“You ever shoot a gun before?” Saint asked.
“No,” Corelli replied.
Saint moved fast; his quarry had not been concerned about leaving an easy trail. Either the monster did not expect to be followed or else, and this latter the truth, Saint figured, it did not care.
“I’d give you a gun,” Saint said, “but you’re liable ta’ shoot me tryin’ ta’ hit the monster.”
“What’d you say happened to the Governor?” Corelli panted, trying to keep up.
“Fell off a’ the bluff. Now keep quiet.”
“Just an accident, right?” Corelli’s tone sounded accusatory.
A noise, a rustling from Saint’s left. He spun, raising the rifle to his shoulder.
“I say, do not fire!”
Saint cursed in French. “You keep sneakin’ up on me, I’m gon’ put a bullet in you, sure ‘nough!”
Songbird stepped from amidst a cluster of tree trunks.
“Thought you wa’n comin’,” Saint said.
“I felt such a sense of regret, allowing you to head off in pursuit of the Most-Vile lacking my aid,” Songbird said, “thus I decided to come after you and offer my assistance.”
“What about getting permission from your Chief?” Corelli said.
“Yes, there is that,” Songbird said. “I recall a saying that is common among those whom, like the pair of you, speak the English language. ‘It is easier to seek forgiveness than to request permission,’ I believe it goes. Also, as I am the Singer, it is doubtful I would receive any punishment for such a minor infraction. I am loathe to admit that I have taken advantage of my respected station amongst the Tribe.”
“Shut it an’ let’s get a move on!” Saint said.
“I regret that I did not accompany the lot of you from the outset,” Songbird kept going. “I came across your friend, the older man.”
“Governor Roth,” Corelli said. “And that thing took Arly!”
“I told you both ta’ keep quiet!” Saint snapped.
“You need not worry over stealth, my friend. The Most-Vile will know where we are long before we are able to pinpoint its location. It is capable of cunning in equal proportion to its viciousness. As it lay in ambush for you all on the trail it is doubtless waiting now.”
“Then let’s not disappoint ‘im,” Saint said.
They covered ground with haste. The huge strides of the Sasquatch (even though smaller than his kin, Songbird’s stride almost doubled that of Saint and Corelli) outpaced the two men with ease, so much so that he had to slow down so they could keep up.
“The Most-Vile is not like us,” Songbird said, “my kinsmen and I. There is true sorcery in its nature, black sorcery, the way of the Un-Right and of Tuul. You will find it difficult to kill.”
“I know,” Saint replied, his breath hissing through his teeth. “I already shot hell out a’ him once an’ it di’n do much good.”
“The Most-Vile is not indestructible, however. It can die.”
“I kill ‘im enough, I reckon he’ll die!” Saint said.
“Make sure you kill it enough, then,” Corelli interjected, panting.
But when they arrived at the rocky plain where stood the skeletal scarecrows, they found no monster to kill.
“Oh, God!” Corelli said at sight of the ghoulish trophies. He charged into the clearing. “Arly!”
The voice that answered Corelli belonged to a female but not to Arly Youngblood. “Over here! Help!”
Then Arly shouted, “Pete!”
It annoyed Saint, the relief he felt at hearing her voice.
Corelli ran to what appeared to be a hole in the ground, covered by some kind of wooden grill.
“Hold on! I’ll get you out of there!”
“I’m here, too!” a male voice shouted.
“Hold on!” Corelli said. “I’ll get you all out!”
“Go on,” Saint said to Songbird, “help ‘im. I’m gon’ hold back. I expect the ol’ boy doubled back on us. If it’s gon’ make a move, now’s the time for it.”
Saint had been right on both points. The sight of its prisoners being set free drew the beast out of hiding. It couldn’t stand it.
Maka’kahu attacked from behind. Even though Saint had turned to face back in the direction they had come, still somehow the monster had gotten behind him.
But Saint had been expecting it, this time.
Half a second before the blow landed that would have torn his head from his shoulders, Saint dove to the side. He rolled and came up into a crouch and pumped one of the heavy Winchester Magnum rounds into the creature’s side at point blank range. Maka’kahu reeled but righted itself in an instant. In that time Saint had slid back the rifle bolt, ejecting the empty cartridge; he slammed the bolt down and fired a second time, hitting the creature in the ribs, its chest no wider than Saint’s thigh.
*Hope I hit somethin’ vital!*
Songbird leapt onto the monster. The little Sasquatch and the hideous Most-Vile rolled out onto the rocky clearing. Saint chambered another round and raised the rifle.
“No!” Pete Corelli knocked the barrel aside. “You’ll hit the nice one!”
Saint reared back with the rifle to club Corelli.
Arly and a second woman were running towards them. Arly threw herself into his arms.
Saint shoved her away. “Get back!” He raised the rifle. Waited. Fired. He hit Maka’kahu in its skinny back.
Songbird had been on the losing end of the struggle with the Most-Vile until that last shot. Maka’kahu had managed to get on top of him and those oversized claws were ripping away at Songbird’s face and throat. Then the bullet hit it and it spun around and charged Saint.
Arly and the other woman screamed. Pete Corelli jerked them out of the way. The .357 leapt into Saint’s hand and he shot, twice, three times, four, five. Each bullet buried itself in the cadaverous flesh of Maka’kahu. Before Saint could squeeze the trigger the sixth time, the thing was on him.
Almost on him.
Saint sidestepped, putting the sixth hollowpoint round into the creature’s right side. Bracing his booted feet solid on the rocky ground, his knife filling his left hand, he reached around behind Maka’kahu and drove the blade, all ten inches of it, into the beast’s gut. He drew the blade around, ripping the monster open. Blood and viscera spilled out over his hand and forearm.
It felt cold. Freezing cold.
*How can somethin’ even be alive, when its blood’s colder than ice?*
In that instant, the fraction of a second, the irony of his thought struck him. How many people had said that he himself had ice water flowing through his veins?
The irony struck him.
Then the monster struck him.
A backhanded blow. The talons of the beast’s huge and misshapen hand never touched his flesh. But the blow itself, the impact, hit like a sledgehammer, a wrecking ball, a speeding truck. Saint had never been hit so hard.
Hard enough to stop a man’s heart.
The blow sent him flying. He landed hard on the rocky ground. As his vision went crimson, then black, the last thing he saw was the monster fleeing into the woods.
The last conscious thought to pass through his mind was the realization that he was going to die. Then nothing.