Chapter 3

19-3 Gyousou stepped into the rocky fissure, torch and trap in hand. His quarry was still in a groggy state. He had time to lay down the snares. The light was faint and the footholds treacherous. He was thankful for any leeway he could take advantage of. He knew for certain the suugu wasn’t going to stay that way forever.

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In order to keep the pitons out of sight while securing the snares, he snaked the ropes between the rocks before tying them off. When he came to the knot that attached the guy rope, he switched his hold and stretched the guy rope across a gap in a place the creature was bound to brush against it. A bell chimed softly as he did so.

He backtracked to the first knot, set another piton, attached another length of guy rope, and repeated the process.

He proceeded as quietly as he could, keeping as low a profile as possible. The suugu showed no signs of fully waking from its hibernation, even after he finished stringing the snare like a spider’s web.

He carried three poles with tapered ends. Once he threw them, there was no getting them back. He fastened the gemstones to his waist along with his sword. He’d resort to the sword only if he ended up on the losing end of this gamble. Would he have to kill these wings of good fortune or would he end up the prey? Or would the suugu disappear into the bottomless depths of the ravine?

Gyousou took a deep breath and slowly let it out. He aimed the pole to the left of the suugu and let it fly. The dull tip of the javelin did not impale itself but struck the rocks and tumbled away. Two round eyes lit up in the surrounding darkness. The suugu was awake now. Without waiting, Gyousou threw the second javelin, this time right above the head of the beast.

That projectile too bounced off the boulder and fell down on the suugu. He didn’t bother checking where it went before throwing the last one. This time, at point blank range.

The javelin slanted into the ground right in front of the suugu. The darkness slowly shifted. A big forefoot snapped the javelin in two like a twig. A low growl resonated through the ravine. The sound crawled through the earth and reverberated through the rock, communicating the creature’s anger.

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Avoiding the piercing glare, Gyousou hid in the shadow of a boulder. He held the rope, stifled his breath, and craned his ears.

The angry roar echoed from the far side of the boulder. A small bell chimed. The suugu had crossed the first rope. The second bell rang. Then the third, followed by two bells singing in unison. Without a doubt, the suugu had reached the mouth of the snare.

Gyousou only had to pull the rope and spring the trap. After that, everything depended on his ability to rein in the beast through sheer force of will. If he lost his bearings or panicked for even a moment, the suugu would shake free of the snare. After all, the purpose of these traps was to give a hunter time enough to lay his hands on the quarry. Koushu hunted in large numbers. If one rider got bucked off, there’d be another right behind him ready to leap into the fray.

They’d keep at it until they’d broken the beast and slapped on the restraints. But Gyousou was the only person here.

The growls grew closer. The footsteps made no sound but each breath of the big beast whooshed past him like a rush of wind. Catching a whiff of the warm and moist air, Gyousou planted his feet on the boulder and yanked hard on the rope.

Reacting with a startled howl, the creature leapt off the stony ground, twisting its body to slash at Gyousou with glittering sharp claws. Gyousou sprang to the side. As it turned to follow him, the suugu’s momentum tangled its huge frame in the ropes. A glance over his shoulder showed the suugu shaking its body in great aggravation, swinging its forefeet and kicking its hind legs as it tried to pursue Gyousou.

Those movement only further entwined the suugu in the ropes. It roared in vexation. Gyousou charged straight at it, ducking and weaving around the flailing claws, and leap onto its back. Using the entangled ropes as reins, he straddled the suugu and grabbed hold of its mane. The suugu bucked its big body and unleashed a thunderous roar.

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“Easy, easy. Calm down.”

The suugu pawed the ground. Gyousou held on tight with his legs, gripping the mane with his left hand and patting its shoulder with his right. Bucking and growling, tearing at the restraints while trying to shake this foe off its back, the beast’s wild actions grew all the more chaotic.

Gyousou clung on even harder in order to stay seated while he earnestly raised his voice. He couldn’t let his grip slacken for even a moment. Communicating his indomitable resolve was the key to keeping the beast under the rider’s control.

Maintaining a hold with his left hand, his fingernails biting into the hide like teeth, Gyousou pulled open the waist pack with his right. The suugu sprang back and forth, making increasingly violent attempts to escape the constraints. Mirroring the raging actions with his own, Gyousou scattered gemstones on the ground.

The most dangerous moment came next. The suugu tried rolling over, hoping to scrape the rider off its back. Caught and crushed between that huge frame and the boulders, he’d in a world of hurt. Judging the direction the suugu was headed, Gyousou firmed his hold and pulled hard in the opposite direction, managing to haul the beast back to an upright stance.

Digging in with his knees, his hand on the scruff of the neck, he checked the movements of the struggling suugu and brought it under control.

The beast’s frenzied state settled somewhat, perhaps the gemstones having their effect as well. The suugu’s efforts to throw off the rider and the rider’s efforts to stay put finally settled into a kind of dance.

“Easy, easy. You’ll be okay.” I’m not your enemy. I’m not going to hurt you. Settle down. Relax.

When it tried to kick off with its hind legs, Gyousou raised its head to sit it back down. When it veered left, he pulled right. Little by little, the suugu’s movements grew more subdued.

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“I’m not your enemy. I need your help.”

The suugu responded with a low and bewildered growl. It stopped recklessly throwing its body back and forth about the cavern and gave up trying to buck the rider off its back. The hairs of its mane standing straight out from neck eventually lay back down. It stood there drawing ragged breaths.

“I mean you no harm. Do you understand?”

A thrumming rumble emerged from the back of its throat. The suugu muffled its voice. As Gyousou perched on its back, the tension abruptly left its body.

“That’s a good boy,” Gyousou said.

He patted its neck, then gently stroked the beast’s big head. The suugu had accepted him.

“I am eternally grateful.”

Gyousou slid off its back. He didn’t worry about getting attacked, but nothing now prevented the suugu from simply walking away. He placed the palm of his hand on its back and observed it with no little apprehension. The suugu shook its body in an almost relaxed manner.

So will you take your leave, then?

The disappointment stung only briefly, for the suugu instead lay down on the ground. Sprawled there in a carefree manner, it raised its head and looked back at Gyousou, its eyes reflecting a kaleidoscope of colors, eyes that invited Gyousou to reach out. The suugu sniffed his palm, then pressed the nape of its neck against his hand.

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Gyousou stroked its mane and then wrapped his arms around its neck. “Do you think you’ll be able to help me out here?” he said, grateful almost beyond words. “I’m going to call you Ragou, okay?”

The purr of the suugu sounded very much like an expression of satisfied contentment. Gyousou listened for a long moment before raising his head and looking up. All he could see above them was the stone ceiling, except for that small point of white light very far away.

He finally had the wings to fly there.

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