tight. The gnoll threw him onto the earth and kicked him once in the face. A vulture swooped down, landed beside them and began picking at the severed leg in the dirt.
The gnoll smiled, and pushed the bird away. He reached for the leg and made to throw it, presumably to gain the attention of the monster. The vulture flew at him, flapping its wings and biting at him angrily. The gnoll jumped back startled. The prisoner reached for his comrade’s severed leg grabbed it tightly in his hands and beat the gnoll in the face with it, repeatedly. The gnoll yipped in pain. The vulture bit at him and the prisoner never relented.
Behind him, the monster crept closer.
“Run!” Bree yelled.
The vulture flew up into the air with a squawk. The prisoner dove out of the way just as the monster surged up out of the earth, leaving the gnoll to be eaten. The prisoner sat in the dirt, steps away from the monster, unlocked the chains binding him and ran as fast as he could, back into Kelmarane.
Across the field, the other prisoner left the old pesh cacti behind for the rocks and stone beyond. He would find the monastery. He was safe.
A howl sounded from upper Kelmarane causing a pack of gnolls to gather outside of the battle market. They talked amongst themselves and then set off for the lower half of town. They were looking for the prisoner.
Bree grabbed Santon by the hand and took off at a run for the town. “Come on.”
He followed her without question. She and Santon would attack the town. Perhaps they would find the prisoner and save him. Perhaps they would be a distraction and the prisoner would escape. Perhaps they would take the town themselves. And perhaps they would die before they even broke through the perimeter.
It didn’t matter. What mattered was that they tried.