Juggling knives requires high concentration. Stalking through a forest a stone’s throw from an enemy camp does too. Lander is doing both at the same time.
Eyes set with a rigid stare at the hilt of the top knife, he creeps forward, bent low. Undergrowth crumples beneath his boots, but it’s practically inaudible. He is unfazed by the trees in front of him, sidestepping as if a wall required the action. The tracks he is leaving could be from any creature to most on-lookers. In fact, an animal is a more reasonable explanation than a man. Lander is a little of both.
Few people believe that he is truly of any beastly race, and they’re technically correct, just don’t tell his adversaries that. Being raised by panthers between a traditional upbringing and military enlistment changed him. He doesn’t have claws, he doesn’t need them, his throwing knives do the job just as well, but the strikes are as precise as cats’. In addition, the naginata-type spear on his back tears flesh better than any feline can. Lander has only one disadvantage: he’s in over his head.
A bush rustles a few paces ahead of him. He pauses, grunts, and continues. It’s fitting to say that cats are vain and he isn’t an exception. A snarl wouldn’t still him for much longer. Curiosity is the one thing he’s lacking. Lander drew the short straw on that one.
As he reaches the shrub, a soft growl reaches his ears. There’s nothing odd about that, animals growl, he thinks. Lander gives the bush a swift kick and begins to move on.
Some plants growl too. This one enlarges spontaneously for added effect. It’s much more deadly that way. Thickly woven foliage splits into tendrils that cling to his arms and tug. Flailing, a gash opens from one of his snatched knife blades, immediately followed by a shrill scream, yet everything proceeds. His legs are captured, calves sliced by the restriction. Lander can’t sprint away from this foe.
The creature spreads open at its wound, a maw opening to his height. The mouth seems to be black in the darkness. He struggles, using his teeth to gnaw at his restraints. A single tear runs down his face, his eyes still hard and unbelieving. They widen for a moment no longer than a blink. The beast bends forward to enclose him and they soften. Lander grumbles a curse and stills.