Chapter 8:

VS. The Manabeast

Theodora Plays to Win (With Cheat Codes)

The beast stood over Theo. The Manabeast loomed as big as the trees around her. This felt like the end. It’s hot breath blew up twigs and leaves and all her energy with it, not that there was much left anyway. She turned her head away from the large canine face, she didn’t want to gaze down it’s throat as it ate her. She’d always imagined that she was a fighter, full of untapped potential, ready to fight back against the world, but now, In the sharp toothed face of an actual monster, she was a helpless child; a lost girl in the woods who would never see her family again, who would never know the happiness that might have one day been hers, who might never see Callum again, who might never see… Edith…again…

Her eyes focused on the thing that the beast had dropped when it arrived. It was a mangled, bloody mess; scars ran across it’s arms and face, and it gulped down air like a beached fish but underneath the torn clothes and skin was Edith. A sound was trying to get from her mouth to Theo’s ears. “So…so…” She attempted to move her fingers. What was she trying to say? Theo looked puzzled and that classic Edith anger suddenly bubbled to the surface, “Sword stupid!” followed by a fit of coughing accompanied by a mist of blood. She was not in good shape. That was an understatement, she seemed to be in dire shape. The beast really got her good.

Theo summoned her courage and looked back toward the Manabeast. It wasn’t attacking, it was just staring down at Theo. It seemed confused about something. Theo looked past the giant face and saw a shiny silver-blue rapier sticking out of it’s side near it’s spine. You want me to go up there! Are you nuts! Did a claw go through your tiny, little brain? Edith glared at Theo as if saying, “Go do something useful! Do you even care about your own life? You’re just going to lie there and die. I guess that’s all you were good for anyway.”

Fine. I’ll show you that I’m ten times the person you are. I’ll do what you failed to do. All you can do is follow Cambria around and clap like a toy monkey. I’ll show you all the potential you beat down over the past 14 years. Clap, monkey, clap!

Theo’s eyes filled with rage and determination. She slowly stood up. “Manabeasts have bad hearing and eyes, but they’re sense of smell is just as good as any other mammals.” She recalled the lecture Callum gave on the creature before her and repeated his words under her breath. She moved slowly around the edges of the beast, eyeing a large tree to it’s right. The beast sniffed pensively. It was trying to sense where she was. “Manabeast are known to have the worst eyesight of any mammal on the planet. But they can still see even just a little. Their hearing is about equal with an 80-year-old human’s, so it’s not great either but they’re not deaf. Bottom line: move slowly, keep quiet, and keep downwind and your chances of survival improve dramatically.”

Theo climbed up a small slope to reach a tree with black bark and thin creepy branches. “Hey. This Manabeast is stepping all over you, right? He already broke a bunch of your roots when he came bounding in here. He interrupted your meal, aren’t you mad. I know he’s big but if we work together he won’t be a problem.” A second passed, “I’ll sweeten the pot, my half-sister over there is probably going to be dead in a few minutes, you’re welcome to her once that happens.” A glowing yellow eye opens on the tree along with a scary sharp looking mouth. “I just need you to toss me up on it’s back and trip it up a bit. That’s all. Got it.”

A long vine-y branch picked Theo up. It slowly extended forward and passed her to another branch and then to another on another tree. It seemed as though she was getting farther away from the beast. She couldn’t shake herself lose and even if she could have she was still about 30 feet above the ground making that option inadvisable. “I asked you to toss me up on…it’s back. Wait! Stop! I didn’t mean literally. That’s dangerous. Like really dangerous! Like I could die dangerous.” Too late. The trees branch whipped itself back and then forward sending her spinning in an impossibly high arc. Her brain bounced back and forth in her skull and she momentarily forgot how to breath, before descending down right onto the Manabeast’s back.

Upon landing the beast let out a howl and began to buck like mad. Theo was still in a state of shock as she tried to walk forward and instead stumbled and tripped. She managed to grab onto a piece of metal conveniently stuck in the monsters hide. Edith’s sword! What luck was that. Theo scrambled to find purchase, grabbing tufts of fur and pulling herself up. This wasn’t working. No matter how much adrenaline was pumping through her system her arm strength was still nonexistent, and she couldn’t count on Edith’s support magic even disregarding the range. Just then the monster jumped and rolled.

