From the Ashes: CATU Book 6 Ch. 07byJoeBarnosky©
Three Weeks Ago
MASON WAKES TO THE SOUND OF cascading water from the waterfall. The small fire Matthews had going the previous night was long gone and a slight chill from the cave hangs in the air. He closes his eyes briefly taking in the sounds and the chill on his naked body wishing Matthews' warm body was still next to his.
"How does it look out there?" he asks upon hearing a slight shuffle from the cave's entrance.
"The rain has finally stopped," Matthews says silently. "No signs of movement for the past few hours that I have noticed."
"You think it, ugh," Mason says as he gets up to his elbow and the pain from his ribs send ripples through his chest.
"Are you alright?" she asks rushing from the cave's entrance.
"I'm fine," he says waving her off. "I just forgot about them."
"Well you better start remembering," she says pushing his hands aside as she helps him to his feet.
"So, like I was saying," he continues once he is standing. "You think that thing gave up looking for us?"
"I highly fucking doubt it," she answers giving Mason a smirk. "It's probably waiting for us somewhere out there."
"Do we have a plan?"
"Then I guess that means we make a run for it and hope we make it," he says with a sly smile.
"Makes it a bit more interesting that way. Maybe we'll even get lucky enough to come across the son of a bitch and destroy it before going home."
"Maybe," Mason says. He reaches around Matthews' waist and pulls her in for a kiss.
They kiss for a long moment and when they finally break away she says, "Get dressed. From what I figure we've got four klicks to the border and another three out of this God forsaken jungle. With your broke ribs and no trouble we may get out by midnight."
MATTHEWS AND MASON MOVED THROUGH THE dense jungle unmolested since leaving their hiding spot in the small cave behind the water fall. They are travelling light due to the fact that the majority of their equipment has been lost or damaged beyond use or just outright low.
Mason, even with his broken ribs, refused to allow Matthews to carry any of his gear. She could clearly see the toll it was taking on him, but she knew arguing with him would only injure his pride and create a rift between them neither needed at the moment.
The heat beat down on them with the intensity of the surface of the sun. The constant rain over the last few days only helped to intensify the effect of the humidity now. Their only saving grace is the fact was the jungle has plenty of water sources should they get thirsty and run out of water.
So far their travelling has been steady with the jungle full of sound. There hadn't been any signs of anything or anyone following them or tracking them, but neither refused to drop their guard. Then a couple hours after midday the regular jungle sounds suddenly ceased to exist.
"That can't be good," Mason whispers dropping his gear and raising his assault rifle up toward the tree tops.
"When is it ever?" Matthews says following suit. She grabs his attention and signals toward the roots of a tree to his left. Mason nods and grabs his gear heading for the roots while she repeats the process going in the opposite direction.
Within seconds both soldiers are well blended with the roots of the two massive trees. They slow their breathing down almost to the point they are barely taking in a breath every thirty seconds. As part of their training for various purposes they learned to control their breathing to the point of slowing it down to holding it for a minimum of ten minutes. Now was the time to see if that training would come to use as neither knew the extent of this new enemy's abilities.
The jungle falls into dead silence and the only sound come from the faint breeze travelling through the trees of the wind. For several long minutes the two soldiers sit in wait with nothing happening then suddenly branches and leaves flutter down from the treetops.
Mason clutches his carbine tighter and from across the way Matthews doesn't like the sight. Don't do anything stupid Jasper.
Seconds later, in the midst of the small clearing, the strange creature drops into a squat then rises to full height. It takes a few seconds to carefully scan the area as if looking for something out of place. Matthews knows that neither of them are completely hidden or able to stay that way forever, but she hopes it is long enough to fool this thing. Her view of Mason is now blocked, but from the anxious look of him she only hopes he hangs in there as well.
Kazubeil rotates fully around crunching the ground beneath it loudly as it steps seemingly not caring how much noise it generates. She is having a hard time reading just what this creature has planned when it turns its back to her and faces Mason. Instantly alarm bells go off in her head and she shifts to bring her own carbine to bear.
Kazubeil spins back around faster than her mind can comprehend. Its arm lashes out swiping through the massive tree's roots, splintering the wood into pieces revealing the lithe woman beneath. By the time Matthews has her carbine raised it is already too late. Kazubeil on one of its swings tears through it along with one of the roots, shredding the weapon in two pieces. She falls back onto her back and attempts to scoot back further as the creature looms over her.
"Back off you ugly mother fucker!" Mason yells just before he opens up with his carbine. Before the creature even has time to turn around Mason peppers its back with gunfire, sending pieces of flesh, blood and whatever pieces of scales in all directions.
From Matthews' view Kazubeil doesn't show any signs of fear or hurt, only anger. It whips around grabbing the carbine with one hand and throws a massive fist into Mason's chest with the other.
Matthews uses the distraction and jumps to her feet. She already has her knife in her hand and charging but before she gets within three steps the creature is already turning back around and lifting her by the throat high into the air. Matthews keeps a clear head though and uses her knife to stab at the strong flesh of the arm. Her efforts prove useless as Kazubeil's clawed hand slowly collapses onto her neck closing off the oxygen to her brain. Slowly her grip on the knife slackens and falls from her hand.
Blackness starts creeping from the corners of her eyes, her arms hang uselessly at her sides and just as she is about to lose all hope she feels the grip on her throat release and her body falling to the ground.
The creature roars in pain as it attempts to reach back with both hands, snapping at Mason who has managed to dig his knife deep into the neck of Kazubeil. Blood starts to seep out from the wound and down its back.
"Gotcha now, mother fucker!" Mason yells over the high pitched roar.
The creature shakes as it struggles, snapping its clawed hands. The movement proves too much for Mason and finally he is shook free. Prepared for such an event, Mason tucks and rolls, landing reasonably well a few feet away from Matthews. He gets to his knees and crawls quickly over to her. The creature still in a fit of rage struggles with the knife still embedded in its neck.
"Shit!" he says breathlessly. "Hey, are you alright?" he asks coming up beside her.
Matthews is shaking her head as she rubs her throat. "Fuck no. What the fuck happened?"
"I don't know," he answers. "I think it suspected we were there and it was counting on us making a move."
"And I did," she says mentally kicking herself.
"We ain't got time for that shit right now," Mason reminds her as he looks over his shoulder.
Matthews follows his gaze to the creature. It is still struggling with the knife, but has finally resigned itself to using a tree to dislodge the weapon.
"We need to cover some ground before it gets that knife free," Mason suggests.
"I can't agree with you more."
He grabs Matthews by the arm and yanks her up to her feet and shoves her forward. "Go, I'm right behind you."
No sooner have they started running has Kazubeil begun chasing them.