Theo felt gravity shift as she was flung upside down. She kept hold of the sword. Her feet splayed out in the air, a gush of wind made her entire face ripple. The ground came at her, and the sword finally pulled free sending Theo rolling the other direction away from the beast but some roots caught her back and threw her back on. The canine was suddenly right side up and so was Theo, back on top of him. She nearly collapsed from how rapidly this battle was progressing, but now she had the sword and the perfect position to end this skirmish. This battle, however, would not be ended so easily.

The beast howled and kicked off it’s hindlegs. It did a front-flip! Once again, Theo was sent flying off, and once again a wall of branches caught her and sent her back, but she was prepared this time. She brought the sword up ready to strike. The beast was also ready as it’s tail was rolled straight out ready to flatten her. “LEFT!!!” The branches responded swinging her left. The beast’s tail struck the ground creating a shallow crater and sending head sized rocks flying in every direction. “LEFT, RIGHT, RIGHT, LEFT, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT.” The branches responded in helping her avoid the large debris. She felt a few small pieces slice her here and there but she felt mostly unharmed. The dust settled and the beast jumped around trying to predict where she was coming from.

“The thing about Manabeasts that makes them so dangerous, is their ability to sense Mana with pinpoint accuracy. Any creature that possesses even a trace amount of Mana is immediately at a disadvantage when facing the Manabeast. The thing about me is I don’t have any. UP!”

The branches launched Theo up in the air. She soared up and over the manabeast, raising her sword over her head as she began to fall like a blue meteor. The blade connected with the beast’s neck tearing through it like paper. The blade wasn’t that long and yet energy coursed through it and made it large enough to cleave straight through the beast, cleanly taking off it’s head.

The branches however were nowhere to be seen as Theo hurtled toward the ground with the head. The cursed forest no longer had any obligation to her now that the Manabeast had been taken care of. They no longer cared if she lived or died. There was no honor or love to be lost in this flimsy alliance. It was merely convenient.

Theo turned on her back, catching a glimpse of a white glow to her right. It wasn’t exactly a nice night. Rain clouds gathered leaving only a fleeting portal to the stars behind. There were worse ways and worse nights to die. She had maybe two seconds left before she hit the ground. Maybe the impact wouldn’t kill her but she’d be in similar shape to Edith. The forest might decide to watch them suffer a while instead of putting them out of their misery. In her mind she could hear the malicious giggling of the forest as it held back hysterics. Victory, all around. She closed her eyes, once again expecting the end. And once again the end did not come.

She hit the ground with a splash. The head landed in front of her, it’s large jaw broke upon impact, but Theo was unhurt. The ground melted around her, forming itself around her body. Magic? She looked over to see a white glow around Edith. It was a nauseatingly bright white aura. It was not uncommon for people to become sick around mages, even if the mage in question wasn’t named Edith. Magical runoff like that happened whenever someone used magic and high level mages couldn’t turn it off even if they weren’t casting anything. That being said, the sight of Edith on a good day was sickening enough and today was not a good day, so who could say what the cause of Theo’s nausea was. It could also have been the fact that her stomach and brain had been tossed around like baker’s dough for five minutes straight.

Theo plucked herself out of the ground before it began to reharden. “You saved me?” Theo got up on her knees and crawled over to Edith.

“Don’t get used to it.” Her breathing seemed to have calmed from what it was earlier. Blood still trickled down Edith’s face, arms, and legs, her ankle was twisted at an unnatural angle and a piece had been taken out of her side causing even more blood loss. Theo didn’t know how to feel about the state her half-sister was now in. Should she feel sad or angry? Should she mourn the loss of a family member? Did she mean enough to even put in the effort to care?

This journey was going to be that much harder without someone else around. There was so much evil in the world, it was scary to think about all the things she didn’t know. The village and the woods were the evil she knew. Edith was the evil she could trust. There was no one else left for her. The one good person in her life was nowhere to be found. Callum, where are you? She would only have his words to go on from now on and what little information she got from around the village, her mother, and school. She should make a final decision about her destination before the sun comes up. The sound of thunder and a few drops of rain. I should figure out where I’m going to bury Edith first, or maybe I should put it out in the open for the enforcers to find and bring back to the village. Should I make her more presentable? Perhaps a makeshift coffin would be in order? Theo began to outline Edith’s body with rocks.

“I’m not dead! You stupid worm!” Edith shouted, causing Theo to stumble backward. “Shut up! You might as well be. Now, be quiet and go to sleep while I make your funeral arrangements.”

“I’m saying that I’m probably not going to die, unless you don’t do anything about it.”


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